Opinion

Examiner Local Editorial: Day care scandal reveals faulty background checks

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Opinion,Local Editorial

When child care employees are found to have criminal records, it's a scandal. When they work for the U.S. Army in the largest day care center for military personnel in the nation, it's not only a scandal but a breach of national security, as well.

Fort Myer in Arlington is home to some of the military's top brass. Its $17 million Child Development Center tends to nearly 500 children between the ages of 6 months and 12 years. After parents complained in September that caregivers were yelling at their children, surveillance video confirmed the verbal abuse -- and also showed Army employees hitting, pinching and even kneeing a small child in the back.

The center is temporarily closed while investigators try to figure out how 38 employees with criminal records -- including drug use and sexual assault -- were ever hired in the first place.

So far, just two employees have been charged with misdemeanor assault. Rebecca Smallwood-Briscoe, of Oxon Hill, allegedly dragged a 2-year-old boy across the floor by the leg and punched another in the face. Sharon Blakeney, of Seat Pleasant, is accused of hitting a toddler and holding him down while she stuck a sticky rodent trap full of bugs in his face. Both are scheduled to go on trial in March.

Abusive day care workers are bad enough, but the problem they reveal runs deeper. For security reasons, day care centers on military installations are required to conduct extensive background checks on all potential employees. Management does an initial screening before forwarding information, including fingerprints and references, to the Office of Personnel Management, which then checks it against the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services database. Each day care facility is also subject to four unannounced inspections per year, which include a review of personnel records to make sure background checks have been properly completed.

So how did 38 people with "background issues" get past all these civilian and military gatekeepers at Fort Myers alone? Defense Secretary Leon Panetta ordered a review last month of personnel screening procedures at Pentagon-run child care facilities worldwide. We may get some answers when it is completed next week.

The Army also missed the deadly threat posed by another employee, Maj. Nidal Hasan, a military psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people and wounding two dozen others at Fort Hood in 2009. These serious flaws in the Army's background screening process continue to put innocent Americans at risk.

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