Staff watch­ing mi­grant teens un­screened

The Maui News - - TODAY’S PEOPLE - The As­so­ci­ated Press

Nearly ev­ery adult work­ing with chil­dren in the U.S. — from nan­nies to teach­ers to coaches — has un­der­gone state screenings to en­sure they have no proven his­tory of abus­ing or ne­glect­ing kids. One ex­cep­tion: thou­sands of work­ers at two fed­eral de­ten­tion fa­cil­i­ties hold­ing 3,600 mi­grant teens.

The staff isn’t be­ing screened for child abuse and ne­glect at a Mi­ami-based emer­gency de­ten­tion cen­ter be­cause Florida law bans any out­side em­ployer from re­view­ing in­for­ma­tion in its child wel­fare sys­tem. Un­til re­cently at an­other fa­cil­ity hold­ing mi­grant teens in Tornillo, Texas, staff hadn’t even un­der­gone FBI fin­ger­print checks, let alone child wel­fare screenings, a gov­ern­ment re­port found.

The miss­ing screen­ing at both sites in­volves search­ing child pro­tec­tive ser­vices sys­tems to see whether po­ten­tial em­ploy­ees had a ver­i­fied al­le­ga­tion of abuse, ne­glect or aban­don­ment, which could range from hav­ing a foster child run away from a group home to fail­ing to take a sick child to the hos­pi­tal.

Tornillo has 2,100 staff for about 2,300 teens; Home­stead has 2,000 staff for about 1,300 teens.

The two fa­cil­i­ties can op­er­ate un­li­censed and with­out re­quired checks be­cause they are lo­cated on fed­eral prop­erty and thus don’t have to com­ply with state child wel­fare laws. Tornillo is on Cus­toms and Border Pro­tec­tion land along the U.S.-Mex­ico border, and Home­stead is on a for­mer La­bor Depart­ment Jobs Corps site.

Last week, bi­par­ti­san law­mak­ers called for swift re­forms af­ter the AP re­ported that the gov­ern­ment put thou­sands of teens at risk at Tornillo by waiv­ing the se­cu­rity screenings and hav­ing fewer mental health work­ers than needed. And on Tues­day, two mem­bers of Congress called for its im­me­di­ate shut­down.

The gov­ern­ment re­port said the screenings were waived at Tornillo be­cause the agency was un­der pres­sure to open the camp quickly and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment er­ro­neously as­sumed staff mem­bers al­ready had FBI fin­ger­print checks.

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