N.Y.C. Program Finds Day-Care Workers Had Criminal Convictions

By Anne Bridgman — December 12, 1984 3 min read

Nearly half of the first 82 day-care employees and prospective employees to be fingerprinted as part of New York City’s project to identify potential child abusers have been found to have prior criminal convictions for crimes including possession of drugs or guns, prostitution, arson, and robbery.

In addition, six of the 36 individuals found to have criminal convictions were identified as having outstanding arrest warrants, according to Lee Jones, a spokesman for the New York City Council. Of those six, three have been arrested and three are being sought on out-of-state warrants, he said.

Calling them “shocking,” Mayor Edward I. Koch late last month released the findings to demonstrate the early results of a program that will eventually fingerprint 100,000 employees and prospective employees who work with children in publicly supported, privately operated programs.

Both the mayor and officials in the city’s department of investigation, which is conducting the fingerprint checks, said they hoped the first results of the project would prove to be an aberration.

City officials did not indicate how many of the individuals who were fingerprinted are current employees and how many are prospective employees.

Results of the fingerprint checks of the other 1,900 day-care workers and prospective workers in New York City who were fingerprinted in the first phase of the program will be available by the end of the month, Mr. Jones said.

Rape Charges

The ambitious fingerprinting program began in August after an employee of the Praca Day Care Center in the Bronx was indicted on rape charges. The Praca center was run by the Puerto Rican Association for Community Affairs under a contract with the New York City Human Resources Administration (hra).

Also in August, the head of the hra and the head of the agency’s office of special services for children resigned following allegations that more than 30 children were sexually abused at the Praca Center. (See Education Week, Aug. 22, 1984.)

The city’s 200,000 municipal employees are fingerprinted by law, Mr. Jones explained, but until this year, state law prohibited the fingerprinting of private employees. “The Praca incident suggested the need to be more thorough in background checks,” Mr. Jones said.

This fall, Mayor Koch asked the city council and the board of health to authorize the fingerprinting of employees of private, nonprofit organizations that were supported by the city. “It was important to make sure that any organization performing services that involved children have their employees checked,” Mr. Jones said.

City officials have announced that they will not make public the names of those individuals who are found to have had criminal convictions and will not identify the centers in which those employees work or have applied for work. They will, however, inform the workers’ employers of the situation and leave it to them to take the proper action, Mr. Jones said.

Guidelines Mailed

Toward that end, the city last week mailed guidelines to the 381 private day-care centers that are funded by the city, Mr. Jones said. The guidelines are intended to help the centers’ administrators decide how to deal with current or prospective employees who are found to have criminal records.

While New York State law encourages the hiring of people who have been incarcerated, Mr. Jones said, there are certain felony crimes--including homicide, child abuse, kidnapping, and drug dealing--"that suggest a presumption against that person being hired if it would endanger the life, the welfare, or the safety of the children.”

Although the city is not permitted to become involved in private groups’ specific hiring decisions, he said, the guidelines are intended to help the employers under the current circumstances.

Mr. Jones also noted that if city officials find that a city-supported agency has not complied with the guidelines, they would consider withdrawing funds from the agency.

A version of this article appeared in the December 12, 1984 edition of Education Week as N.Y.C. Program Finds Day-Care Workers Had Criminal Convictions