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Background checks for child, elderly providers

February 01, 1999
By: Jennifer Lutz
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Deidre Linneman might still be alive if a toll free number was available to provide easier background checks of child and elderly care providers.

Rick McDowell and Debra Linneman, two Columbia parents affected by the same day care provider, were back in Jefferson City Monday to support the Family Care Safety Act that failed in the state Senate last year.

Both families had children die of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, but both deaths were traced back to negligence on the part of Joanne Palmer, the child care provider they hired. She subsequently was convicted for crimes involving the deaths of the two children.

"This is still an emotional issue," McDowell said. "We are prepared to follow the bill all the way through and give parents opportunities to find out information."

A similar bill proposed last session did not pass after opponents complained the measure would have given access to FBI records, which are confidential and did not exempt religious day care facilities. Both parts have been taken out.

The two families also testified about their experiences in finding a child care provider. In 1992 McDowell and his wife checked references, made surprise visits, discussed and interviewed the day care provider they hired for their three month old son, Taylor.

"We had left our son there approximately three weeks," McDowell said. "Prior to Christmas we received a call saying our son was not breathing.".

Palmer had used Taylor's pacifier to suffocate him, McDowell said.

The proposed phone line would not have been influential to the McDowell family, but it would have saved the life of the Linneman's baby in 1996. McDowell would

"There was enough on her record that this one potential phone call would have saved Deidre's life," she said. "It would have been a red flag."

The Linneman's used the same resources available as the McDowell's to research their potential child provider. Three and one-half days after placing Deidre in Palmer's care.

"This phone line would help provide information to family members to better assist in finding safe care," said House Speaker Steve Gaw, D-Moberly. "It wouldn't solve all safety problems, but it would save the lives of many."

Gaw and Rep. Katherine Hollingsworth, D-Imperial, co-sponsored the bill to provide a phone line to assist parents in finding proper care. The checks would pool together sources from several departments, including the State Highway Patrol, the Social Services Department and the Aging Division.

"This would provide easy access to background checks to prevent a tragedy from happening," Hollingsworth said."The state of Missouri has a vested interest in making sure parents are receiving safe, adequate care. Any other providers than those required can always volunteer to sign up."

Anyone who calls the phone line and learns the potential care provider has prior complaints or criminal convictions, will be asked to send their name, address and reason for employment to receive the information.

The person then has the opportunity to talk to the care giver and listen to the explanation for the complaints.

"If they have a clean check, the parents should feel good," Hollingsworth said. "If not they can sit one-on-one with the person and talk with the family members."

Workers who are independently hired to provide care who receive at least part of their salary from public funds would be required to register with the Family Care Safety Act. Private day care facilities, baby sitters or any other group which does not receive funds from the state would not be required to provide the information.

"Why limit the access to one, two or even three institutions," said House Republican Leader Delbert Scott, Lowry City. "Any individual should be free to access as much information as possible without violating privacy laws."

Scott noted the necessity to not duplicate already existing agencies.

"Some individual groups are already doing well," Scott said. "Nursing homes have similar checks like this already."

Though not all of the details have been worked through, Scott said there needs to be safety checks so all information provided is accurate.