Missouri unlicensed youth residential facilities are expected to submit documents notifying the status of their existence by mid-October, but facility staff background checks required under a new law are unlikely to be completed at this moment.
That’s because the Department of Social Services (DSS) is still working to hire in its background check unit in order to facilitate a potential influx, said Caitlin Whaley, the department’s director of legislation and communications.
âI think we don’t yet know the volume we’re dealing with. We obviously have information about our licensed agencies, but we don’t know the volume that exists with our license-exempt facilities, âsaid Whaley.
For an hour and a half Thursday afternoon, DSS officials answered questions from more than 100 licensed and unlicensed establishments that will be affected by regulations established by a new law that came into effect last month.
Lawmakers have adopted Bill 557, which established the Residential Care Facility Notification Act. It requires background checks for staff and volunteers at unlicensed boarding schools, and for facilities to notify DSS of their existence and to adhere to certain health and safety standards.
The bill also puts in place mechanisms to allow parents free access to their children and a process to remove children from institutions when there is suspicion of abuse or neglect.
The matter has garnered renewed attention this year after a Kansas City Star investigationin Christian boarding schools found that unlicensed establishments had substantiated reports of abuse and neglect. But despite this, former students said their calls for help were ignored, and described enduring horrific emotional, physical and sexual abuse.
DSS officials said that despite being aware of allegations of abuse and neglect at some facilities, they had limited surveillance because the facilities were operated by religious organizations – and therefore exempt from licensing under state law.
The bill came into effect immediately after Gov. Mike Parson was signed on July 14. In order to implement the new law, the DSS, the agency responsible for its enforcement, is in the process of proposing emergency and permanent regulations.
DSS is currently accepting comments on the draft regulations posted on its website. He also asked for comments on the fiscal impact the new law could have on small business establishments and child placement agencies.
Whaley said the department hopes its emergency regulations will be filed by the end of August. If approved and accepted, emergency regulations can take effect 10 business days after being filed with the Secretary of State’s office and can be in place for 180 days.
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At the same time, the ministry will also work on the development of permanent regulations which will also be the subject of a public consultation process.
The majority of questions asked by officials on Thursday were about further background checks that will be needed once the regulations are in place.
Under draft regulation proposed by the ministry, current employees and applicants of licensed and non-licensed facilities who are managers, support staff, contractors, volunteers with child access, or facility owners should go through the background check process.
At unlicensed institutions, exemptions are also in place for certain family members of students, doctors, law enforcement officials, lawyers or other professionals and those who may provide maintenance services. in an establishment.
Before starting their employment at an approved and unlicensed facility, applicants should complete a background check which would consist of an FBI fingerprint check, a search of the National Sex Offender Registry, and Missouri Family Care Safety Registry, which consists of various state criminal records of child abuse and neglect.
From there, the DSS will inform the institution and the applicant if they are eligible for employment. Various criminal convictions, such as being the perpetrator of child abuse or neglect, could render a candidate ineligible, the law notes, and ineligible candidates have the option of appealing the department’s decision.
A background check based on fingerprints must be performed every five years. Licensed facilities must also perform a Missouri Family Care Safety Registry check each year between background checks.
The DSS residential unit will be “on hold” to approve notification of unauthorized installations and compliance with required inspections until all employees have completed the background check process, said Erica Signars, a professional assistant. special DSS who oversees the residential program unit. .
Each site in an organization would require a separate notification, she said. Notifications must be filed with the agency by October 12, according to the proposed regulations.
âWe don’t expect all of your background checks to be completed before the October deadline,â Whaley said, âbecause realistically we understand we won’t be able to complete our part of that. , and we wouldn’t necessarily expect you to be able to do your part of that.
Institutions have raised questions about the timing of the requirements, the types of people who may be required to conduct background checks, how fees would be covered, how to develop policies for maintaining medical records, and more.
Managers have encouraged feedback from facilities struggling to understand how to comply with the new processes.
âWe all learn together,â Whaley said, later adding, âAs long as we can work with people to simplify business practices, we certainly don’t want to be too bureaucratic. We must always obey the law and can only offer the leeway that the law gives us. “