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Monday, October 3, 2011
"This Week in Government Ineptitude: Illinois' Child Care Assistance Program"
“This Week in Government Ineptitude:
Illinois' Child Care Assistance Program”
By: J. Hunter
Child Care (pic1)
When new parents finally cope
with the reality that they must entrust their babies and children to
others—non-relatives in many cases—they want, more than anything to feel secure
in their decision. The expense of childcare may only compound parents’
concerns. On the one hand, childcare can be so expensive as to negate one
parent’s earnings (and ironically, their need for hiring a childcare provider at
all). On the other hand, a childcare provider is suspicious if he/she charges a
rate of $1 per child per day. What is the answer?
Cornelius Osborne was one of many
people who answered the cries of parents in need by participating in a state Child
Care Assistance Program (CCAP) that subsidized child care for more than 150,000
impoverished Illinoisans. There was just one catch. Osborne is a sex
offender—convicted of raping two women. His penchant for robbery also put him
on the wrong side of the law, but not before Illinois paid him nearly $5,000 for more than
two years to baby-sit two children. His stint as a taxpayer funded childcare
provider was cut short when he returned to prison for dealing drugs.
This episode of government
ineptitude was plastered on the front page of the Chicago Tribune.
Writers, Matthew Walberg and Joe Mahr, expose that Osborne was not the only
questionable character paid by taxpayers to watch children. In fact, he was
simply one of many “convicted rapists, molesters” and “violent felons” who
doubled as subsidized childcare providers. Tremayne Huey, for example, raped a
16 year old girl, but Illinoisans paid him $4,800 for subsequently providing childcare. Raheem
Gray was on parole for weapons and drug charges. He lived, unreported, with his
girlfriend who was a childcare provider until he went back to prison when a
parole check discovered that he had stashed illegally obtained guns under a
Cornelius Osborne (pic2)
Perhaps the most chilling account
recorded by Walberg and Mahr was that of George Westerfield. George was 54 years
old when he raped a 16 year old girl who lived with him and was subsequently
required to register as a sex offender. He was not a childcare provider,
himself, but he was married to a woman, Lemorial, who CCAP paid to watch
children. When the Tribune discovered that the address of a sex offender was
also an address listed as a CCAP location, they paid the home a visit. As one
can imagine, they were surprised when a 6-year old girl answered the door and
immediately retrieved the only available adult—George—to speak to them. George explained that
he was left alone to watch the children while Lemorial ran errands.
CCAP had too many blind spots to
avoid such problems. Throughout the expose, mind numbing examples of poor
judgment demonstrate how problems like these were inevitable.
First, claims made on CCAP applications
were accepted on the “honor system.” Cornelius Osborne, for example, only
listed drug trafficking as a crime for which he had been convicted. He hadn’t
mentioned the rapes, robberies or kidnappings. “And there’s no record anyone
checked further,” the Tribune report states. Illinois Action for Children (IAC),
the agency which administers the state paid sitter program in CookCounty,
never matched the names and addresses of applicants with those in criminal
Second, the government processes
move at the speed of glacial majesty. For years, circuit court judges were aghast
when career criminals, appearing before them on newer charges, were listing the
program as a means of income. It was not until 2008 when the court’s child
protective division discovered that nobody at CCAP ran background checks on the
unlicensed childcare providers. Illinois State Senator, Matt Murphy
(R-Palatine), pushed to reform that problem, but the law was not enacted until
late 2009. Even after its codification, the mandate was not implemented for
another 17 ½ months—“even as the state was alerted to sex offenders on its
Sex Offender (pic3)
Third, homes were not checked.
The original CCAP applications did not ask who lived in the provider’s home.
Therefore, convicted felons, including sex offenders, could reside with
childcare providers completely undetected. The application was recently changed
so that applicants are asked to list other occupants, but verification efforts
are weak or non-existent. More vigorous verification may have caught Raheem
Gray, George Westerfield or any of the other dangerous people living with
Defenders of CCAP reveal the
obvious—that it was created with good intentions, in order to help low-income
residents continue to earn money to raise them out of poverty. They also claim
that the vast majority of participants are upstanding citizens providing a
useful service. Maria Whelan, president of IAC goes so far as to say, “This
program is absolutely essential” for helping these low-income families. Kendall
Marlowe of the Department of Children and Family Services blames government
austerity measures—something that simply is not happening in Illinois. “You can’t keep adding water to
the bucket and not expect that at some point it will overflow,” Marlowe states.
Both Marlowe and Whelan have a good point in a nation that suffers from too
much government intervention.
If there were no private
solutions to childcare, churches or other private organizations, then a
government program would, indeed, be essential. If the program is essential,
then government cut backs, or a shrinking taxpayer base would cause the bucket
to overflow. There may very well not be a private childcare option, but that may
simply be because government has entered this arena already.
Dad with Toddler (pic4)
Conservative skepticism of
government is often mischaracterized as indifference to the plight of the poor,
or an ideological commitment to selfishness. In reality, though, conservatives
objection to government over-involvement is based on stories like these—stories
that continue to prove that government is neither nimble enough nor properly
incentivized to provide goods and services as efficiently as the private
sector. Government regularly performs worse than the private sector, and when
it involves itself in areas where private citizens can perform a task better,
it prevents citizens from doing so.
People get fooled into believing that what
the government offers is their due, and they lose the drive and incentive to do
the task better—themselves. CCAP is experiencing the kind of disaster that
would sink a private childcare provider. Because CCAP is a state program,
though, one that operates at the annual taxpayer cost of $750 million, it will
likely continue. The customers are tax payers that may, or may not, use the
service. The potential victims are casualties of a massive, unaccountable
bureaucracy that operated for 14 years without ever ensuring the safety of its
most vulnerable constituents—babies and children.