I-Team: Who's watching your kids at camp?
As the weather warms up and school gets out for the summer, many kids need a safe place to go while parents are at work.
The answer for thousands of working families is day camps and overnight camps across Rhode Island.
At Camp Aldersgate in North Scituate, work is under way to get everything ready for the summer season.
"When choosing a camp, parents really need to feel comfortable with the camp that they're choosing for their child," said Jennifer Carpenter, who runs Camp Aldersgate and is the president of the Rhode Island Association of Camps.
She said children's safety is priority No. 1.
"I feel the questions that need to be asked are, 'Who are you hiring? Who's watching my kids? What sort of training do you give your staff? And what are your supervision policies? What are your free time policies? Who's watching my kids and how are they being supervised,'" Carpenter said.
The I-Team has learned there's nothing in Rhode Island law to prevent someone with a criminal background, even a sex offender, from working at camps and many other businesses focused on children.
It means camps like Camp Aldersgate have to follow strict policies on their own to make sure children are safe.
"We are accredited by the American Camp Association, which requires that we do a pretty rigorous interview process, which includes interviewing, reference checks, job checks, and also a national sex offender registry check, and then also a criminal background check," Carpenter said.
Before you can get a job at any Rhode Island school or day care, or even sign up to volunteer, you'll be subject to state a criminal background check, called a BCI.
But an alarming number of businesses that deal with children aren't required to run a background check.
Making the problem worse, Rhode Island BCI checks won't reveal offenses like child kidnapping, solicitation of a minor or child pornography.
Attorney General Peter Kilmartin is backing a bill that would require anyone applying to work primarily with children to report whether they've been convicted of a sex crime.
Kilmartin admitted it's unlikely a sex offender would admit past crimes on a job application. But the bill also gives interviewers an incentive to do their homework. If a sex offender slips through the cracks, employers would be fined $1,000 a day.
"What we want to do is put the onus on the individual who is the employee to notify the employer that they are a registered sex offender. This way we can keep them from working with these children," Kilmartin said.
Like Camp Aldersgate, the YMCA isn't waiting for Rhode Island to catch up with other states. The YMCA looks into employees' pasts and gives them special training before camp begins.
"Criminal background checks. We have supervision and training of all of our camp staff. We have child abuse prevention training, which is at the top of our list," said Paula Jacobson, executive director at the Kent County YMCA.
So what can parents do?
"Make sure that your camp is ACA accredited, and that you find the best fit," Jacobson said.
And remember that even a background check is just a snapshot of someone's behavior.
"It's not a foolproof system. It's a moment in time," Kilmartin said.