Slipping through the cracks
Research reveals felons among day care owners, staff Here are several examples of local day care owners who have felons in their day cares - either living there or working there - or who themselves have been convicted of felonies. The Forum disco...
Research reveals felons among day care owners, staff
Here are several examples of local day care owners who have felons in their day cares - either living there or working there - or who themselves have been convicted of felonies.
The Forum discovered the criminal backgrounds through an investigation into the backgrounds of day care workers and owners.
In two cases, the owners didn't reveal the criminal backgrounds on their day care license application as required by law. And since North Dakota doesn't do background checks, the criminal pasts were unknown and the licenses were granted.
In the other case, the felony was known, but the state deemed the would-be owner rehabilitated and allowed her to start a day care business.
Did not disclose day care worker's criminal background
Sarah Vanos said she didn't inform Social Services of her mother-in-law's criminal background when she applied for her day care license because she didn't think it was anything to be concerned about.
Her mother-in-law, Debbie Doran, works for Vanos in the Fargo home day care.
Doran's legal past includes a 1996 felony conviction for selling marijuana out of the home where her children lived. Before that, Doran was involved in a custody battle over her children - one of whom ran away from home and was put into foster care. She also lost legal custody of the three remaining children, who were "in need of treatment or care as deprived children" for 18 months, according to an April 12, 1993, court order.
During a later custody battle in 1997, an investigator cited neglect, violence, and drug and alcohol abuse by Doran, who began using controlled substances when she was 9, court documents state.
Cass County Social Services was not aware of the custody situation or Doran's felony when asked by The Forum about Doran being listed as a full-time caregiver at Vanos' day care.
The removal of Doran's children should have come up on a child protection check Social Services conducts on providers and their employees, said Cass County Social Services licensing specialist Coreen Ruona. That file might have been destroyed, she said.
Through her attorney, Jane Sundby, Doran said she did not lose physical custody of her children, with the exception of her one daughter who was placed with the state due to unruly behavior.
Sundby said Doran has turned her life around since 1997.
Vanos said she believes that because her clients know and trust Doran with her kids, they wouldn't be upset to hear about her past legal troubles.
"This is a 50-year-old woman we're talking about; she's a total different person," Vanos said.
Disclosed criminal past deemed rehabilitated by state
When Darcy Anderson was granted her day care license in November 2002, she was still on supervised probation for a 1998 felony conviction for embezzlement. But Anderson, 37, didn't try to hide that fact when she filled out her day care application. In fact, she initially was denied a license when she first applied in January 2002.
"My understanding is if I had just signed it, they basically would have kind of just taken my word for it and everything would have been fine," Anderson said. "But because I was honest, I initially got denied." North Dakota law allows people to get permission to run or work at a child care facility despite any felonies or misdemeanors they might have, if they can show they are rehabilitated. According to state rules and regulations, an applicant is generally considered rehabilitated when five trouble-free years elapse following completion of parole, probation or imprisonment.
So Anderson reapplied and submitted evidence, including a letter from Anderson's probation officer confirming she was complying with the terms of her probation and rehabilitation. Cass County Social Services then turned the paperwork over to the state's Southeast Human Services office, which generally consults with the state department's legal team.
"I'm not sure what the state was basing that license on," Cass County Social Services licensing specialist Coreen Ruona said, adding, "We just follow the rules and regulations, and it doesn't matter who she defrauded. The state issues the licenses. It's not our decision."
Anderson said despite being denied initially, she is glad she was honest.
"It had nothing to do with children, but you know, I can understand," the Fargo woman said. "It was a theft charge. I did steal. I did wrong and I can understand them worrying about if she's going to defraud the state."
If the parents of any of the nine children she cares for ask, she tells them about her past. I don't hide it," she said. "I made a mistake."
Did not disclose criminal background of person living
in the day care home
Kristina Bjorem is an example of an in-home day care provider who did not inform Social Services that a man living in her house was a convicted felon.
Michael Belinskey, 39, was convicted of felony criminal trespass in 2006 for entering a residence without permission, according to Dede Wienckowski, Bjorem's Cass County day care licensing specialist.
Social Services this year introduced a background form each worker or household resident has to sign, and Belinskey checked the "yes" box under a statement certifying he had not been convicted of a felony.
"If there's somebody living in the house who has a felony conviction, she has to tell me," Wienckowski said.
Belinskey also was charged with child neglect and aggravated assault for the incident, but those charges were dismissed. He also has a 1993 misdemeanor assault conviction for punching a woman in the face and breaking her nose and two fingers in front of their 14-year-old babysitter.
Bjorem could not be reached for comment on the phone number listed on her application. A contact number for Belinskey was not available.
Forum reporter Mila Koumpilova contributed to these reports
Readers can reach Forum reporter Brittany Lawonn at (701) 241-5541