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Deal signs bill to improve child safety

Seeks to strengthen background checks on child care workers

MACON — Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law House Bill 350, requiring Georgia’s 6,000 child care facilities to undergo national fingerprint-based background checks for employees.

Officials said that previously limited background checks were required, thus allowing people with criminal backgrounds in other states to be cleared to work in Georgia child care programs.

Deal signed the bill at St. Andrews Montessori School in Macon.

“Georgia children are our most precious assets,” he said. “This legislation puts criminal checks in the hands of law enforcement agencies rather than private companies, ensuring that those processing the checks actually have the information and tools needed to protect our children.”

An employee hired after January 2014 will undergo a fingerprint-based background check, and all current employees must be fingerprinted no later than Jan. 1, 2017.

He said the timeline should lessen the burden on child care providers and expedite the process. A re-check is required every five years.

Bobby Cagle is commissioner of the state’s Department of Early Care and Learning. He described the bill as a “landmark child protection law for the state.”

“In Georgia, we entrust the health and safety of hundreds of thousands of our youngest learners to the employees of child care facilities daily,” said Cagle. “Now we all will know with greater certainty that those working in the facilities are worthy of that sacred trust.”

The law allows day care centers to immediately hire a short-term employee after a satisfactory name-based Georgia records search, which means providers can employ staff quickly if needed to ensure proper child ratios and oversight for safety reasons.