Anti-poverty program in Illinois used sex offenders to baby sit kids

A scandal has engulfed an anti-poverty program in Illinois. Sunday's Chicago Tribune features a long and engrossing article about how a 14-year-old state-Federal program started out with the best of intentions. Costing $750-million-a-year, it was supposed to provide poor parents with subsidized baby sitters to help them work their way out of poverty.

Unfortunately, the program's nonprofit administrator, Illinois Action for Children, failed to vet potential baby sitters with, well, the same care that most middle-class moms take when looking for sitters. The program used more than a few rapists, sex offenders, and violent felons, the Tribune reported. About half of the subsidized sitters worked in the Chicago area.

As the Tribune explains:

"The state Department of Human Services poorly vetted baby sitters for years - and when a 2009 law forced better checks, it took nearly 18 months to start them, the newspaper's investigation of the Child Care Assistance Program found.

"Also, despite the reforms, the Tribune found that even now the state lacks safeguards to weed out baby sitters who watch children while living in the homes of sex offenders and other felons deemed too dangerous. Based on those findings, the state is vowing further reforms.

"It's nearly impossible to determine just how many of the illegal baby-sitting arrangements the state has allowed. The newspaper found no cases where children were harmed, although privacy laws shield data needed to do an in-depth study."

Interestingly, The Tribune notes that the first hints of a scandal emerged "in Cook County courtrooms, where defendants with long rap sheets mentioned their baby-sitting jobs during proceedings." Eventually, officials determined that full background checks were not being done on potential sitters.

This is hardly the first time, of course, that an anti-poverty program has become mired in scandal -- a problem that underscores the inability of big government to assume the responsibilities that responsible adults ought to do themselves.

It would be interesting to know if President Obama, as a community organizer and later an Illinois senator, had his hands in this program. The Tribune is silent on that issue.

If you experience technical problems, please write to