Second chances

By Rebecca Catalanello and Darla Cameron

For at least two decades, the Florida Department of Children and Families has granted people with felony backgrounds the opportunity to show "clear and convincing evidence" that they've been rehabilitated and can be trusted to care for other people's children in child care or foster care. To appeal, people must submit a series of forms and an Affidavit of Good Moral Character confirming they have not pleaded guilty or no contest to any in a long list of disqualifying crimes.

Read our special report: Second chance child care | Felony DUI is embarrassing but not a disqualifier

"You discover you can live again and be happy and God is a god of second chances and forgiveness."

From a letter in his DCF file

Willie Clark

1989 mug shot

Willie Clark, 49

Clark, who today ministers the gospel to prisoners, himself served two prison sentences on cocaine possession, sale or purchasing charges. His run-ins with the law started when he was 19, according to Florida records, and ended following his final 1991 conviction for selling cocaine, for which he served eight years until his 1999 release. Last year, Clark sought an exemption because his wife wanted to run a home-based day care in Pasco County. Clark has held a steady job at Walmart since 2001 and submitted 25 letters of reference along with his exemption application to DCF.

DCF record: November 2008 exemption review form

"She works so well it would be a great loss if the children lost Mrs. Kim as a teacher or just being a part of their life."

In a letter from her supervisor

Kimberly Fisher

1995 mug shot

Kimberly Fisher, 36

When Fisher, a single mom and Sunday school teacher, started working at a Tampa child care in 1998, a background check missed her 1995 arrest on a misdemeanor domestic battery charge to which she pleaded no contest. Twelve years later, DCF informed her the arrest disqualified her from working with children. She applied for an exemption and in the interim worked at McDonald's to support her four children.

DCF record: February 2008 exemption review form

"I keep moving forward with my life and refuse to go backward at all. ... I will go far in life if I could be given a second chance to prove my worthiness."

From a letter in her DCF file

Shelly Mann Larry

2001 mug shot

Shelly Mann Larry, 34

Larry was convicted of cocaine possession at age 22 in a jury trial. At age 24, she was convicted on misdemeanor marijuana possession. During their review of Larry's exemption 2008 application, DCF officials noted that since her last conviction, she'd sought treatment, opened a nail salon and had children of her own. They granted her a temporary exemption, good for two years, at which point her status would be reviewed again.

DCF record: November 2008 exemption review form

"Everything used to be something else. Including me. Everything here was old and is new again."

From a 2007 Times article

Lynn Marshall

Times photo, January 2009

Lynn Marshall, 56

Marshall was leading a popular, city-run day camp in St. Petersburg when a 2007 newspaper article brought attention to his criminal offenses. Marshall's record includes four convictions between 1985 and 2003, one for retail theft, one for cocaine possession, and two for DUI. Marshall's supporters rallied when DCF reviewed his case to determine whether to grant him an exemption. DCF agreed to allow Marshall to work with conditions. That ended in April, when Marshall's employer notified DCF he'd violated its terms.

DCF records: May 2009 letter revoking his exemption | April 2008 exemption review form

"The last time I [crime redacted] I prayed so hard for god to take this miserable life away from me, I had enough and knew I was much better than what I put myself through."

From a letter Page wrote for her DCF file

Spring Page

1988 mug shot

Spring Page, 50

Page was last arrested in 1994 at age 35, when she was convicted of violating probation on cocaine possession. Before that, she spent eight years in and out of jail, accumulating three other felony convictions and spending six months in prison on charges of burglary, grand theft and failure to appear in court, state records show. She successfully applied last year for a full exemption to foster two nephews. Until then, she held a conditional exemption granted in 2002 to run a day care out of her home. Licensing records show Page's business has run smoothly for seven years.

DCF record: December 2007 exemption review form

"It is so important that our children can have some insight of a family structure."

From a self-profile Pittman wrote in his exemption review application

Dana Pittman

1997 mug shot

Dana Pittman, 46

Pittman was convicted on a domestic battery charge after a fight with his ex-wife in 1997. His current wife runs a St. Petersburg home-based day care. In his DCF application, Pittman said he wanted to be a positive influence to children, particularly those from single family homes. He has been employed with the city of St. Petersburg for 24 years and is a deacon in his church.

DCF record: February 2009 exemption reivew form

Resources on the Web

Check your caregiver in county arrest reports. Online county arrest reports are typically free but show only arrests, not convictions, and may not be complete.

Check statewide criminal records

  • Florida criminal background reports from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement are $24 apiece. They often contain both arrest records and court disposition.

Other resources

  • Search an online database. The South Florida Sun Sentinel obtained a state database of people with criminal records who obtained special permission to care for children. It includes caregivers from the Tampa Bay area.
  • Check on your child care center's inspection file.
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