MOUNT VERNON — A piece of federal legislation intended to keep children out of foster care has disrupted operations at the Skagit Valley Family YMCA’s Oasis Teen Shelter.
The Family First Prevention Services Act, which was passed in February, provides services to families with children who are at risk of entering the foster system.
But as of Oct. 1 the legislation also requires those working in child care to undergo federal background checks before starting work, which Oasis Teen Shelter Director Justin Krupa said is affecting his ability to help homeless kids.
“It’s working antithetical to having effective shelter care,” Krupa said.
The new law, he said, has led to understaffing, closures and confusion for the children that Oasis is trying to serve.
In the past, Krupa’s staff were able to get conditional approval to work after the completion of a state background check, but before completion of a federal one, he said.
“This person would be trained on the job,” he said.
But now staff have to wait until the federal check is done before they can work.
Krupa said it takes about a month for the FBI to complete a background check.
“That’s a long time to hire someone, but not let them work,” he said.
This, combined with the relatively high turnover at Oasis, has meant the shelter has had to close without warning on nights it didn’t have enough staff.
“We’ve had to close every Saturday night (in November), and a few Sundays,” Krupa said.
He said he’s never had a staff member pass the state background check, but not the federal one.
“In my opinion, this offers no additional safety,” he said. “(Staff are) not ever going to be one on one with a kid anyway.”
While Oasis has been open more often than it’s been closed, Krupa said rumors of the shelter’s permanent closure have spread quickly through the homeless community.
He said he recently filled some vacancies, and has gotten approval from the FBI for two of the new hires. For that reason, he thinks the next month will be less impacted by the new law.
But if anyone leaves again, he’s back to square one, he said.