The Maryland State Department of Education did not perform legally required inspections and criminal background checks at numerous private day care centers and preschools across the state, according to a state audit released Tuesday.

More than a third of the child care facilities checked were missing at least one of their required inspections between July 2008 and June 2011, according to a review of inspection reports of 60 facilities throughout the state. (Read the complete audit in the embedded viewer below this story.)

Of the 180 inspections that should have been performed, 31 were missing, including 14 at facilities in Prince George's County. Another six inspections were late at child care facilities in Baltimore City and Baltimore County.

The findings
The Maryland Department of Legislative Services' Office of Legislative Audits looked at the inspections of 10 child care facilities in each of six regions across the state. Between July 1, 2008, and June 30, 2011, each facility was required to be inspected three times.
Regional office Facilities with missing or late inspections Missing inspections Late inspections
Baltimore City 9 12 5
Baltimore County 4 3 1
Howard/Carroll counties 2 2 0
Montgomery County 0 0 0
Prince George's County 8 14 0
Wicomico County 0 0 0
Source: Maryland General Assembly Department of Legislative Services' Office of Legislative Audits

As of June, the department was responsible for 10,376 child care facilities that were licensed to serve roughly 219,000 children. Maryland law requires each of these facilities to have at least one unannounced inspection annually.

Department of Education officials inspect the state of the facilities -- whether electrical wires are exposed and food is properly stored -- as well as other aspects of the centers, like whether there are more children than the facility is licensed for and whether there is sufficient adult supervision.

This is not the first time the Department of Education has been cited for its failure to inspect day care centers. The last routine audit the state did in 2009 found that out of 100 facilities, 76 were missing at least one inspection.

All inspections that were missing at the time of the auditors' most recent study have since been completed, said department spokesman Bill Reinhard. "It's something that we are targeting, that we want to put an end to," he said of the missing inspections.

The Department of Education also failed to follow up on day care center employees whose criminal background checks triggered red flags, the audit found.

Between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2012, the Department of Education received 5,000 alerts following criminal background checks. Of 25 alerts from June 2011 that state auditors looked into, five received no follow-up action until after the auditors brought them to the department's attention in February 2012. Four were not checked into quickly enough for state requirements, and the last three employees whose information triggered the alerts had been mistakenly deleted from the state's child care record system.

Though the department said in written responses to the audit that it was "able to satisfactorily close" the first nine cases -- where the alerts were either ignored or looked into too late -- Reinhard said he did not know what the result had been.

The other three employees' records were lost during internal database upgrades, he said.