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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 19, 2006

More vigilance needed to safeguard children

It was distressing to learn that convicted sex offender Raymond L. Thomas, who ran a Maui summer camp that was closed in 2004, has resurfaced in Massachusetts, where he was trying to start another program for teens. Fortunately, Nantucket officials arrested Thomas for failing to register as a sex offender before there were any problems with the program, which seems not to have progressed past the Web site stage.

But the episode serves as a reminder of how imperfectly society is protected by its patchy network of laws and regulations.

For starters, the state of Hawai'i still insufficiently regulates programs for children 13 and older, programs of less than two weeks and specialty camps like the one on Maui, Aloha Adventure Camps. Hawai'i lawmakers, who let this issue get away from them two years ago, need to take another look at requiring criminal background checks and licenses for those who operate programs for juveniles.

Aloha Adventure was closed on the basis of falsified insurance documents; Thomas' criminal status convictions dating back 15 years to California didn't come to light until later. Hawai'i and Massachusetts have sex offender registries, but Thomas never signed up in Nantucket and was discovered only because of an anonymous tip.

If this doesn't make parents feel queasy, it should. Especially in the absence of regulation, parents who entrust their children to any person or group must examine their track record and never hesitate to ask questions. Government should do a better job with safeguards, but there's no real substitute for personal vigilance.