Has Your Child Care Provider Cleared A Background Check?

Criminal History, Child Abuse and Sex Offender Registries Should Be Checked

Of course you want your child to be safe when in child care. Child safety is listed as a top indicator that parents look for when choosing child care. But while a safe facility and any safety training and education completed by a child care provider are important considerations, a background check for a child care provider can also be used to verify that the person watching your child is trustworthy.

Parents should ask what type of criminal background check is conducted on a potential provider and how often before making a final decision.

About 12 million children under the age of 5 are in some type of child care setting every week. Youngsters may be cared for by an adult other than a parent for 35-45 hours each week. While many parents assume that providers in institutional daycare centers or facilities that receive government subsidies for child care undergo background checks, the reality is that background check requirements vary greatly by state and type of child care option being utilized. According to the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (NACCRRA), thorough background check requirements are sorely lacking. Consider these statistics:

  • 21 states do not conduct fingerprint checks.
  • 43 states do not check the sex offender registry for child care staff.
  • 24 states do not conduct a fingerprint check for family child care providers.
    You want to be sure that your child care provider has no criminal history relating to children or violence, including child abuse, neglect and sex offenses. While background checks can't flag "closet offenders" without any criminal history, knowing that a provider has cleared a recent background check should at least provide you with a greater confidence in knowing that no individual with a child-related offense is around your child.
    A single check without annual or periodic re-checks is less than ideal because it can allow for someone who commits an offense after being initially hired to slip through the cracks.

    More institutional child care workers, nannies and au pairs have at least an initial background check performed than other care options. Family child care providers may not necessarily have any type of check performed, depending on where they live. Many of those checks are only performed a single time to keep potential applicants from applying for jobs. Babysitters and other occasional care workers may not have any type of background check performed. Another limitation--sometimes due to fees charged--is that checks may only be statewide in scope and not national. That allows potential unfit providers to escape scrutiny on offenses that may have occurred out of state.

    Background checks are not intended to prevent qualified child care workers who have had a non-child related incident from ever working in the field. A trained employer will know how to review an applicant's file to determine whether the person is suitable for working around children. While details of personal background checks are confidential, parents should have full confidence in knowing that persons watching their kids have met background check requirements and have no red flags concerning being around children.

    See for yourself how your state measures up in terms of what type of background check requirements are required for child care providers in licensed centers. If you use a family care provider, nanny or au pair, you should ask about whether background checks are utilized. The same questions can be posed of volunteers who work in child care at your church or synagogue, school, scouting, or who are involved with any type of sport or enrichment activity for children. If your provider has had a criminal background check performed, ask when and how often re-checks are conducted, and make sure you are comfortable in the answer given. Keep in mind that having a clean background doesn't safeguard against something bad happening, but it doesn't help to lessen the risk of known deviants and criminals having close contact with your child.

    If your child's care provider, coach or leader has not had a recent criminal background check performed and has no plans of having one (often simply because it isn't required), that doesn't mean you have a provider who is unfit to care for kids. You should just be comfortable with the lack of a check and extra-confident in that person's credentials.