Conducting a Background Check during Your Childcare Search

If you're planning to hire a nanny or other in-home child-care provider or are considering placing your child in a family day care, you should insist on reference checks and background checks. In the case of a family day-care operation, also request a police check on any other adults living in the home. You don't want to find out later that the family day-care provider's boyfriend or adult son is a convicted pedophile.

After the reference checks out of the way, you need to decide which types of background checks to run on the family day-care provider or nanny.

Although you may feel like a big creep requesting these types of background checks of someone who's likely a wonderful human being, you shouldn't feel embarrassed or awkward at all. You're just doing your job as a parent. Besides, you're not asking any more of a prospective employee than the guy who operates the local burger joint asks of any new worker — and all he's entrusting to that person is what's in his cash register, not the health and well-being of his nearest and dearest! Plus, you're not alone in your decision to do this. The number of criminal reference checks performed on child-care workers skyrocketed between 1973 and 2000: Seven times as many checks were performed in 2000 as were three decades earlier.

Any child-care provider who's genuinely concerned about your family's well-being understands why you need to do these checks, both for the sake of your child as well as your own peace of mind. If the child-care provider in question gives you a hard time about any of this, she's done you a huge favor by proving without a doubt that she's not the right person to care for your child.

What follows is a list of some of the specific types of background checks you may want to request. Some of these checks can be ordered by the child-care provider for a nominal fee, and others are more readily conducted by a third party, such as a detective agency or security firm. (As a goodwill gesture, you should offer to pick up the tab for any out-of-pocket expenses the child-care provider incurs on your behalf. Asking the child-care provider to cover these fees out of her own pocket isn't fair.)

  • Criminal-record check: Contrary to popular belief, doing a nationwide criminal-record check isn't possible — unless, of course, you happen to be in the FBI. Even private investigators have to conduct record checks on a statewide or countywide basis, which can get quite involved if the child-care provider you're considering has lived and worked in a number of different jurisdictions.
    Some states forbid statewide searches, and others require fingerprints to process a search request. Some states are so slow processing requests that your child can be looking for childcare for her own kids before you find out whether the child-care provider in question is legitimate. These are the unfortunate facts when attempting criminal-record checks. Assuming it's possible and practical to conduct one, you can either ask the child-care provider to supply you with a copy of a criminal-record check obtained through the local police department (it costs about $20), or you can hire a private detective or security firm to do the necessary digging on your behalf.
  • Court-record checks: Criminal history information and civil records are public information. You can access this information, provided you know where to look and can go to the courthouse or state repository in person. A private detective can help simplify this process for you, but if you already have some serious inklings that the child-care provider in question may have a dubious past, looking for a more suitable candidate may be simpler and cheaper.
  • Department of Motor Vehicles check: Although you may pick up bits and pieces of information about the child-care provider's driving record by doing a criminal-record check, if you want the true lowdown on her driving record, you need to hit up the Department of Motor Vehicles for information. Policies, procedures, and fees vary from state to state, but you can expect to fork over a nominal fee — usually in the $5 to $15 range. Once again, you want to make a phone call or two to find out about the rules in your particular state.
    Although you may be tempted to skip the driving-record check if you don't intend to have the child-care provider drive your children anywhere, bear in mind that a driving-record check can reveal other important informant about a child-care provider, such as a string of drunk driving convictions. Some states automatically notify the child-care provider that you've requested a copy of her driving record, so you want to be upfront with her about your intentions.
  • Credit-report check: A credit-report check can give you a solid indication of how mature and reliable a person is. After all, if the child-care provider you're considering has had repeated difficulties remembering to pay her rent or her mortgage, she may be equally irresponsible in other areas of her life. If you decide you want to see a credit report, you can either ask the child-care provider to authorize you to order the credit report on her behalf or you can ask her to provide you with the report herself. It's a fairly inexpensive proposition and shouldn't cost you more than about $35.
  • Social Security Number trace: A Social Security Number trace is the worst nightmare of a child-care provider who's attempting to hide parts of her past. The trace allows you to find out where she's lived for the past seven years — information that can be invaluable in turning up any inconsistencies in her employment history. A Social Security Number trace can be conducted on your behalf by private detectives and the growing number of online search firms offering people-search services. You don't need the child-care provider's permission to conduct this particular search, and some online firms do it for under $20.
  • Workers' compensation check: Want to find out whether the child-care provider in question has made a career out of making fraudulent workers' compensation claims? You should! Otherwise, you can be setting yourself up to be her next victim. In most states, after an employee's claim makes it through the state system or Workers' Compensation Appeals Board, the case becomes a matter of public record. Be careful not to hold the fact that the child-care provider in question has made any legitimate workers' compensation claims against her: That's against the law.
  • Health-record check: If you want to be assured that the child-care provider in question is physically and mentally fit to care for your child, ask her to undergo a medical exam (at your expense) or to provide you with a letter verifying that she's in good health.
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