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Background checks: What every family needs to know before hiring a caregiver

If you were considering hiring an employee for your business, you’d run a background check on them, right? So why wouldn’t you do this for someone who will be working in your home or with your kids or loved ones? Many people hire caregivers based on interviews and the good word of references, but this often won’t uncover past misdeeds that could cause concern.

“Hiring a caregiver is a big decision, and people want peace of mind,” says Tammy Tucker, of National Crime Search, Inc., a background screening business, which has experience screening nanny candidates. “Background checks can help parents ensure they're hiring a trustworthy nanny to care for their children and to keep them safe. Many people mistakenly think they can just Google a person’s name and find any criminal history, but that method isn’t always accurate.”

Here’s what you need to know about getting a background check for your caregiver candidates.

Why you should run a background check

Although background checks are not 100 percent reliable or accurate, they can help ensure your caregiver is who they say they are. Proper background checks can tell you a lot about a person, Tucker notes, including their criminal history and an idea of the person’s character. “Gathering as much information as possible about a potential caregiver will help people make an educated and informed hiring decision,” she says.

Most background investigations raise no red flags, says Mike Coffey, president of background screening company Imperative in Fort Worth, Texas. Imperative owns PFC Information Services, which specializes in screening caregivers. However, at least a fourth of PFC’s reports identify some sort of criminal record, he says. Some are minor items in the distant past, but “some are more significant and are things you would want to know before you invited someone into your home,” Coffey says.

As of July 2019, Care.com began rolling out an enhanced caregiver screening called a CareCheck that is included with membership.  CareCheck is a background check that Care.com uses to help maintain a safe community, but it does not replace the safety precautions that families should take on their own. Review the 5 Steps to Hiring Safely to learn more.

Issues background checks can uncover

Background checks look into criminal records and motor vehicle records, though the degree of thoroughness can vary by provider and level of scrutiny you desire. Tucker says a thorough background checking service looks for misdemeanors and felonies from the past seven to 10 years.

If the caregiver will transport your children or loved one, she says it’s smart to run a Motor Vehicle Report to see if they have a valid driver license and any traffic violations in their state of licensure.

Coffey says television dramas give the impression that criminal records are all available in one database, when in fact, America has a decentralized criminal records system. He says there’s no reliable nationwide database, which means that relying on “instant” online background checking services will miss about half of the criminal records that a thorough investigation will find.

He explains that about 98 percent of criminal cases originate at the local county level, and those records usually aren’t online, so a good background check requires investigators to obtain records from individual courthouses. A quality background check can also look for indicators of behavior that haven’t yet risen to the level of a crime, Coffey says.

“For instance, we’ve seen nannies who are subject to restraining orders from previous employers or family members,” he says. “This can be a big red flag for a family considering inviting a nanny into their home to care for their child.”

He adds that minor theft offenses, especially recent ones, could also be a dealbreaker for someone you want to trust in your home.

The cost of a background check

The price of a background check varies depending on how extensive of a screening you want. A basic check can start around $60, and increases based on how much information you request and how many places the candidate has lived. Coffey says a very thorough background check typically costs about $300.

How to choose a background screening service

Coffey recommends avoiding any service that claims to be instant. Tucker also recommends choosing a background service that’s accredited through the National Association of Professional Background Screeners.

“All of those companies are compliant with the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which sets the guidelines for conducting background checks,” she says. “A compliant company will also require the job candidate to complete an authorization form to run the background check and will have methods to verify any criminal records.”

Coffey encourages families to use an employment application process with direct questions about the caregiver’s education, work experience and criminal history.

After the interview process, let the nannies know that you plan to run a routine background check on your final candidates — though some jurisdictions require employers to make a conditional offer before running a background check, so make sure you know the laws in your state. If your candidate would like to proceed, then you will need them to authorize the screening when requested. If they refuse to comply, that may be a red flag and a dealbreaker for your family.

“If the parents will conduct a thorough application and interview process, then all the background investigation should be is a verification that the applicant told the truth,” Coffey says. “And if you catch them in even a small lie, do you really want to trust them with your child?”

Read next: Nanny taxes and payroll: Step-by-step instructions for setting it up

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