Child-Care Background Checks
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There are limitations as to how much you can find out
When looking for qualified child-care providers, Solo Moms can face myriad challenges. It is essential that the child-care provider in question be extremely reliable. Working Solo Moms need to rely on their day-care situation(s) in any event—weather, illness, etc.
In addition, the relationship that a child forms with the day-care center staff or the individual provider must be very positive. Start by checking professional references. A day-care provider who acts as an extension of the family is ideal for all concerned.
A good place to begin is with questions about the provider’s background. A Solo Mom should feel completely justified to ask about the complete background of any potential provider. In return, any legitimate potential provider will understand this and answer any questions as thoroughly as is reasonable. You can assume that a potential provider is trustworthy and still do your due diligence.
If the day-care solution you are considering is operated out of a personal residence, you may wish to ask about and consider the backgrounds of the other residents in the home. That said, comprehensive background checking is more complicated than it would seem. To look at it online makes it seem a good deal more easily accomplished than it often is.
For example, because of privacy laws, it is impossible (and illegal) to conduct a comprehensive background check on a national basis. If an organization or an individual (a private detective) tells you this can be done, it’s a red flag. Services that do this and are legitimate tend to work for corporations (elder care, hospitals) rather than for individuals. In addition, they, too, are bound by the limits of privacy.
Individual states have varying rules regarding background checks, which can make the process cumbersome and inefficient.
A range of options is briefly outlined here with the caveat that because states have vastly different laws, requirements, and procedures, applicability may vary.
Any costs associated with the background checks are expenses you should be prepared to cover in full. Many checks (when available in your state) will have nominal fees associated with their completion.
Types of background checks to consider include:
- Criminal-record checks. Because there are no national criminal-record checks, state-record checks are the way to go—but only if your state permits them. You can ask your local police precinct. In some cases, precincts may require you to file a Freedom of Information Act request to learn whether there have been incidents or complaints about a particular child-care center or provider. In many states, privacy laws protect individuals and limit police permission to disclose information on individuals. If you wish to get as complete a criminal background as the law permits on a provider, you may wish to hire a private detective. Make sure that the private detective is reputable by getting referrals.
- Driving records. Once again, state rules vary. You almost certainly will need the person whom you are investigating to authorize the check. This check would show violations (excessive speed) and any DUI (driving under the influence) arrests. Both of those violations are red flags. These records also show the amount of experience the person has behind the wheel. Tangentially, you might consider things such as whether or not a driver from Southern California would be comfortable driving in a frigid, snow- or ice-bound Upstate New York winter.
- Credit-report check. Although this may not have specific applicability to child care, it may be a good indicator of overall fiscal responsibility. It may be comforting to see that your provider seems solvent and that the day-care center where your child may be spending a good deal of time is generally shipshape.
- Social Security number trace. If this feels necessary to you, you might be able to accomplish this more easily with a private detective. (Caveat: make sure that the person you hire is legitimate.) This kind of search may turn up any aspects of a personal history that a potential child-care provider is hiding. It will show where he or she lived and reveal inconsistencies in personal histories.
- Workers’ compensation check. Although some complaints are completely legitimate, too many complaints may be a red flag. These situations often are considered a matter of public record and can be inquired about through the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board.
All that said, background checks are not necessarily going to be completely airtight. Reasonable due diligence makes sense, and reference checks are necessary.
I recently spoke with a police officer who reminded me that state laws vary so widely that it is hard to guarantee any comprehensive background check. I asked where he would start if he were a Solo Mom in need of reliable and safe child care. He replied, “Word of mouth, other mothers.”
In addition to formal checks (where possible, legal, and/or applicable), less formal factors can and should enter into your decision-making process. It is a necessary balance.
To some extent, you can listen to your gut. If you have a positive feeling about someone, you still can (and should) take reasonable steps to investigate this person’s background. Your peace of mind is important, as well as your gut instinct.
Ask for and thoroughly check references. Ask about things that you are concerned about (e.g., a short stint at a job), and consider the answer you receive.
An excellent source for learning about providers is other mothers. Ask around, and see who recommends what. If someone raves about her day-care provider, that may be very useful to you in making your selection. Identify local Facebook groups, and ask what other moms suggest.
Word of mouth may be equally important to winnowing choices. As a Solo Mom, you will want to pay special attention to things such as absolute reliability. So before you allow Mary Poppins to float into your home, do your homework!
Other Solo Moms may have additional advice. Sister Chat is a great place to post confidential questions.
Tara Shafer is the cofounder of Reconceiving Loss, an online resource center for families coping with pregnancy and infant loss. She is a contributing blogger to the Huffington Post, Psychology Today, and BabyCenter. Her work has appeared in the New York Times and on National Public Radio. You can follow her on Twitter at @reconceivinglos.
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