An investigative news team in Austin, Texas recently aired a story about a babysitter, Jana Bonds, who consumed two bottles of rum while caring for a 20-month-old child. When the mother, Naijean Bernard-Onwere, returned home she found the babysitter passed out on the floor and her toddler with free run of their home. Luckily, the child did not suffer any apparent injuries. Bonds was arrested and later described by both Bernard-Onwere and law enforcement as being incoherent and apparently under the influence of alcohol and possibly drugs. The news team conducted their own background check on Bonds and discovered that she has had a multitude of DWI-related arrests in Texas and Oklahoma, many of which ended in convictions. Apparently, there is still an active warrant for her arrest in Oklahoma.
The babysitter was hired through a nanny agency whose website proclaims that their “background and employment reference checks are the most thorough in the Nanny industry”. How can families and nanny agencies assess the comprehensiveness of background checks? Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to evaluate the claims of background screening companies. The information industry has vigorously pitched the so-called national criminal check. While these checks sound thorough and comprehensive, what they actually provide is just a thin veneer of protection. These online checks are riddled with erroneous information, much of the data is not current, and there are huge gaps in the coverage provided. The following are some prudent questions to ask about criminal checks:
- What is the source of the criminal records? Are county court records or state records included? If state records are utilized, are they obtained from state law enforcement and/or the state administrative office of the courts? Premium checks are derived from these sources, not prison or jail records.
- Do the criminal records searched include both pending and closed cases?
- How far back does the search go? How old/current are the records? How frequently are the records updated?
- Are the background checks conducted and reviewed manually (i.e. by an actual person), or are they computerized searches (i.e. plug-and-chug into a database)?
- Are the checks available instantly? If so, the checks are likely to be sub-standard.
Beyond the criminal check, what else should a background check entail? At minimum, driving records, Social Security Number verification, and sex offender searches should be included. The driving record may reveal poor driving skills and may also point to substance abuse problems. Beyond that, the driving record may provide clues about the applicant’s patterns of behavior. For example, a host of unpaid traffic tickets and failure to show up for court dates might suggest that the person isn’t entirely reliable. The Social Security number verification provides information about the validity of the SSN. But, more importantly, information regarding other names used and former addresses is also included. This information should be evaluated against what the applicant has disclosed about his or her background. In addition, it may lead to checks of criminal records in other locations. A national sex offender search should automatically be included, just as a matter of routine due diligence.
Parents and agencies who would like to find out more information about the various types of background checks available to them should review PFC’s blogs, particularly “Not All Criminal Record Checks are Created Equal”, which illustrates the differences between the types of records that qualify as “criminal records”. Those who would like to evaluate whether a specific agency is conducting a check that conforms with nanny industry recommended practices should refer to both the Association of Premier Nanny Agencies site http://theapna.org/about/standards-of-practice/required-background-checks/ of and the International Nanny Association’s site https://nanny.org/resources/families/in-home-child-care-definitions-2/#background. In addition, families should check to see whether an agency they are considering working with is member of these organizations. If they are not a member of either of these organizations, there is probably something wrong.