Many parents rely too heavily on sex offender registries when hiring nannies or other caregivers, leading to potentially dangerous hiring decisions. Sex offender registries have a number of inherent flaws that most families don’t recognize.
A principal and obvious concern for families hiring nannies and other caregivers is to avoid hiring sex offenders.
Sex offenses include sexual assault and rape, as well as sex with a minor child, possession of child pornography, and other offenses involving children.
Every state maintains a registry of sex offenders and these can all be accessed through the National Sex Offender Registry.
However, there are a few things working against the reliability of the registry.
The National Sex Offender Registry is not a single database.
Rather, it is a web portal that searches each of the states’ individual sex offender registries.
In fact, there is no single national registry of sex offenders.
Sex offender registration is a matter of state law—not federal law.
Because sex offender registration laws vary from state to state, uninformed reliance on the National Sex Offender Registry can lead families to hire dangerous individuals to care for children or other family members for a number of reasons.
- The requirements for sex offender registration for the exact same offenses vary from state to state.
Because sex offender registration is a matter of state law, each state legislature creates its own rules for sex offender registration.
Thus, an offense that may require registration in one state may not require registration in another state.
For instance, in Louisiana, neither misdemeanor carnal knowledge nor indecent behavior with a juvenile require sex offender registration.
The laws on whether other kinds of sex-related offenses require registration also vary state by state.
While there may be solid public-policy arguments for not requiring all sex-related offenses to require registration, families hiring a nanny or other caregiver need to be fully informed about such past behavior.
Relying solely on whether an individual is registered as a sex offender can lead to decisions based on incomplete information.
- The periods of registration for the same offense also vary from state to state.
Each state’s laws prescribe how long an individual must remain registered.
While some states require lifetime registration for sex-related offenses, others have shorter registration periods for the same offenses.
Thus, Alabama may require lifetime registration for a given offense and Texas only a 10-year registration for the same offense.
And once a registration period has expired, the state’s sex offender registry will not list the individual as a formerly-registered sex offender.
Again, the state’s determination that an individual need no longer be registered as a sex offender should not be the determining factor as to whether an individual should be trusted with children or vulnerable family members.
- Not all sex offender registrations are available to the public or to employers.
Some sex offender registrations are considered nonpublic.
This means that they are available to law enforcement and regulatory agencies but are not available to the general public.
These hidden sex offender registrations can result in a family making an uninformed hiring decision, potentially with disastrous results, if they are relying solely upon the public sex offender registry information.
- Some states bar employers from making employment/hiring decisions based on the results found in a search of the sex offender registry.
Some states place limitations on employers’ ability to even consider sex offender registration information.
For instance, California makes it a crime for employers to consider sex offender registration information except to “protect a person at risk.”
The California statute does not define “a person at risk,” but one assumes that would include a child or vulnerable family member.
Nevada has a similar statute.
When using sex offender registrations in these states, families and other employers should carefully document the reasons for using the information and how it related to the position for which the individual was being considered.
- As a part of plea negotiations, offenses that would normally require registration are often pleaded down and reduced to lesser offenses that would not require registration.
Prosecutors often reach agreements with defendants in order to expedite the conclusion of cases. This often involves offering the defendant the opportunity to plead guilty to a less-severe offense that comes with less-onerous punishment.
In sex-related criminal cases, this often means that a defendant is offered the opportunity to plead guilty to an offense that does not require a sex offender registration.
This may mean that a sexual assault is pleaded down to a regular (non-sexual) assault, which may not require sex offender registration.
Obviously, a family would be concerned about either kind of assault, but the sex offender registry would not point to the non-sexual assault case.
- Sex offender registries only contain… sex offenses.
This may seem obvious but relying solely on sex offender registrations when hiring a nanny or other caregiver will lead a family to miss other criminal misdeeds of significance.
Only a small percentage of criminal cases are for filed for sex-related offenses. And, as noted above, even fewer of those result in sex offender registrations.
Offenses such as stalking, assault, and theft would be of concern to a family evaluating an individual to work in their home.
Additionally, offenses involving alcohol or drugs may point to an individual’s safety awareness and lifestyle—behaviors that may follow the individual to work.
Even a pattern of relatively-minor offenses such as failure to pay traffic tickets or appear in court when required can give a parents insight into a nanny or caregiver’s attitude toward compliance and their self-management.
While the sex offender registrations are important red flags when hiring a nanny or other caregiver, parents should not rely solely on such registries.
A reliable background check should include a thorough search of criminal records in each county, state, and federal district in which the individual has lived, worked, or attended school in at least the last ten years.
Parents should also review the individual’s driving history for indications of careless or irresponsible behavior.
Remember, past behavior is an indicator of future behavior. And in hiring a nanny or other caregiver, more information leads to a better-informed hiring decision.