For parents, finding safe, bona fide child care will remain a critical need. But as they resume work at their place of employment, they may find themselves fiercely competing to get their child enrolled at a facility maintained by thoroughly-screened management and staff. And differing state laws concerning background checks for those individuals can make the situation confusing and challenging.
Why the increased competition? The pandemic has shuttered many child care establishments, and it appears most schools will remain closed through the summer. Some child care facilities may be closed permanently. Parents may find fewer places in operation, fewer vetted caregivers and more restrictive admission since facilities may allow fewer kids to occupy a room together; the advocacy group Daycares United noted that some daycare operations may need to slash enrollment by as much as 20% to comply with social distancing practices in effect in some states. Child care facilities in dense metropolitan areas where space comes at a premium may be impacted more than rural operations by such measures. As noted, with many parents returning to their places of employment, child care centers may be inundated with too many moms and dads vying for too few openings.
On the flip side, employers seeking to entice furloughed employees to return to their jobs will face parents for whom child care is now an even more necessary component of their benefits package. After months of unemployment, people are stretching every dollar, and benefits such as child care may be not just appealing but mandatory.
It goes without saying that parents demand childcare facilities that employ individuals who have been very carefully screened to help ensure the child is safe from risk.
But it gets complicated. While federal law stipulates stringent guidelines, there is a patchwork of regulations concerning childcare workers that differs between states, and in some cases, cities.
Let’s take a look at federal regulations before diving into the murky waters of state statutes.
As stated by childcare.gov, “Federal law requires all states to implement state and federal criminal background checks that include fingerprints for child care providers. The comprehensive background check must include a fingerprint check of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) database (a service offered by HireRight) to ensure that providers do not have a history of convictions that could put children’s health and safety at risk. Notably, the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information System database may not include final dispositions for arrests listed on an individual’s rap sheet. Therefore, it’s critical that employers also conduct local criminal felony and misdemeanor checks to assess if an arrest listed on the FBI’s report resulted in a conviction. Additionally, potential child care providers must be checked to ensure that they are not listed as a sex offender and have not been found to have committed child neglect or abuse.”
Everyone from owners to teachers to maintenance personnel should be screened, including:
- Every adult living in a home used for child care
- Every adult working for a child care center; this includes administrators, teachers, caregivers, bus drivers, janitors, and kitchen staff
- All adult volunteers, guests, and part-time personnel who may have unsupervised access to children
Before enrolling their children in a child care facility, parents should interview the administrator and ensure these required tasks have been performed on the above individuals:
- FBI fingerprint check
- Search of the National Crime Information Center’s National Sex Offender Registry
- Search of each of the following databases in the state where the child care worker lives and each state where they have lived in at least the past seven years:
- State criminal registry or repository (fingerprints are required in the state where the worker currently lives, and are optional in other states)
- State sex offender registry or repository
- State-based child abuse and neglect registry and database
- Search of county criminal felony and misdemeanor records for all locations where an individual has lived, worked, and attended school over the proceeding 7-10 years, along with all addresses returned by a review of the individual’s address history.
Bear in mind that these federal requirements are applicable for providers who are not required to be licensed, but care for children receiving federal child care assistance.
If the child care facility you have chosen does not have a license, you may ask for a completed background check conducted by a credit reporting agency such as HireRight. If the facility does not have proof of a background check, you may ask them to have one performed, or you may perform one yourself. Contact HireRight for details on how to conduct one quickly, thoroughly, and affordably.
Each state may have different licensing standards. According to Child Care of America, child care facilities that meet these individual state standards means they have met standards for health and safety, safe sleep practices, caregiver to child ratios, group size, food preparation and serving, staff training requirements, sanitation, emergency preparedness plans, and background checks for staff.
There are similar steps that providers in each state must take to obtain a license, including:
- Completion of an application for a child care license
- Completion of a background check that is required by the state
- Most programs must receive an inspection to prove they meet the state’s requirements for health and safety in child care
- Some states may also require that staff meet certain educational levels
But again, bear in mind that the standards may vary from state to state. What is wholly unacceptable in one may be permissible in another.
Also, note that not all child care programs are required to have a license.
- Child care centers usually are required to be licensed, but there are exceptions; in some states, programs with a religious affiliation may not be required to have a license
- Family child care homes may not be required to have a license depending on the size of the program
- School-age programs may not need to have a license if they are located on school grounds and operated by school personnel
You can find information on your state’s licensing standards by contacting your local Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R) agency or clicking here. The CCR&R may also be able to help find child care options near your home or work.
Conclusion – Safety first
Many child care facilities were forced to close in the wake of the pandemic. Some states, including New Jersey, limited child care centers that remained in operation to providing care only to children of essential personnel, such as health care workers and law enforcement personnel. Most states have lifted or are in the process of lifting such restrictions, but require such facilities to comply with restrictions and guidelines (such as New Jersey’s EO 149 mandating that child care centers comply with the COVID-19 Child Care and Youth Summer Camp Standards and other applicable statutes), regulations, and Executive Orders.
“Specifically, all child care centers (including those that have been operating pursuant to EO 110), must submit an attestation to the Department of Children and Family (“DCF”) no later than 24 hours prior to the anticipated opening date, or in the case of currently operating emergency child care centers, within fourteen days of May 29, 2020, attesting that it will follow all applicable health and safety standards in the COVID-19 Child Care and Youth Summer Camp Standards (“COVID -19 Child Care & Camp Standards”), which is currently under development. On May 29, 2020, however, the DCF issued “Guidance for New Jersey Child Care Facilities on COVID-19 Related Health and Safety Requirements,” which can be found here, and directs:
- Screening children and staff each day, prior to entry; anyone exhibiting symptoms or with a fever over 100.4 must be prohibited from entering;
- Limiting the size of classes and groups, and spacing them out throughout the center; staff members may not move between groups;
- Requiring staff to wear cloth masks, and encouraging them for children over the age of 2, whenever feasible; however, masks are prohibited during nap time for children under the age of 2, due to suffocation risks; and
- Enhanced cleaning and sanitation practices.”
Parents should review their state’s mandates for safe operation of child care centers, specifically scrutinizing state policies for what they consider acceptable behavior for child care facilities’ workers. Very recently, an audit conducted by Oregon’s Governor’s Office revealed that the state’s Department of Education’s Office of Child Care (OCC) and the Department of Human Services’ Background Check Unit (BCU) approved child care workers who in the past committed crimes such as child abuse or neglect. The audit also found Oregon provides little guidance on which criminal backgrounds are allowed for child care workers. The OCC and BCU don’t consider some convictions an automatic disqualification, even if the state will disqualify a candidate for other jobs involving children.
As parents return to their places of employment and seek resources for the care of their children, a thorough review of facilities under consideration — including the thoroughness of their background check and parameters is highly recommend.
 The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) requires employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide their employees with emergency paid sick leave under the FFCRA’s Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA) or expanded emergency family and medical leave provisions under the FFCRA’s Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLEA) for specified reasons related to COVID-19. The EPSLA and EFMLEA leave provisions are applicable to employees who cannot work due to the closures of schools or childcare facilities and the lack of childcare resulting therefrom. The Department of Labor’s (DOL) Wage and Hour Division (WHD) administers and enforces the new law’s paid leave requirements. These provisions will apply through December 31, 2020. The FFCRA requires employers with fewer than 500 employers to provide paid leave related to childcare closures due to COVID-19. Healthcare providers and emergency responders are exempt. Employers with less than 50 workers may also be exempt.