Whether it’s adoption-related or for foster care purposes, having a good understanding of child abuse background checks and the laws related to them is extremely important.
Child abuse background checks are designed to prevent crimes against children, including harassment, neglect and abandonment. This special type of background check is similar to a daycare background check or a nanny background check, except this type of history search accesses a number of databases to ensure that potential adoptive and foster parents will provide a safe, healthy environment for children.
They are also used to check on the wellbeing of any child where doubts may arise for a caretaker–whether it’s a biological parent or legal guardian.
When preparing to undergo a child abuse background check, the following information can be used to run a background check on yourself before the agency does, which can be used to eliminate or identify any disqualifying instances.
Background Check Overview for Adoption and Foster Care
The background check process for prospective foster parents and other caregiver background checks is detailed and lengthy for one reason: safety.
But, with so many different laws and unique kinds of checks being run it can be easy to get confused.
In general, the basic goal of a child abuse background check is to assess potential foster parents on their suitability to raise a child, or at least have a child in their home. All of the background checks that are run through various databases are intended to ensure the child is going to a safe environment.
As is the case with caretakers for any vulnerable group, the background check is taken very seriously, and unlike some pre-employment background checks, there are several things that will automatically disqualify individuals from being able to take in a foster child.
Many of the checks that are run as part of the background process are the same from state to state. However, every single state and U.S. territory has unique laws and regulations in addition to those already determined by federal laws.
Most notably, what goes on a criminal records check as well as a what shows up on a background check of child abuse and neglect registries will be the basic starting point for any foster care related background check.
State Regulations for Child Care Services (Stopping Child Abuse)
The state regulations for child care services are different for every state, regarding the rules and regulations on who needs to be checked, what checks need to be done, and how often these checks are performed.
In addition to the unique regulations of each state, these statutes are all enforced by different government agencies in each state. In many cases, the state’s department of human resources or even the department of justice will be in charge of performing the checks.
However other states may rely on an agency specifically for child care services. A list of the agency in charge of child care provider background checks in each state is provided below.
Who Needs Records Checks
Anyone and everyone who will have unsupervised access to a child in a child care program will need to undergo a comprehensive background check. This includes any staff members who will be alone with any children, volunteers who will be alone with them, and any other employees on the premises of a child care facility who have unsupervised access. (A free volunteer background check is available through many state justice departments.)
With foster homes, every single individual that resides in the home will also need to undergo a comprehensive child care or child abuse background check. This applies to everyone that is 16-years-old and up, so in some cases even juveniles will be required to undergo a background check if they are living with a family that is considering foster care.
One of the few exceptions to the child care provider background check is that if the child being cared for is a relative of the individual, that individual will not need a background check. However, anyone else who is not related to the child will need a background check and if any non-relative children are being cared for by the individual, that person will still need to undergo a background check.
Types of Records That Must Be Checked
The basic federal regulations for a child care provider background check include:
- FBI Identity History Summary Check (IHSC)
- National Sex Offender Registry check (This is free to search by anyone)
- State Criminal Registry check
- State Sex Offender Registry check
- State Child Abuse and Neglect Registry check
All of the above checks must be completed before an individual is able to work with children unsupervised. In the table below, the state forms and guidelines are provided for anyone who needs to get a background check on themself.
In the case of adoption and foster care, these checks must be completed before the child is able to reside in the individual’s home for any period of time. For other child care facilities, employees who have yet to complete the above checks may work with children in the facility (such as non profit agencies), but only while being supervised by another member of the staff who has all the proper checks completed.
Finally, federal regulations also require that any individual who works with children in a child care facility must undergo childcare background checks at least once every 5 years. However, many states require the checks to be more frequently such as every 3 years.
State Specific Child Abuse Background Checks
There are several other checks that are commonly required at the state level. Not all states will have this history searched mandated, but individuals going through the background check process should expect to undergo more checks than just the ones listed above because no state uses the federal regulations exclusively.
Possible additional checks that may be required include:
- Adult protective service records
- Juvenile court records (these are typically sealed for employment background checks, but not for child care)
- Domestic violence records
- Specific checks for those who have resided outside of the U.S. (international background check)
- Armed Forces child abuse registry check
- Tribal program abuse investigation records
Process for Obtaining Criminal and Public Records Checks
The process for many of the background checks that are required is fairly straightforward, most often only requiring basic contact information such as a name, address and social security number.
One of the slightly more tedious tasks that must be completed in order to obtain a child abuse background check is getting fingerprinted. The completion of a fingerprint based background check is required for the FBI criminal history check, which is also known as a Identity History Summary Check (IHSC)
Fingerprint-based checks are also required as part of many state criminal history checks as well, so individuals will need two sets of fingerprints, one of these will be kept by the state police department that will be running all of the state-based background checks and the other set will be sent to the FBI for the IHSC.
Photo identification of some kind is also required. Be sure to check the state regulations to ensure the individual has an official photo I.D. Usually, a passport or state driver’s license should work fine as a photo I.D.
Finally, as is the case with most background checks, a signed release form will be required to allow the search of the individual’s records.
A list of the state agency in charge of child abuse background checks, as well as links to foster care and adoption applications is provided below.
Understanding Abuse History Clearance
There are several records that may turn up as part of a child abuse background check that will automatically disqualify the individual from being in foster care or from adopting.
Unlike the records that may turn up as part of an employment background check, many records will be grounds for immediate disqualification. In many cases, there is no appeal process or assessment that may allow exceptions as federal and state laws dictate the automatic disqualification guidelines, rather than it is up to the discretion of the agency to decide.
Some of the more common grounds for disqualification include:
- Conviction of felony child abuse or neglect
- Conviction of felony spousal abuse
- Crimes against children (Such as child pornography-related convictions)
- Conviction of violent crimes such as rape, sexual assault, homicide, etc.
- A member of the household has been convicted of any of the above crimes
- A member of the household is listed on a sex offender registry
- Conviction of a drug-related crime
- Conviction of human, sex, or labor trafficking
- Conviction of unregulated custody transfer.
Background checks can be a tedious and stressful process, but understanding the basic checks and why they are run can be a huge help. A child abuse background check is one of the most thorough, but knowing what is involved can make the process easier.