A Comprehensive Guide to the Child Care Background Check Process

Background checks are fundamental to creating safe environments in many places—but they reach a new level of importance in industries such as childcare. Parents entrust their children to the care of third-party organizations all the time; it’s a vital service for a functional economy. However, ensuring that only qualified, trusted individuals work with these organizations is just as vital. Good vetting is not optional; it must be a core part of hiring. What do you need to understand about the child care background check process?

There is a broad need across the industry for stronger vetting policies. Major challenges persist in the fight to keep children safe. Organizations that work with children for daycare, foster care, adoption, or kinship caregiving should ensure that their background check protocols are thorough, up-to-date, and compliant with state and federal laws. Non-compliance can mean heavy fines or even the loss of your operating license—to say nothing of the harm that could come to the children under your care. One only needs to look at how the Boy Scouts of America faces fallout from years of sexual assault allegations to see the potential negative outcomes.

Background checks for child care should be looking to identify major red flags that signal a candidate may not be as trustworthy as you need. Selecting candidates that exhibit the right credentials, good judgment, and the temperament to work appropriately with children is vital. By checking someone’s background for past records of criminal behavior or wrongdoing, you contribute to keeping kids safe.

This is a complex subject with many facets to consider. Here’s a comprehensive look at what you need to know.

The Importance of Background Checks for Child Care Providers

What makes background checks in this space so important? The answer isn’t limited to just one reason, but all the reasons ultimately lead to the same conclusion: it’s about safety. Organizations that work with children in any capacity should develop a comprehensive policy because the risk of serious and lasting harm is too great otherwise. Each week, there are unfortunate headlines about children subjected to physical, verbal, mental, and even sexual abuse within organizations where they should experience the highest safety standards.

Background checks can’t predict or prevent future behaviors but are still a barrier. They are a filter that helps to screen out the highest-risk and most unsuitable individuals. Using them, you can satisfy multiple needs:

  • Protect children. The clear and obvious reason, a good vetting procedure can screen applicants to help keep out those who shouldn’t work with children. For example, you might find past evidence of licensing violations or even violent crimes.
  • Comply with local, state, and federal laws. Background check requirements vary significantly between locales, but complying with them is always important. Failing to do so can create more than a few headaches for your business—or it could undermine the company entirely. 
  • Create public confidence. Showcasing your effort into building a safe workforce can improve your reputation and foster the impression that you care. Show parents that you’ve invested time into keeping their kids safe, even in areas where you may not face stringent requirements.

Is a child background check required? In many ways, yes. Let’s talk about those requirements next.

Federal Requirements for Child Care Background Checks

The most important regulations to know always come from the federal government—these rules will always be in effect except where state laws go further or are more stringent. While such statutes vary significantly on a state-by-state basis, it is more cut and dried at a higher level. Under federal law, Title IV-E of the Social Security Act requires that states enforce certain background screening provisions for any licensed childcare agency.

While all states must follow these laws, they are also free to create their own requirements that may do more. 

For example, in Texas, state legislators passed a law that would unify four of the state’s different abuse registries into one searchable solution. Foster and childcare agencies would face new requirements to run all candidates through this search before hiring. 

In Kentucky, childcare workers and even school teachers must obtain letters from the state verifying they are not on any abuse registries. State and national-level background checks have been mandatory in Indiana for nearly a decade. While we can’t detail the individual laws in all 50 states, one thing should be clear: there is some substantial variation in compliance requirements from area to area. 

Though you must always abide by the federal requirements, it is vital to research what other obligations you might have under state law. This step is crucial in states that allow certain types of childcare agencies, such as a daycare home, to operate without a specific license. Even without licensing, you may still need to screen and vet anyone working there.

Who Should Have a Background Check?

These laws don’t apply only to the foster system, but to the broader childcare industry as a whole. Aside from any adults living in a care home, the government officially says that the following groups must all go through the background check process:

  • All child care agency staff with no exceptions. Everyone from custodians, bus drivers, teachers, and even the agency director must have a compliant, up-to-date background check.
  • Any adult volunteers who will be with children unsupervised.
  • Any other adults providing services on campus on a part-time basis, such as art instruction or physical education.

At first glance, it might seem extreme to create such a huge network of vetted individuals around what could be a small agency serving only a few dozen families. However, far from being extreme, these efforts are prudent. There are important reasons to ensure that everyone living or working around children has undergone thorough screening. Why?

It takes only one opportunity for a normal daycare day to become a nightmare for parents and their children. No one should be above the process, no matter how high or low-ranking they may be. Bad actors look for crimes of opportunity, while even those without long-held malicious intentions can reach a point where they break the rules. Real harm can occur in these situations.

Again, while vetting does not guarantee that someone will never misbehave in the future, it does ensure you can weed out individuals who represent the highest level of risk. Just because someone lost their license in one state for child abuse does not mean they will cease trying to enter the industry in another state. To protect children, everyone and anyone involved in their care should undergo an in-depth child care criminal background check.

Types of Background Checks for Child Care

Background check requirements can vary somewhat from organization to organization. What steps are necessary to procure the appropriate background check services for different types of organizations? There are many similarities between each, but there are some important differences, too. Here’s a quick look at what to know about screening in major childcare organizations.

Background Checks for Foster Care

Out of every industry and sector that uses background checks, there may be none more important than foster care. It is not just the immediate safety of displaced or even orphaned children that’s at stake, but the entire rest of their lives, too. Abuse in the foster system has been a major problem for decades. Its effects can impact children far into adulthood, perpetuate cycles of abuse, and even lead to higher incarceration rates. Screening potential foster parents carefully is not about ticking boxes but protecting our future. That is why the process here is so thorough and far-reaching.

Here’s an overview:

  • All licensed agencies must conduct criminal history checks, “including fingerprint-based checks of national crime information databases,” as part of the pre-approval process for foster or adoptive parents. The government has clarified this means using the FBI fingerprint background check.
  • Agencies must check state registries for records of child abuse and neglect for prospective foster or adoptive parents and for any other adults living in the child’s foster home or adoptive home. You must also consult the state’s sex offender registry.
  • Agencies must extend their abuse and sex offender registry checks to include any other states where a prospective parent (or any other adult living in the prospective foster or adoptive home) has lived within the past five years.
  • Agencies must vet any relatives, godparents, or family friends assuming kinship guardianship, and any other adults living in kinship guardian homes. 

Those applying to be an adoptive parent will also need extensive vetting along the way. 

Background Checks for Youth Sports Organizations

Youth sports groups offer children a way to be physically active, socialize with their peers, and hone new skills and physical fitness. Many non-school organizations exist across many sports disciplines to provide children with local options to learn and compete against one another. Unfortunately, these organizations have often attracted bad actors because they heavily rely on adult volunteers.

There are currently no federal laws that apply directly to youth sports groups. In fact, very few states currently regulate the issue at all. As of 2023, less than a dozen states have a statutorily-defined requirement to use background checks in youth organizations. The states that do require them include:

  • Alabama
  • California 
  • Connecticut
  • Florida
  • Massachusetts
  • Mississippi
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania

Despite lax regulation, it is hard to overstate the importance of background checks at youth sports organizations. Youth groups often choose to implement a background check policy even without state directives to do so, but oversight is not always excellent. At a highly local level, decisions about hiring or allowing volunteers might not factor background checks into the picture. Parents should carefully evaluate and inquire about the policies used by a group before enrolling their children.

Related Post: What Not to Do With Kid’s Sports Background Screening

Background Checks for Daycare Providers

As mentioned earlier, any agency that goes through the process for child care licensing must have a background check policy that fully complies with federal and state laws. All individuals working in the organization who may have access to children must undergo a rigorous, multi-step background check. 

What does a daycare background check include? In general, they will involve:

  • Criminal background checks.
  • Sex offender and child abuse registry checks.
  • License verification (where applicable), and more.

To be thorough, you must check not only records and registries in your state of license, but in every state the applicant has lived for the last five years. Because there is no central repository of all criminal or abuse records, you must check each state individually to be thorough and diligent.

Some states allow for some forms of unlicensed child care. As a best practice, these groups should strongly consider following the federal mandates. Fostering a safe environment could depend on it

Background Checks for Child Protection Caseworkers

Just as the federal government makes certain kinds of child care funding contingent on states deploying robust background check policies, the same goes for caseworkers in state employment. These individuals are those who visit homes, interact with children, make foster care placement choices, and more. These workers are subject to the same kind of scrutiny as other childcare workers—criminal record checks, educational verification, and more.

Since these workers typically fall under a state’s social services umbrella, there is not much to differentiate these checks from a typical background check for foster care. Since caseworkers will have access to children that may be unsupervised, it is vital to screen them very thoroughly for any potential red flags.

What is Included in a Child Care Background Check?

Ensuring the safety of children with background checks requires understanding what to include. With similar procedures to follow for many industries, it’s clear that the ability to source information promptly and appropriately is essential. Otherwise, you can experience bottlenecks and delays that could lead to critical staffing shortages. What types of checks should you incorporate into a vetting process for workers at your agency or organization? Here are the major categories to know.

State and national criminal records

Criminal records play a vital role in determining suitability. The wrong types of records can mean an immediate disqualification from the hiring process. Because of the relationship to safety that good hiring has in this space, there are fewer exceptions for “second chance” considerations. Checking these records is a requirement in basically every state.

You must consult state records of criminal behavior, including county-level court records and state police repositories. Although there is no national database of every criminal record, fingerprint-based background checks with the FBI can return information about crimes reported to the federal government by states. You can cover as much ground as possible by searching both kinds of records.

National Sex Offender Registry

Operated by the Department of Justice, the National Sex Offender Public Website collects state registry data and provides a searchable resource for locating sex offender records nationwide. This database endeavors to be as thorough and up-to-date as possible, and it is usually required to run all applicants through this database before hiring. 

Since updates may not always occur immediately, it is still a good idea to consult the sex offender and abuse registries for your own state. This database does not include specific child neglect and abuse records, which you can usually find as a state resource instead. By searching this database, you can develop confidence that an applicant has no prior sex crimes on their record.

Drug testing

Keeping illicit substance users away from children is an agreed-upon best practice. Using drug tests is a typical part of the hiring process, and childcare jobs are no different. Be aware of any statutes in your area that may require drug tests for childcare workers, or laws which may restrict what you can screen for, such as cannabis usage. A positive drug test could indicate that someone does not have the judgment necessary to work safely or effectively with children. As with criminal records, you should periodically re-test or re-check employees to ensure continued compliance.

Financial/credit history

A credit check is usually not required in this industry, though some states may require self-reporting of financial information for prospective foster parents. Regulations vary substantially on this issue. Some states may require you to submit a credit check during foster training. For childcare workers in places such as daycare, however, a credit check will usually not reveal relevant information; thus, most employers do not use them.

References from previous employers/institutions

Understanding someone’s character is vital when it comes to working with children. You should always seek to verify an applicant’s experience and track record beyond what’s available in public records. Following up with prior employers to learn more about a candidate—and to confirm they have the experience they claim—is an essential part of the vetting process. For example, verifying the safety of summer camps for kids should involve confirming that counselors have the appropriate experience and temperament to work with children.

Without this step, you could miss vital information, even when most employers hesitate to discuss past workers. If someone were fired for a cause, such as abusing a child in their care, you would want to learn about that from a registry or an employer.


How long does a childcare background check take?

There is no firm answer to this question, as turnaround times on officially-required background checks can vary substantially from state to state. Some states, such as Florida, claim to provide a 3-5 day turnaround for their child care clearinghouse searches. Other organizations state that final determinations may take weeks or even several months before fully clearing someone for work.

Some states allow workers who’ve begun the background check process to begin working before a final determination. In other states, hiring delays and background check backlogs for childcare workers remain common, keeping people out of work for sometimes weeks at a time.

What types of background checks are done for foster care?

The federal government defines the specific checks that states should use when crafting their foster care and kinship guardian programs. Most typically, you should expect to encounter the following if you intend to try to enter the foster care system:

  • Criminal background checks at the state level alongside fingerprint-based checks of the FBI’s national criminal database. 
  • Checking state-maintained child neglect and child abuse registries.
  • Checking these registries and records in all states of residence for the prior five years.
  • State and national sex offender registry checks.
  • Records of domestic violence.
  • Adult and juvenile court records.

For full information on the requirements as they currently exist, visit the government’s Child Welfare Information Gateway for the most up-to-date regulations.

What documents are needed for a background check?

Effectively vetting candidates requires gathering numerous documents. First and foremost, agencies and organizations should follow the guidelines established by the Fair Credit Reporting Act for gathering consent and providing disclosure of rights. With these authorizations, you must also obtain documents that include the following:

  • Identifying information, including name, birthday, and Social Security number.
  • A valid photo ID that matches other supplied information.
  • Fingerprints for submission to state police and the FBI.
  • Information about any prior criminal convictions, except minor traffic citations. Childcare workers are usually exempt from “ban the box” laws.
Are childcare background checks required by law?

Yes, childcare background checks are usually a legal requirement. The federal government provides guidelines to the states and funds childcare services for states that comply with these guidelines. All states have complied with this directive and created statutes for vetting childcare workers. Employers should carefully review their own state’s guidelines to understand how to be compliant and effective.


Child care, foster care, youth sports and more—many vital services supporting children require responsible adults to be at the helm. Not just a matter of regulatory compliance but of safeguarding the future, better screening and tougher standards help to keep kids safe. Getting started with positioning your organization for better safety begins right here.

At backgroundchecks.com, we provide a variety of background check services, ranging from criminal history checks to sex offender registry searches. We can help agencies comply with the background check requirements that help keep minors safe during adoption, foster care, and other childcare situations. Contact us today to begin.

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Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments

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