Across the United States, hundreds of thousands of children are in foster care. Foster families are a vital link in the social welfare safety net, aiming to provide displaced children with a stable and loving home environment as they grow. Unfortunately, the system in many states suffers from chronic problems. Underfunded systems, insufficient foster homes, and child abuse are all concerns. Foster care checks aim to help control the issue of abuse—but even these are misused.
Children’s allegations of abuse by foster parents demand a severe response. Any other approach leaves the door open to harm. However, parents in some states say that false allegations have cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars while constraining work in childcare environments almost permanently.
One woman, an 11-year veteran of the foster system and the Washington State Child Protective Services, lost her license and job because of an allegation that a judge later deemed false. However, before that finding, the state determined that the allegation was “founded” (most likely to have occurred). State prosecutors even leveled serious criminal charges of child abuse against her. However, the child later lodged false accusations against a subsequent foster family. The court ultimately dropped the charges.
Despite that, the woman struggles to get her license back or find other employment. Despite being overturned, the “founded” charge often still appears in a childcare criminal background check as part of inspecting abuse repositories. The frustration involved led the woman to declare that she may never return to the foster system even if she gets her license back. At a time when there is a serious shortage of qualified foster parents, some worry that the highly rigid investigative procedures may scare away others.
The situation is complicated. A thorough, comprehensive background check for foster care is essential to prevent those with a history of grave crimes from accessing children. Likewise, allegations of abuse are exceedingly sensitive situations that demand thorough and careful investigations—investigations that take time and often err on protecting a child’s well-being.
Reporting agencies must include all the accusations in someone’s official record, overturned or not. Unlike criminal charges, there is more nuance involved here, not to mention the possibility of mistakes that could let real abusers slip through the cracks to re-offend. Childcare and foster agencies should take their due diligence seriously by carefully examining the details of any reported allegations and discussing their concerns with candidates.
Foster care checks could be subject to abuse by children in the system when they levy false accusations against their care families. For now, many states have little legislative appetite to investigate how or where to make changes. Agencies should instead act with the appropriate level of caution as they research potential new hires or foster care applicants.
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