Is a Child Care Background Check Required?

Childcare organizations support the majority of parents in the United States, but how can they protect those in their care? A childcare background check has an important role to play. Learn when and how this form of vetting is required of your business.

Are Child Care Background Checks Required of Providers Today?

Are you sure you can keep children under your company's care safe during the day? When you operate a childcare facility—even those that aren’t necessarily required to have a license—you have considerable responsibility. Protecting the youngest and most vulnerable children requires a safe, well-designed space and qualified staff. What role in child care does a background check play? As we'll see, it's a significant consideration for all employers in this space.

The childcare industry is a fundamental support structure that underpins the American economy. According to the most recent data available from government surveys, 58% of parents nationwide rely on some form of weekly childcare service. These services are often a pillar of support in many families where both parents must work, and limited options exist for in-home care before the child begins kindergarten. Parents also place high expectations of safety on these organizations.

In decades past, there was a patchwork of laws and regulations that meant many variations between different states and locales. It was unfortunately easy for bad actors to slip through the cracks, especially by moving to another state and looking for new work. With that in mind, what role do background checks play in hiring?

Today, a federal law applies broadly to all childcare organizations across the United States. This law states that a comprehensive background check is mandatory for such businesses. Failing to comply with this and additional state laws could expose your business to fines, legal liabilities, and public relations problems.

Understanding this law’s scope and ensuring your organization is on the appropriate footing is key. Here's what you need to know.

To Whom Does the Law Apply?

It's important to know two aspects of this federal law: the types of agencies it applies to and the people within those agencies that must undergo background checks. This law applies broadly and does not make major exceptions for some agencies, such as religious organizations, that provide child care. In general, the types of businesses or groups that must use a childcare background check include:

  • Licensed childcare organizations, such as daycares or day schools
  • License-exempt childcare, such as small group daycares, relative care, or short-term childcare
  • Guardianship agencies and those working within the foster care system
  • Any other registered or regulated group for caring for children

Now, what about the people working within these organizations? Who faces a requirement to undergo this kind of background check? The scope of the law is quite broad and includes the following:

  • All staff members. This includes everyone from the administrators to the custodial staff and even kitchen employees, where applicable. If an individual works on the premises, they must go through the process.
  • All adults living in a home also used as a space for group childcare.
  • Any adult volunteer who potentially has unsupervised time around children in the group.
  • Outside volunteers who may only work at the daycare center temporarily or ad-hoc basis, such as specific instructors.

When in doubt, consider that the best course of action is simply to apply the same procedure to everyone working in the business.

What Should Day Care Background Checks Include?

The law specifies that the procedure you use should be "comprehensive." Luckily, we don't have to guess what that means; the federal government has clarified what must go into such a process. Here's a quick checklist of the items you'll need to use to satisfy compliance at the federal level:

  • A fingerprint-based background check of the FBI's national criminal database.
  • A search of the National Sex Offender Registry maintained by the NCIC.
  • State criminal record searches for all states where the applicant lived for five years before applying.
  • State sex offender registries in all states of residence going back five years.
  • State-level abuse registries and neglect databases, where applicable, again going back five years.

The federal government has created a simple website where you can search for more information on your state's implementation of these guidelines. In some states, you will find additional requirements, such as checking county-level criminal records or using additional forms of verification. Always consult local and state laws to determine whether you must go above and beyond what the federal government requires.

How Often Do You Need To Update Background Checks?

Due diligence continues after the hiring process concludes. The law states that you must renew the background check on file for any employee every five years. In reality, you will face ongoing compliance requirements that demand you periodically re-check the background of every eligible individual in your organization.

Therefore, childcare organizations need to take two steps. First, they must maintain a clear and concise record of every employee's background check status, including the date of their last check. This will make it simpler to keep track of when you should request an individual's consent to a new background check. 

Second, you should consider putting your entire background check policy into writing. This document, which includes how you will evaluate records and disqualify individuals, provides a framework for consistency. Doing so can ensure you treat all employees fairly while minimizing the opportunity to miss a step.

Making Your Child Care Organization a Safer Place

Investing the time and effort into creating a written policy is worth it when it creates a safer environment for the children under your care. You can rest assured that you're fully in compliance with the law and honestly represent your procedures to parents. The result is better transparency and improved trust—but you can do even better by going one step further.

Although the law requires you to run a new background check every five years, you can also engage in ongoing criminal monitoring. With the opportunity to learn sooner rather than later when an employee enters the criminal justice system, you can make smarter and faster decisions that could be mission-critical for safety. Ongoing monitoring is also a selling point to communicate to parents—showcasing how your organization goes the extra mile to keep the kids safe.

With many millions of parents reliant on licensed and unlicensed care facilities for their youngest children, safety must always be the first order of business. While background checks cannot predict or prevent crime altogether, they are a key line of defense that the law demands you use. 

At, we offer various resources to make understanding the requirements for comprehensive vetting fast and easy. We can also equip your organization with the right tools to meet these requirements quickly and consistently so you can build the team you need to best care for those entrusted to you. Learn more about building a better childcare background check now or explore how our tools can help.

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Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

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

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