The subject of background checks in daycares was recently highlighted by a TV station in Little Rock, Arkansas after a mother became concerned about something that happened at the daycare where she takes her sons. Per a report from KATV On Your Side, an ABC affiliate TV news station based in the Arkansas capital, the mother was alarmed when an early childhood instructor at the daycare promptly stopped working there. When she asked what had happened, she learned that the instructor had been dismissed due to background check findings.
As it turned out, coverage explains, the daycare followed state laws for vetting employees. Under laws enforced by the Arkansas Department of Human Services, daycares must submit an employee for a background check through the state within ten days of hiring. The state must process the background check, which can be a lengthy process depending on the employee’s residency history.
In Arkansas, anyone who has lived in the state for the past five years only has to go through a state criminal check, reports note. For new daycare employees who have lived outside of the state within the last five years, Arkansas law requires an FBI background check. The state checks usually take a few days to process; the average processing time for an FBI check is six weeks.
The state allows for a “grace period” so that new daycare employees can start working while their checks are processing. If a daycare hires a new employee, reports explain, that person is permitted to start work right away. The daycare then has ten days to submit the person for a background check through the Department of Human Services. After that, if a federal background check is required, it can take another month and a half before the employee’s background check report comes back. Ultimately, a new daycare employee in Arkansas could feasibly work for 50 days with no background check on file.
The daycare instructor in question was a newer employee working within the state’s background check grace period, coverage indicates. When the instructor’s background check report came back, there was a red flag that required the daycare to dismiss the worker.
When pressed about the grace period and whether it puts kids at risk, David Griffin, the Assistant Director of the Division of Childcare within the Department of Human Services, pushed back. Griffin said that he has been working for the department for 32 years and has never seen a case in which a daycare worker was accused of abuse or misconduct during the background check grace period. What has led to “a few deaths in childcare,” he said, is understaffing. Right now, daycares in Arkansas are short-staffed. DHS believes that not allowing new daycare employees to start work right away would only worsen the problem, potentially leading to under-supervised daycares.
Griffin acknowledged that the situation was something of a dilemma, with both options—allowing employees to work during the background check grace or risking understaffed daycare centers—posing a risk. He said that DHS is currently building a new background check system for daycare workers, one that will hopefully cut processing times significantly. The new system, which should be up and running by autumn of this year, could process FBI checks in a matter of days.