New Jersey Legislators Pledge to Improve Background Checks for Caregivers
Two lawmakers in New Jersey have vowed to improve the background check requirements for caregivers at living communities that serve individuals with disabilities.
Per a report from NJSpotlight.com, the planned legislation is a response to a recent state audit. The audit found that multiple individuals with “potentially disqualifying criminal histories” could get jobs caring for patients with disabilities. The planned legislation—expected to be announced when lawmakers reconvene after November 6 elections—would seek to close loopholes in background check laws.
Right now, reports explain, all residential care programs in New Jersey are legally required to conduct criminal background checks on prospective caregivers. The law includes a list of offenses that are supposed to trigger automatic disqualification from any caregiver screening process. Violent crimes, offenses involving children, and some drug crimes are on that list.
Per coverage, the recent state audit found that individuals with past offenses on the disqualification list were still landing caregiver jobs. The audit reported that about two-dozen caregivers in New Jersey fell into this category. One of those caregivers had been previously convicted of murder and was out of prison on parole. The state auditor also found that over a hundred other caregivers had never gone through background checks in the first place.
The state auditor recommended a few policy changes to the New Jersey Department of Human Services, which is responsible for licensing and regulating disability care programs. Per coverage, the state wants DHS to have more oversight regarding background checks at these care centers and communities. The auditor recommended that DHS retain the ability to confirm or deny hires at these programs, particularly if a care center operator wants to hire someone with a criminal record.
State Senator Steve Sweeney and General Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle are the legislators who want to fix the flaws identified in the audit, reports indicate. Both politicians spoke to NJSpotlight.com, arguing that there was too much “confusion” and “ambiguity” with the current laws. For instance, care centers can hire ex-offenders—even ones with disqualifying offenses—if they can prove those individuals are reformed. However, there isn’t a strong system in place for care providers to get these hiring decisions cleared by the state, which means they often end up making their own calls.
Per reports, Sweeney and Vainieri Huttle want to start by giving DHS more control over who licensed care providers can hire. The two won’t announce their joint sponsored legislation until lawmakers are back in Trenton for a new session. The legislation will likely try to give DHS the ability to review new hires at care centers that serve patients with disabilities. By learning more about serious candidates and reviewing their background check reports, DHS could veto caregivers with disqualifying offenses on their criminal records.