Excerpted from a Bismarck Tribune story by Blair Emerson

Child care providers in North Dakota were left scrambling to comply with a new federal requirement mandating all staff and volunteers complete a fingerprint-based background check before starting work.

The state implemented the new background check requirement to meet health and safety requirements under the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014.

After implementing the requirement on Oct. 1, the North Dakota Department of Human Services heard concerns from providers about new hires being unable to start work right away, as job applicants had to await the outcomes of their background checks.

Though no child care centers closed as a result, a couple did report shutting down classrooms because they couldn’t maintain the required ratio of staff to children, according to Amanda Carlson, early childhood services administrator for the Department of Human Services.

“We certainly heard from providers that were struggling to be able to fully staff their facilities,” Carlson said.

Last week, the department received approval for a waiver through Sept. 30, 2019, allowing providers to hire employees to work under direct supervision before their fingerprint-based background checks are complete.

Some child care centers in the state are breathing a sigh of relief at news of the waiver. Josh Wastvedt, director of KinderKidz in Bismarck, said the requirement came as a surprise to him, as his facility already completes nonfingerprint-based background checks prior to granting an interview.

“So then add that (new requirement), the difficulty that we would see is with hiring,” he said. “If somebody’s looking for a job, it takes us three to four weeks time minimum (for fingerprint-based background check), and somebody’s probably not going to want to wait a month to start a new job.”

Wastvedt said, luckily, he’s been fully staffed since the requirement went into effect and he’s been able to make adjustments. Still, he’s concerned the adverse impact it might have on hiring.

“We were fortunate that it didn’t affect us too much …. but at the same time when we are hiring, it’s something you do need to be concerned about, because it does take that long,” he said.

Carlson said the Department of Human Services heeded providers’ concerns. Since the Child Care and Development Block Grant was reauthorized in 2014, the department took time to look at the entire process for background checks, including ways to expedite it. Other federal requirements under the law have also be implemented in phases, she said.

While child care centers get a year of reprieve under the waiver, Carlson said the department will continue to evaluate the background check process and work with the federal government to explore how other states have implemented the change. Also, the department is considering modifying background check applications to make them easier to understand.

Some of the delay is due to incomplete applications, as the department cannot run a background check without a complete application, according to Carlson.

“One of our biggest concerns is that the (application) forms have been coming back either not completely filled out or they have been incorrectly filled out,” she said.

From Jan. 1 to July 21, about 30 percent of applications received were incomplete and returned to the provider, according to DHS.

In addition to improving the background check process, Carlson said the department is looking for other efficiencies, including increasing locations for fingerprinting services. Currently, fingerprinting services are offered at the department’s eight regional human service centers.