Excerpted from Lincoln Journal Star by Sadiyah Ali
A new state law requiring childcare employees to undergo an additional federal background check has been met with mixed reviews by providers since it took effect in October.
While some agree that more background checks aren’t bad, especially when children are in play, others aren’t sure the extra step serves a purpose.
Kelsey Minchow, director of Mini’s Preschool and Childcare in Lincoln, considers the mandated FBI checks redundant.
“In terms of child safety, there is no such thing as overkill,” she said. “But the reports can only tell us so much.”
Beyond this, Minchow sees fewer and fewer applicants because of the time it takes to go through the extra check. New employees cannot work until the background check has been approved, which Minchow said has taken up to a month.
“A lot of people just can’t wait that long to start working,” she said, adding the number of applicants has dropped.
Applicants must fill out the already mandated state background checks, which take about three to five days to be approved. With the added necessity of a federal background check, the process all takes about seven to 10 days, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.
Leah Bucco-White, public information officer for DHHS, says that the process would be quicker if all steps of the process were addressed by the applicant before submitting applications.
Applicants must submit the background check application to DHHS, submit a $45 payment to the Nebraska State Patrol and get fingerprinted. The process starts when the last step is finished. Once employed, people who work in day cares must undergo the check once every five years.
Minchow said many applicants don’t want to pay the $45 fee out of pocket and that small businesses such as hers — with seven employees, including herself — can’t afford to pay the fee for all prospective hires. Some potential employees also can’t afford a $45 deduction from their first paycheck.
Larger businesses, such as Bright Horizons Daycare and Preschool, can pay the fee for applicants. But this poses budgetary problems for the business, as well as logistical issues.
Kathleen Feller, regional manager for the day care, says that even though the business covers the cost of the extra background check, the day care is still seeing hesitance from applicants. Bright Horizons employs 120 people across Nebraska, including 17 at its Centennial Mall location in Lincoln.
“For something this big, the kinks really need to be straightened out,” she said.
Feller said Bright Horizons has already been conducting federal background checks but has amended its process to meet the fingerprinting requirements. Nonetheless, Feller feels this added step is a good thing.
“I think this is a great idea and is really important,” she said. “It’s just a longer process now.”
Bucco-White says the department is aware of the concerns brought up by childcare providers.
The federal mandate began in October, as the Nebraska Legislature updated background check laws to comply with the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014 as part of LB460. The update made it possible for Nebraska to keep receiving federal grant money totaling $30 million annually.
A press release from DHHS states that while the background checks allows Nebraska to continue using federal funds, it also “further strengthens DHHS’ efforts to ensure safety for Nebraska’s children.”
But Minchow said this doesn’t reduce the odds of child abuse. With the three background checks that Mini’s Preschool and Childcare already does, adding a federal mandate change nothing.
“You can’t account for what will happen with someone,” she said, adding that she worries about the off chance that someone will be predatory, even with a clean record.
In this legislative session, DHHS intends to revisit the overall implementation of the new rule and monitor the effect the fee has on job applicants.
“It is our desire to make this process as smooth as possible, and we certainly welcome feedback from providers,” she said.