Public Act 256 of 2017, effective March 28, 2018, amends many parts of the Child Care Organizations Act. One of the most significant changes is the new requirement that all child care center staff who have unsupervised access to children (employees, contractors, and volunteers) must undergo a newly created “comprehensive background check,” which includes an FBI fingerprint records check. All child care center staff who will be unsupervised with children must have these new background checks completed by September 30, 2018.
A comprehensive background check includes:
Fingerprint (FBI/MSP check);
NCIC Sex Offender Check;
Central Registry Check (Child Abuse and Neglect Registry);
Disciplinary Action Check; and
Criminal and Child Abuse and Neglect Registry check for any states of residence in the past 5 years.
An individual will be deemed “eligible” or “not eligible” based on the results of his or her comprehensive background check. An individual convicted of a criminal offense may be deemed ineligible. Ineligibility in that context does not always last forever. Depending on the offense, the ineligibility may only last 5, 7, or 10 years from the date of the conviction. For example, misdemeanor convictions for use or possession of a controlled substance and operating under the influence of a controlled substance will result in 5 years of ineligibility, while a felony conviction involving cruelty to animals makes an individual ineligible for 10 years. If the comprehensive background check reveals that an individual is ineligible, that individual must be “disconnected” or removed from the child care center. An individual who is found “ineligible” can request a 30-day redetermination of eligibility or make a Request for Continued Eligibility and seek to be “grandfathered in” if the individual was working for the child care center when the new law went into effect.
According to the Bureau of Community and Health Services (BCHS), individuals who were fingerprinted for “school employment” must be re-fingerprinted because the school fingerprints “do not meet compliance with federal legislation” and “are not processed through the National Crime Information Center or in accordance with federal and state requirements for childcare.”
Any individual who has “unsupervised access to children,” as interpreted by the BCHS, must obtain a comprehensive background check. This includes: (1) contractual employees or individuals who come into a childcare center to provide services and have unsupervised contact with children (e.g., OT/PT therapists, hearing and vision screeners, social workers); (2) parent volunteers who take children unsupervised to the restroom or to read in the hallway or who transport children on field trips unsupervised; and (3) school employees like building principals or secretaries, if a school’s child care center sends a student to that employee’s office unsupervised. As of May 2018, FAQs issued by the BCHS indicate that bus drivers do not need the comprehensive background check.
These new laws apply to employees, volunteers, and contractors working in a “child care center.” Preschools, early childhood development programs like Head Start or the Great Start Readiness Program, play groups, and before and after school care are all included in the legal definition of a “child care center,” and many schools already operate these programs with child care center licenses. Note, too, that some programs labeled school “camps” may be considered child care centers. A program only qualifies as a camp if the program is “conducted in a natural environment.” This means that at least 51% of the children’s activities must be outdoors for the program to qualify as a camp.
If your school runs a “child care center” that is already licensed by the state, school officials should begin taking steps to ensure that any individual who has unsupervised access to children begins completing these new background checks. Individuals who have not completed the background check by September 30, 2018 may not be permitted to have unsupervised access to children and must be supervised by an “eligible” employee during unsupervised time with children. Failure to adhere to these new background check requirements could result in a loss of governmental immunity for an employee or the school and potential investigations and disciplinary action by the state.