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Local preschools and child care centers are moving quickly to complete fingerprint-based national background checks for staff and volunteers that are now required under state law.
The Virginia Department of Social Services is implementing the background checks to meet safety regulations included in the federal Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014. Virginia received about $120 million in federal funds through the block grant in fiscal year 2017.
The federal law and related legislation passed by states were motivated in part by the 2012 death of an infant at an in-home daycare center in Shenandoah.
After Camden Lafkin died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome at the daycare, a fingerprint-based background investigation found that the daycare owner had used multiple aliases to hide a felony charge and a history of drug abuse.
The 2015 General Assembly passed “Cami’s Law,” which required fingerprint background checks for all licensed childcare providers in Virginia. The requirements were extended to religious-exempt childcare programs in 2017. However, the Virginia Department of Social Services did not implement a process to collect fingerprints until this January.
The VDSS has contracted with Fieldprint, a national provider of fingerprinting services with more than 30 locations in Virginia, including one on State Farm Boulevard in Albemarle County.
If the Virginia State Police or the FBI finds that someone has a criminal record, the VDSS Office of Background Investigation determines if they have committed a “barrier crime” that would prohibit them from working with children.
The required background checks cost $57 for employees, applicants, agents, caregivers, approved providers in a family daycare system, and household members living with home-based daycare providers. Volunteers pay $38 for the background checks.
The VDSS has approved funds to cover the fees for child care background checks through Sept. 30, or until the funds are depleted.
“At this point, we anticipate there will be adequate funds available to cover these fees,” Cletisha Lovelace, spokeswoman for the VDSS, said in an email.
In a 2017 request for proposals to provide the statewide fingerprinting services, the VDSS estimated that it would process 80,000 to 100,000 background checks in the first year of implementation. The department is updating the clearance of current employees on a staggered schedule based on when they last completed a standard background check.
Lovelace said the background check prices include the fees charged by the VDSS, the FBI and the Virginia State Police, plus an $8.72 surcharge from Fieldprint.
The background checks must be completed before starting a new job or volunteer commitment at a childcare center, and must be updated every five years.
Jennifer Slack, owner of Our Neighborhood Child Development Center in Charlottesville, said the new background checks are causing delays in on-boarding new teachers, and that she is concerned about covering the fees after the VDSS stops funding the checks.
“It’s a big burden on programs that already are short-staffed,” Slack said. “Knowing what people’s backgrounds are before they work with kids is absolutely essential, but there clearly is a more reasonable way to go about it.”
Jill Clark, preschool and kindergarten director at Congregation Beth Israel, said in an email that she wishes employees’ background clearance could be transferable from one institution to another. “The employee should have access to their fingerprints and information,” she said.
Directors of two local nonprofit preschool programs said they are less worried about the new background checks than are their colleagues at private centers.
Crystal Bland, director of the Jefferson Area Board for Aging’s Shining Star Preschool, said her fingerprint background check was processed in just one week.
Bland said it makes sense to have preschool job candidates complete their background checks before they visit her classrooms.
“It’s another step for safety, and I think it’s a great thing,” Bland said. “That person [applying for a job] could be anyone.”
Harriet Kaplan, director of the Monticello Area Community Action Agency’s Head Start preschool program, said federally funded programs are accustomed to dealing with government regulations.
“With federal grants, you do what they tell you to do,” Kaplan said. “We are not too worried [about the background checks].”
The Virginia law requiring the fingerprint background checks for licensed child care providers currently includes a sunset clause that brings it back to the General Assembly for reapproval each year.
On Monday, the House of Delegates unanimously passed HB873 to extend the requirement through 2020. The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Rehabilitation and Social Services.