A Parent’s Guide to Running a Background Check on a Nanny

parentguideAs a parent, you want to make sure you do everything you can to keep your child safe. If you’re hiring a nanny, that means a rigorous interview to determine personality and fit, and it also means performing a thorough background check. What does that mean, though? And what should you know before, during, and after the investigatory process?

When and How to Request Permission for a Background Check
First, you should know that you’ll need permission from the applicant to perform a background check. Some firms might tell you that they can perform a check on their own, but true checks (fair and legal ones) require consent of the person being investigated. This is because background checks done for employment purposes (as opposed to those done, say, when you buy a firearm) are regulated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The FCRA is set up to ensure that information revealed in the background check process is gathered and distributed fairly, and it oversees the consumer reporting agencies that perform these checks.

To that end, you need to notify the applicant as soon as possible, especially if you consider them a serious candidate. You’ve got options here, too: you can request consent for the background check before the interview, if you want to have as much knowledge as possible going in, or you can do it after, as a way to provide another check on someone you might want to hire. Whatever you do, though, you should be clear with the applicant that you want to perform the check and that you can’t do so without their permission. Clarity is key here.

What You Can Learn
A lot, frankly. Thorough background checks cover felony and misdemeanor records; civil litigation records; DMV records, though not minor violations like parking tickets; national-level searches on outstanding warrants; checks of the applicant’s name against sex offender registries; verification of an accurate Social Security Number; verification of professional licenses and certificates; and verification of education. Professional background checks use a variety of databases, including the FBI Identification Record and the Interstate Identification Index System. There’s no one central place where all this information resides, so thorough background checks have to include checking several databases. In cases where the databases are unavailable online or aren’t updated, manual county court record checks may need to be conducted.

What a Background Check Won’t Show You
There are two main areas that won’t be covered by a background check.

The first is anything that might come into conflict with state law regarding such investigations. Although the FCRA is the umbrella for background checks, some states restrict certain types of information from being reported. For instance, many states don’t report criminal activity that’s more than seven years old, but they will if the salary of the new position reaches a certain minimum threshold (e.g., $20,000 in New Hampshire, $75,000 in Texas). In Indiana, only convictions are reported, not infractions or the existence of expunged records. Many states also have specific directives about the method in which employers must provide a copy of the background check to the applicant. The consumer reporting agency that’s conducting the background search for you can help you learn more about your rights and responsibilities here.

The other thing background checks won’t show is so obvious that most people overlook it: anything the applicant didn’t get caught doing in the area that was researched. A background check can only turn up evidence, not intent, and in some states you’re even limited to the type of activity that can be included on the report. But if your nanny applicant has moved from state to state multiple times, it’s very likely that you might miss out on some things that you’d want to know.

The Most Important Thing to Remember About Nanny Background Checks
That leads to the most important thing that every parent and family should remember when it comes to investigating potential nannies through background checks. No matter how detailed the report, it’s just a tool, and an imperfect one at that. It cannot, by definition, tell you everything the person has ever done, nor can it prevent you from being harmed in the future. Your goal is to make an educated, informed hiring decision, and a background check is only one part of that process. Talk to the nanny about their experience and goals. Get to know candidates, and watch them interact with your children. Pair those in-person experiences with the background check to make the best decision possible for your family.