Things to Remember About Nanny Background Checks


rememberIf you’re in the market for a nanny, then you’ve probably already had friends, colleagues, or nanny agencies tell you about the importance of a background check. After all, that’s what professionals do, and that’s the logical next step if you’re going to act as an employer and hire someone to render high-quality childcare services. But what exactly does a nanny background check cover? What do you have to do to get one? And what do they really provide? Whether you’re new to childcare in general or are just now branching into things like background checks, here are some things you need to remember:

They’re Wide-Ranging
Background checks cover many areas, including:

  • Employment verification.
  • Certificate and license verification.
  • Credit history (though not a specific credit score).
  • Criminal records (local, state, and federal).
  • Driving records.
  • Drug use.
  • Checks of child abuse and sex offender registries.

Consumer reporting agencies — the outfits that gather the data in background checks — query a variety of sources to find relevant information, like the Interstate Identification Index System and the FBI Identification Record. They may also use manual court record checking methods if databases are not adequate or available. A thorough background check ensures that you’re getting as much information as possible about your nanny, and it’s the best way to know you’re covering your bases.

They Aren’t Perfect
Nanny background checks aren’t perfect, though. For instance, less serious driving incidents may only appear on record for a limited number of years. The incident might not be a dealbreaker either way, but if you’re hiring someone who will very likely need to drive your child around town, it could be good to know about it. In the instance of an old offense though, if the nanny didn’t want to disclose it, you may not learn about it.

Background checks also (obviously) only show things that the person in question was caught doing. Don’t be fooled into thinking that “background check” means “exhaustive list of every bad thing someone has ever said, done, or thought.” Consumer reporting agencies aren’t psychics, and state and federal databases are only as good as the people who maintain them. A background check is a tool that can tell you some of what a person has done, but not everything.

You Must Have the Nanny’s Permission
This is crucial, too. Legal background checks for employment must be done with the express consent of the person being investigated. Period. If an agency or investigator tells you they can just start digging on someone, think again. The Fair Credit Reporting Act governs the way personal data is harvested and used in the employment application and verification process, and to safeguard against abuses, the person being examined has to know about it.

The best way to do this is to provide the nanny with a simple consent form. You can get these forms from the agency that will conduct your background screening. Once you’ve narrowed the candidate pool down to a few top choices — or if you’re working through applicants one at a time, or maybe just found someone you like — get in touch with each potential nanny and inform that you’ll be conducting a background check. Tell them politely but plainly that this is a required part of the application process, and that failure to consent to the check will result in withdrawal of their application from consideration. After you’ve received permission to conduct the background check, you can work with your particular investigatory agency on next steps. They can tell you what information you’ll be getting and how quickly you’ll be getting it.

They’re Only One Part of the Hiring Process
If you remember nothing else, remember this: a background check is just one part of the process of interviewing and hiring a nanny. It’s an extremely valuable tool, but it’s just one tool. It is not a shield against future damages or incidents, nor is it a guarantee that someone whose check comes back clean will be a perfect employee. Similarly, it’s not a guarantee that someone with a spotty background check is a risky hire, either. A background check is a powerful thing, but it has to be used in conjunction with everything else at your disposal. For instance:

  • Take your time interviewing nannies. Get to know them. Talk about their goals, their personal mission statement, their childcare experience, and where they see themselves in five or ten years.
  • Let the nanny applicant spend time with your child. Watch how they interact with and discipline your child, and talk with your child afterward about how they felt dealing with the nanny.
  • Check every reference in the nanny’s resume. Verify every place of employment they list on the resume. A consumer reporting agency will cover a lot of this in the background check, but there’s no harm in being extra careful.
  • Don’t rush. Even if hiring childcare is a pressing matter, don’t run the risk of moving too hastily and hiring someone who just doesn’t fit. Don’t let a clean background check sway you on someone you don’t feel like hiring.
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