The Washington Times recently reported that the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation, after receiving nearly $1 million a year to provide child care services under the federal Head Start program, failed to meet basic background check requirements for its employees. The findings came from a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services audit of the agency.
The audit uncovered employees of the agency who were previously convicted of drug and other felony offenses, yet their backgrounds were not checked as part of the hiring process.
This news should be enough to convince ANY organization that deals directly with children to check the backgrounds of their employees.
Security expert Chris E. McGoey was quoted in the Washington Times article to say that it wouldn’t be expensive for a city agency to conduct background and criminal checks on employees. He said, “There are dozens and dozens of screening companies out there that will do everything if you give them a name and a Social Security number, and in a matter of seconds they have the available data.”
We have long contended that any organization failing to conduct employment background checks is essentially sitting on a time bomb waiting to explode. Without a background check how can you possibly understand the risks your employees present? Whether dealing with children, the public at large, your merchandise, or the reputation of your business – employers have a need to know.
The story of the D.C. Parks and Recreation is particularly disturbing, of course, because we’re talking about people who reportedly have direct access to children. When you look at the highest risk roles in any organization you have to look at those with direct unsupervised access to people and/or property, with access to children, the elderly, and disabled populations among the highest level of risk. To neglect to screen the individuals in these roles is a serious oversight, at best.
By the way, it’s worth commenting on Mr. McGoey’s comment about the ability for screening companies to do “everything if you give them a name and social security number.” Yes, it’s true that we can get certain information in a matter of seconds, but if you’re looking for accurate and reliable criminal records information you may need to wait a few days, not a few seconds. That’s because the information that can be obtained from an instant database search is limited. Most records need to be confirmed at the local court level, which may require us to perform an in-person search of the records. Also, employers need to obtain written employee or applicant consent to conduct a background check. It’s not enough to simply “have” the name and social security number – you actually need permission.
In the end, this story reminds us all about the importance of background checks in the employment hiring process. Background screening is such a minor expense when you consider the damage that can be caused by high-risk employees. And while not every person with a criminal record should be exempt from employment, employers need to know where to draw the line when it comes to high-risk roles.