A new law designed to better protect Georgia’s children who are in day-care centers went into effect New Year’s Day.
Beginning this year, people employed by any of the state’s 6,000 child-care facilities will be required to undergo national fingerprint-based background checks — a departure from conducting a simple name search of Georgia records, according to the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning.
“The key change with this law is that previously only child-care center directors were required to have the national checks,” said Reg Griffin, chief communications officer of Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL). “Other employees were only required to have Georgia criminal-background checks, which risked us missing felonies they may have had in other states. The national checks give us criminal charges and convictions as reported by each state and the federal government.”
The cost for the new, stricter background check is $52.75, which is set by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Griffin said. Comparatively, the cost from the Hinesville Police Department is $20, and fingerprinting — with an individual bringing in their own card — is $15, according to the HPD.
The mandated check and fingerprinting must be paid for by the child-care facility or those applying for child-care-provider positions, according to Griffin.
Child-care workers hired before Jan. 1 will have until 2017 to meet the mandate, unless they move to a new facility where the new law will be applied, he said.
“We expect around 20,000 of the 60,000 child-care employees in Georgia to have background checks in the first year,” DECAL Commissioner Bobby Cagle said. “With a 30 percent turnover rate in the child-care industry each year, we anticipate having everyone checked by 2017.”
“I believe this new rule for child-care centers is a positive step,” said Beverly Rush, director of Westwood Day Care Center Inc. in Hinesville. “However, like anything new, we have to have an open mind, and it will be a process to learn and get used to. In the long run, it will benefit all involved, and it will help us to run safer centers.”
“I think it’s going to be a great thing,” said Jennifer Brantley, director of Hinesville Childcare Learning Center. “The fingerprinting will give a more in-depth check. My concern would be the cost for new employees.”
Brantley said her center has not recently hired any new staff and has about 18 months to complete the national background check and fingerprinting requirement with existing staff.
She said the center’s administrators have not yet discussed how they will take on the expense of the more-stringent background check.
“It is a lot for a new employee to pay out up front if they’re not employed,” Brantley said. “We may pay for it up front and have them reimburse it … or have them sign a contract and if they are terminated in 90 days, they’ll reimburse us or something of that nature.”
The approved vendor for the national fingerprint background checks is Cogent Systems, which has application sites across Georgia, according to Griffin. A local Cogent site is at the UPS store in Liberty Square Shopping Center on Gen. Screven Way in Hinesville, according to ga.cogentid.com.
Rush said from what she has read about the new law, facilities are allowed to employ a provisional worker in emergency situations, such as when a facility is short-staffed and needs to maintain its required provider-to-child ratio.
“Under the statute, child-care programs are allowed to hire a provisional employee who has had a Georgia criminal-record check in the past 10 days,” Griffin confirmed. “They can only work as provisional employees for 21 days. At the end of this time, they must have either been hired by the center with a clear national fingerprint background check or they must leave the center. And this provisional status is only good once per year for each individual, not something that can be used multiple times.”
Griffin said there was no single case of criminal behavior that spurred DECAL to strengthen the background-check law.
“However, in the fall of 2012, DECAL received an anonymous complaint alleging that two staff members working as director/owners of a child-care program in Macon had criminal records in Florida that included multiple felonies for serious theft-related offenses,” he said. “Our investigation confirmed this, yet it never showed up in their Georgia criminal-record checks. The Macon case gave us a current, tangible case illustrating the need (for national background checks).”