A newly released legislative report from the California Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes found that residents of California – one of six U.S. states that do not regulate private in-home caregivers – may risk hiring private in-home caregivers who have criminal backgrounds and suggests that the elderly population in the state may suffer theft and abuse as a result of the lack of regulation for private in-home caregivers.

The report – ‘Caregiver Roulette: California Fails to Screen those who Care for the Elderly at Home’ – revealed that more than a quarter of caregivers accused or convicted of crimes had committed prior criminal offenses and warned that many private in-home caregiver agencies did not conduct proper background checks on potential caregivers.

In addition, many of the elderly and their families were unaware they were entitled under California law to a background check when hiring a in-home caregiver due to confusion over how to implement a 2008 state law (SB 692) allowing seniors and their families to conduct their own background checks through the state Department of Justice.

Other key findings of the report include:

  • Investigators found ads for in-home care providers on the popular online classified ad website Craigslist posted by people with felony convictions.
  • Some private in-home caregiver agencies approved employees known to have criminal convictions, and 27 percent of the recent criminal cases involving caregivers involved caregivers previously convicted of crimes.
  • While many private in-home caregiver agencies claim to conduct background checks, the quality varies and legal roadblocks can prevent thorough screening. In the absence of a state requirement to perform criminal background checks on caregivers, many agencies claim to do them anyway to assure clients that they are minimizing risk.
  • A review of lawsuits against agencies and news accounts of caregiver crimes shows tremendous variability in what passes for a background check, and in-home caregiver agencies have been sued for doing cursory background checks that gave consumers a false sense of security. Other agencies have been taken to court for ignoring the criminal records uncovered in background checks and placing caregivers in private homes anyway.
  • Even in-home caregiver agencies intent on doing thorough screenings can be hamstrung by a state law limiting how far back Consumer Reporting Agencies (CRA) can search for criminal convictions. While the federal law on credit and background checks allows any criminal conviction to be reported to an employer, California background check companies can only go back seven years. There is no exception in California law for in-home care businesses that place caregivers in private homes with vulnerable adults.

The report indicates the California Legislature is currently considering two bills that would both propose regulation of California’s in-home caregiver agencies and background checks for caregivers. The authors of the report offered the following recommendations on improving background checks on private in-home caregivers:

  • The Legislature should consider legislation that would allow consumer reporting agencies to report convictions more than seven years old, as well as arrests that do not result in conviction, when the job applicant will be providing hands-on care to an elderly or dependent adult.
  • The Senate should consider legislation to create a public awareness campaign informing elderly and dependent adults that they are entitled under current California law to request a fingerprint based criminal background check from the California Department of Justice.
  • The Legislature should consider legislation to create a family care protection registry that would allow caregivers to voluntarily submit to a criminal background check in return for being included on the registry, which would be available to the public.
  • If the Legislature chooses not to approve bills to regulate in-home care agencies, it could consider legislation requiring agencies that advertise that they have done criminal background checks to adhere to certain standards.

The report – ‘Caregiver Roulette: California Fails to Screen those who Care for the Elderly at Home’ – is available at http://www3.senate.ca.gov/deployedfiles/vcm2007/senoversight/docs/2385.caregiver%20roulette.pdf.

For more information about background checks, visit Employment Screening Resources (ESR) at http://www.ESRcheck.com.

About Employment Screening Resources (ESR): Founded in 1996 in the San Francisco Bay area with a mission to help employers and employees maintain safe workplaces, Employment Screening Resources (ESR) wrote the book on background checks with ‘The Safe Hiring Manual’ by ESR founder and President Lester Rosen. ESR is Accredited by The National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS®) and is a Designated E-Verify Employer Agent helping U.S. businesses maintain legal workforces. For more information about Employment Screening Resources, visit http://www.ESRcheck.com or email ESR News Editor Thomas Ahearn at [email protected].