Background checks for foster care
By KariLee Pietz, Social Service Program Officer, OCS Resource Family Unit
Background checks can be confusing, but they play a critical role in keeping children and other vulnerable Alaskans safe. With the increased use of the Department of Health and Social Services’ fingerprint-based Background Check Program (BCP), and improved identification of barrier crimes or conditions, many people are concerned about how this process will impact their work and families. If someone applies to work with vulnerable adults or children in the state of Alaska, he or she will go through this process. So will all foster care providers, licensed and unlicensed.
The BCP involves many reviews, including criminal history, child protection history and the sex offender registry. Because it can take some time to complete, it is always important that people using the program submit their applications and fingerprints as quickly as possible. Once BCP staff complete their review, they issue a determination certifying a clear background check, or the existence of a crime or condition that may limit the applicant’s ability to work in a facility, serve as a foster parent, etc.
If a barrier crime or condition is identified, the individual and agency will receive written notice from the BCP. The notice will state what the barrier is and also will inform the individual of the right to request reconsideration or apply for a barrier crime variance. A request for reconsideration will be considered by the BCP only in the case of mistaken identity, or if the crime charged is no longer a barrier. A variance application is appropriate if the individual agrees with the barrier condition, but still wishes to proceed. In DHSS, variance applications are reviewed by the Barrier Crimes Variance Committee, with the department commissioner later making a final decision for approval or denial of each request.
The bottom line is, if someone is going to work with vulnerable people, a background check must be completed. If a barrier condition or crime is identified, a written notice will be provided and the individual will have the opportunity to apply for reconsideration or a variance. OCS licensing staff is knowledgeable about background checks and variances, and is glad to assist anyone with questions about the process.