Rule change bolsters background checks

zkyle@idahostatesman.comApril 17, 2014 

Jana Kemp was screening volunteers for a local nonprofit that serves children three years ago when she ran into what she considered a fixable problem.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare maintains a registry with the names of residents with reports of abuse, neglect or abandonment of children, the elderly and people with developmental disabilities. Reports catalogues on the registry are substantiated in most cases by physical or medical evidence.

Kemp, a former Republican state senator from Garden City and one-time independent candidate for governor, saw the registry as a tool that businesses, schools and nonprofits working with those groups should access as part of standard background checks. However, only the department and certain types of organizations requiring Health and Welfare licenses could access the registry. The 14,000 names on the registry were otherwise confidential, making it off limits to groups such as the Boy Scouts of America, school districts or youth sports leagues.

Kemp worked with Health and Welfare attorney Robert Luce to draft a rule change to chip away at that confidentiality. The proposal easily passed in the Legislature during the 2014 session and will become law July 1.

Kemp said the ability to cross-reference criminal history with the registry will help Idaho businesses and youth organizations keep children safe. Doing so would also help protect organizations from lawsuits by preventing abuse cases through better screening.

“I don’t want a kid in an examining room with somebody not background checked to include Health and Welfare’s registry,” Kemp said. “Just because you passed a criminal background check doesn’t mean you would pass that. It’s an added level of protection.”

That added protection will soon be available to employers and youth organizations.
Employers won't be able to access the registry themselves, Health and Welfare spokesman Tom Shanahan said. But Idahoans now can request the department to release a form stating whether or not they are on the registry for a $20 fee. So, employers can require applicants to provide the documentation during job screening, a useful cross-check against the already standard criminal background check, Shanahan said.

“We think there’s value to the rule change,” Shanahan said. “The fingerprint test in the criminal background check looked at the most serious activity. But sometimes there are substantiated cases of abuse but there’s never been any criminal record.. This will be very helpful to the Boy Scouts, coaches, and just about any organizations who have contact with children.”

Kemp said now the challenge is informing stakeholder organizations that there is a new background check tool available to them.

“At this point, the education hasn’t happened,” she said. “Nobody knows the change has happened. Nobody knows they need to access the registry to protect themselves and their companies from a liability perspective.”

Meridian School District spokesman Eric Exline said he wasn’t aware of the rule change. He said the district would evaluate the rule before determining whether it would require applicants to provide registry reports.

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