Georgia child care workers will soon be subject to mandatory FBI fingerprint checks under legislation that on Wednesday received final approval.
House Bill 350, which now goes to the desk of the governor, will bring Georgia in line with at least 26 other states where childcare workers are required to have a federal background check, as a condition of employment.
Georgia currently only mandates this kind of background check for child care center directors.
But, with the proposed law change, the federal background check requirement will be extended to 24,000 front line workers in 6,000 childcare centers around the state. It also will apply to employees of Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning, the agency that regulates child care centers.
DECAL was pushing the bill, which passed the House earlier this month and cleared the Senate 44-4 on Wednesday.
The legislation gives child care centers and employees time to adapt to the law change and the extra expense.
A center or the individual employees now pay $27.74 for a state background check. The new background check will cost $52.75, according to the GBI.
New hires will have to submit to the fingerprint-based, federal background check starting in 2014. Current child care workers will have until 2017 to comply, and all employees will be subject to a new background check every five years.
Currently, child care workers only submit to a state records check, using their names and dates of birth. Officials say those checks can miss crimes committed under aliases or in other states, potentially putting children at risk.
Pat Willis, executive director of the advocacy group Voices for Georgia’s Children, supports the more extensive background check.
“From my standpoint, we should promote a culture and expectation of safety for every child in care at every age, and checking backgrounds of all who work with children is a minimal first step,” Willis said.
DECAL Commissioner Bobby Cagle said the bill is a precautionary.
“Having full and reliable information about the criminal histories of employees in child care facilities is essential to assuring safety for Georgia’s youngest learners,” Cagle said.
Sen. Butch Miller, a Republican from Gainesville who brought the bill to the Senate floor, said the measure is “vitally important to the safety of Georgia’s most vulnerable and precious population.”
He added, “This bill is family friendly, minimizes the impact on small business, and improves child safety.”
On a typical day, about 350,000 children are in day care in Georgia.
Cagle’s department receives more than 100 complaints per month related to possible inappropriate activity at day care centers. Complaints can pertain to facility safety, improper treatment of children, fiscal, employee behavior or other issues.