The safety of children, disabled and elderly people under state-supervised care is being called into question by lawmakers and child welfare advocates.
Whistleblowers in the California Department of Social Services (DSS) said caregivers are working in foster homes, daycare and assisted living facilities without complete criminal background checks.
The revelation is a result of legal issues going back three years.
As first reported by NBC affiliate KCRA in Sacramento, applicants for caregiving jobs are not automatically disqualified if they have arrest records. They’re only disqualified if convictions have been obtained in those cases.
However, the state is routinely sending criminal clearance letters to employers before background investigations have been completed.
"Their defense is ‘We want to be sure we don't violate the civil liberties of people who have been wrongly accused.’ And I don't disagree with that. But be sure they were wrongfully arrested before you give them the kid," said Robert Fellmeth, J.D. with the University of San Diego.
A spokesman for the DSS said it is their policy to investigate rather than simply exclude someone who was charged with a crime but not convicted.
But USD’s Children’s Advocacy Institute is threatening a lawsuit unless that policy is reversed, and San Diego State Assemblyman Brian Maienschein, vice chair of a legislative oversight committee, is demanding that the practice stop.
Maienschein said hiring people and investigating them later is absurd.
“These background checks may take six months, eight months, a year. In that time, an individual can do a lot of damage to a very vulnerable population,” said Maienschein.
According to KCRA, other assemblymembers’ staff said they had as the Human Services committee to start investigating the issue.