Amidst an already dire staffing shortage, child care professionals say background-check delays are preventing new staff members from fully entering the field.
Fingerprint processing, which once took a month or two, is now taking upwards of three or four months, childcare professionals say. That delay adds to the shortage of child care staff, which in turn forces parents who can’t find child care to stay home with their kids, according to Amy Brooks, executive director of the Early Care & Education Association in the Upper Valley.
“Families would be able to stay employed,” Brooks said, “if we could just get these criminal background checks sped up.”
While new educators wait for their fingerprints to be processed, they’re able to work in the classroom, Brooks explained, but they’re not allowed to be left alone with children.
That “helps for a week or two, but somebody will need to use the restroom sooner or later,” Brooks said of the partial approval status.
Working in the Upper Valley, Brooks is acquainted with both Vermont and New Hampshire’s child care systems. Once upon a time, Vermont’s background check process outpaced New Hampshire’s, Brooks said. But after New Hampshire invested in improving its system, that’s no longer the case, she said.
Vermonters typically get fingerprints taken at a local law enforcement agency, and those prints are then sent to the Vermont Crime Information Center for further processing. VCIC handles fingerprints for state licensing processes such as education and health care, according to Jeffrey Wallin, the center’s director.
“At the end of last year, we did have a significant increase with the onboarding of doing fingerprint-supported record checks for nursing applicants and individuals getting nursing licenses,” Wallin said. “That significantly strained our system, so we’ve seen our processing times increase more than we’d like.
“We are certainly aware of the strain that puts on folks out in the field,” he said. According to Wallin, the center has since brought on additional resources in an attempt to bring processing times down to 30 days. Still, he said the center is hearing about processing times “in the ballpark” of 12 weeks.
According to S. Lauren Hibbert, Vermont’s deputy secretary of state, fingerprinting of licensed nursing assistants, registered nurses and other types of nurses is a recent change.
“They had not needed to get background checks before,” Hibbert said. State government asked for that change in 2019, she said, and the process began at the beginning of this year. The nurse background checks, coupled with staffing shortages at VCIC, have both contributed to the fingerprint processing delays, according to Hibbert.
At the Orange County Parent Child Center in Tunbridge, executive director Lindsey Trombley is dealing with the delays.
“We have an employee who started in December, and she is yet to get her fingerprints back,” Trombley said. “It’s a significant struggle right now because we have three new hires waiting to get fingerprints back, and they can’t be left alone with children.”
The result: Staff members whose fingerprints have been checked are forced to work extra long hours. “Not only are we just short-staffed, period. But that’s just exacerbating the situation with my existing staff who are having to work open ’til close,” she said.
In South Royalton, Magic Mountain Children’s Center had hoped new hires would allow it to expand its hours. Fingerprinting delays have blocked those plans.
“We currently have one staff member who was fingerprinted 14 weeks ago,” said Heather Cushman, director at Magic Mountain. “When we hired her, it was in anticipation that we’d be able to expand our hours to better serve our families, but the long delay has prevented us from doing that.”
According to Cushman, she’s been told that 14 weeks is within “the normal timeframe for background checks being processed” and that the fingerprints are causing the delay.
The delay, Cushman said, is straining Magic Mountain’s families. The business, before Covid-19, was open 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Now, it’s open only from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
“It’s not so much about our business,” Cushman said of the delay’s effects. “It’s about our families and what they do for their work. It’s about how we can better serve the community, and the impact it’s having on a much larger scale.”
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