Social work applicants face more scrutiny

State makes changes to background checks

Posted: Monday, January 15, 2007

Criminals will find it more difficult to land jobs around children and vulnerable adults after the state adopted more stringent regulations for background checks last week.

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The regulations are the latest in a series of changes that started in 2004, aimed at increasing client safety and streamlining the administrative process for the Alaska Department of Health & Social Services. They take effect Feb. 9.

Other recent changes included the creation of a background check unit in 2006. Since March, the state team processed 7,100 applications and found criminal histories in 34 percent of applicants.

A convicted killer's job application was rejected. So were those of five child abusers, eight sex offenders, 13 felons and several other people convicted of drug-related crimes and other offenses.

Convictions for these "barrier crimes" will block job-seekers from places such as nursing homes, hospitals and assisted living facilities.

Prior to the new regulations, some organizations were not performing fingerprint checks, said Karen Darby, deputy chief of certification and licensing. Some organizations simply allowed candidates to say they had no criminal history. Now the state will have "one omnibus set" of regulations covering background checks.

The department held public meetings about the proposed changes in 2005 and 2006 and received many suggestions and questions. In response to feedback, officials made changes such as making the barriers based on convictions, not just charges.

Juneau residents voiced concerns at a public hearings in December 2005.

Jeff Kemp, formerly with the Juneau Department of Labor's Senior Community Service Employment Program, said he was concerned about job-seekers who may have a "dark background for crimes they committed a long time ago."

"They already have barriers enough, and these are folks trying to re-enter the workforce," Kemp said. "The cost of these background checks would put a damper in my program's budget and further hinder these seniors who already face tremendous barriers getting regular employment."

He said Friday he had changed jobs and could not comment. A different state liaison for job-seekers was out of town and could not be reached for comment.

The state's main goal is to protect the health and safety of individuals in care, Darby said.

However, some convicts will be given a chance to persuade authorities they have been rehabilitated. If successful, they may be allowed to apply for employment, she said.

What does this all mean for people seeking work with the state? They will need to disclose their histories and let the state check their background. They will submit two sets of fingerprints, and officials will conduct a state and national search.

"What individuals may have been able to get away with in the past, they may not be able to get away with now," Darby said.

• Ken Lewis can be reached at

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