To families hiring an in-home caregiver, it can feel frightening to entrust the life and daily care of a loved one to a stranger. Everyone knows it takes more than a meet and greet to rule out dangerous applicants; you need to do a background check. Yet, even then, deal-breaking information like criminal charges or arrests for petty theft can get missed.
The reason is simple: There’s no single source of information to verify a person’s background, according to Paladin “PJ” Jordan, CPP, owner of Paladin Jordan Detective Agency, Inc. in Geneva, Illinois. You need to gather information from many sources, cross check it, review it and compare it to each other. In order to complete the picture, every piece of the puzzle must fit. If it doesn’t, you could have the right name, wrong person.
Jordan said he can complete a background check in three to five hours—depending on the case: The less information a client provides, the more time it takes to finish the job. Still, you don’t have to be a private detective to do a background check. The information is readily available to you, free of charge or for a nominal fee. You just need to know where to find it. Fortunately, Jordan has provided a map.
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Start with an initial interview
Give them an application (if applicable), and describe what the job entails. If they’re still interested, let them know you’ll be doing a background investigation. If they agree to it, ask them to sign a consent form.
“The police department will release any records they have on a person if that person has signed a consent form,” Jordan explained. You can use this template:
I, [insert applicant’s name] authorize [insert your name] to receive any information that the [insert name of police department] has on file about me. [Include lines for their signature and address.]
Also, ask if they’ve ever been arrested or accused of crimes involving persons or property—two categories pertinent to caring for a vulnerable person.
“What if they were arrested and charged but not convicted?” Jordan said. “Being found not guilty is one thing, but a whole list of things can happen between an arrest and a conviction. So, we don’t know. We need to ask them about every time they were arrested or accused of crimes.”
In order to do an investigation, collect the following information from the applicant:
- Full name (including nicknames, maiden names, married names and legal name changes)
- Date of birth
- Photograph or physical description
- Social Security number, driver’s license number or military ID
- Addresses of places the applicant has lived, worked and attended school for the last seven to 10 years – You will need to contact the police in all of those jurisdictions to find out if they have a record.
- List of references
Begin the investigation
Check references like a private detective. In addition to the typical questions, dig deeper and ask, “Who else do you know who knows Jane Doe? Can you give me the name of another peer, friend or colleague?” If they can give you one more person to talk to, that’s even better, Jordan said.
Use telling questions to ask references
Working with older adults will be stressful at times, Jordan explained. You need to hire someone who has adequate coping and communication skills—and someone who will not leak private information. Find out by asking:
- How does Jane Doe handle stressful situations?
- Tell me about a difficult conflict between you and Jane Doe. How did she resolve it?
- Can you tell me about a time when Jane Doe had to deal with sensitive, personal or confidential matters? If so, how did she handle it?
“It’s going to take time to talk to people, to look at documents and assess the value of the information that you are reviewing,” Jordan explained. “You need time to identify facts, verify facts and be able to challenge what they [the applicant] told you against the facts you uncovered.”
Use websites and other investigation tools
While every strategy has its strengths and weaknesses, Jordan recommends the following websites and investigation tools:
- Hire a private detective licensed with your state.
- Put the applicant’s name in the Blackbookonline.info database to search circuit court, county and state offices for all 3,000+ court systems in the U.S. to see if they have a civil or criminal case against them.
- Request a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) form from the police departments in every town the person has resided in in the past seven to 10 years to discover any run-ins with the law.
- Search the website of your local circuit court or visit the clerk to see if the applicant was involved in any criminal cases.
- Ask the applicant if they’re willing to be fingerprinted (something that will reveal a person’s true identity).
- Check the federal court system’s Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) to see if the applicant has any criminal, civil or bankruptcy cases against them.
The final interview
Once the investigation is completed, conduct a final interview.
“Bring up the information that was gathered during the investigation and give them the opportunity to respond,” Jordan said. “It might be a mistake: same name, different person. We always want to give them an opportunity to respond to the information we have.”
Also, be prepared that any instances of untruthfulness should be an automatic dealbreaker.
“It’s OK to tell me embarrassing information or that you’ve been arrested,” Jordan explained. “But when you lie about it, that makes me wonder what else you might lie about in the future as it relates to my vulnerable relative. It’s an ethical thing.”
Jordan is also adamant about doing periodic background checks.
“They could get involved in something or maybe something happened before that didn’t reveal itself until after you hired them,” he said. “Let them know [background checks] are not just a one-time thing.”
If all of this sounds too daunting, you can always hire a private detective like Jordan (his rates range from $250 to $750), or hire a caregiver through a company like Care.com that does extensive background checks. But always still investigate on your own because mistakes happen, and it’s worth your time to catch them. Your loved one’s safety depends on it.