In New Jersey, nearly 8% of workers hired to care for the developmentally disabled evaded a state law requiring they undergo a criminal background check. Some applicants who were flagged with a criminal record got hired anyway.
New Jersey state law leaves the hiring decisions up to the group home or supervised housing provider, who can decide if an applicant has demonstrated “clear and convincing evidence of… rehabilitation.” This practice allowed one housing provider to hire a paroled convicted murderer. When auditors pointed out the worker’s criminal record, the employer called it an “oversight” and fired the worker.
A recent report submitted by State Auditor Stephen M. Eells and Asst. Auditor John Termyna says that legislative changes may be needed.
Among the report findings,
- 175 of 2,340 employees (7.5%) did not have a record of a background check in their file
- Of 47,700 workers in group homes, supervised apartments and community care facilites, 4,087 (8.5%) had committed a state crime.
- In a random check of the files of 147 active employees, 19 were found to have criminal histories that could be disqualifying, including drug and assault offenses. 40 of the files didn’t contain enough information to make a determination.
- In a review of Federal background checks, 72 of 53,200 had a serious disqualifying offense such as armed robbery or murder. One of 72 was the convicted murderer hired as an oversight, above.
People with developmental disabilities may rely on staff for everything from basic care – help with feeding, dressing and bathing – to transportation to and back from jobs and social programs. The pay is low and the turnover is high. Advocacy groups have made it a goal to have the starting wage raised to attract more qualified workers.
The report from the State Auditor’s Office states that better monitoring of residential programs is needed to prevent employment of workers with disqualifying criminal background histories. It’s important that state and federal background checks to be done on those who work with disabled individuals, and that the residential programs are in compliance with the handling of background checks when hiring employees.
How a convicted murderer (and others) slipped past group home background checks
By Susan K. Livio, posted on Oct. 18, 2017, nj.com
Report: Department of Human Services Licensed Residential Programs Serving Individuals with Developmental Disabilities
New Jersey State Legislature Office of Legislative Services Office of the State Auditor,
July 1, 2012 to April 30, 2017