ACF Releases Research Brief on States’ Background Check Implementation Barriers

This week, the Administration for Children and Families’ (ACF) Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (OPRE) released a research brief, States’ Status of and Identified Barriers to Implementation of the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014 Out-of-State Background Check Requirements. This research brief summarizes information from two research activities done in collaboration with the Office of Child Care (OCC): (1) a synthesis and review of available research and information on background checks and (2) an environmental scan of state Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) Act background check implementation efforts that took place in 2019.

Data collection consisted of a survey of Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) lead agencies followed by interviews with CCDF lead agencies as well as child abuse and neglect (CAN), criminal history, and sex offender registry (SOR) data custodians.


The purpose of this research brief is to provide a summary of available information on the known barriers to and solutions for implementing the out-of-state background checks for child care staff mandated by the CCDBG Act of 2014. This summary is intended to inform OCC, states, and technical assistance providers on the type of support needed to implement the out-of-state background check requirements.


  • Out-of-state background checks. At the time of data collection, 32 states and territories reported that they had implemented the out-of-state criminal history checks; 34 had implemented the out-of-state CAN registry checks, and 33 had implemented the out-of-state SOR checks. Eighty percent (41/51) of states reported implementing at least one of the out-of-state checks, meaning 20% (10/51) reported not implementing any of the out-of-state checks.
  • Legal restrictions. Many states have laws that prohibit them from making requests for out-of-state checks and/or responding to background check requests from other states. These laws may place restrictions on the use of specific registries for employment purposes, on who can access the registries or background check results, and on what types of information can be shared across state lines.
  • Limited staff. Lack of staffing was often cited as a barrier to complete out-of-state checks. The out-of-state background check requirements expand the number of child care applicants who need background checks and the number of checks needed for each applicant. State agencies must have enough staff to conduct checks, review results, make determinations of eligibility, and notify applicants in a timely manner.
  • Payment of fees. Several states have fees associated with processing out-of-state background check requests. Many states do not have funding to support payment of background check fees, while others cited logistical difficulties, such as incompatible payment processing systems.
  • Poor data quality and incomplete records. Incomplete and inaccurate data can delay background checks, thereby affecting the ability of states to be compliant with the legislation and requiring more staff time to conduct rechecks.
  • Lack of clear processes. Each state has its own system for requesting and accepting out-of-state background check requests (e.g., paper or electronic submissions, required documentation). Navigating these processes can be burdensome and affect timeliness of processing requests, especially if extensive follow-up is needed to clarify requirements or request additional documentation.
  • Various definitions and policies. When states use different terms or definitions for the offenses contained in their registries or when policies differ about what information the registries include, it becomes challenging for requesting states to interpret out-of-state background check results and make final determinations of eligibility for employment.
  • Nonresponses to out-of-state checks. When responses to out-of-state background check requests are not received, requesting states must make eligibility determinations based on incomplete information, delay a decision, or invest additional resources to receive a response.

The brief is available to view and download via this ACF Web link.

This brief summarizes a portion of the activities that are part of the ACF Child Care Interstate Background Checks (CC-IBaCs) 20182021 research project. More information on the project can be found on this OPRE webpage.

Office of Child Care

Administration for Children and Families

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Mary E. Switzer Building, Fourth Floor, MS 4425

330 C Street, S.W.

Washington, DC  20201

General office number: (202) 690-6782

Fax: (202) 690-5600

General email: occ@acf.hhs.gov

Website: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/occ