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Childcare Referral Website Facing Lawsuit

When it comes to hiring an ideal person to care for your child or elderly parent, the decision is often difficult and made with the utmost care and attention to detail. Of course, there is a great deal of trust involved, and some websites are dedicated to connecting families with professional caregivers for this reason. However, one popular site has sparked controversy for its business, particularly concerning the thoroughness of its employee background checks.

In March 2014, justice was served to Sarah Cullen, a former nanny who would prove to have a questionable past. Four-month-old Cash Bell died of head injuries while in Cullen’s [professional] care, and she was later convicted of felony child abuse and sentenced to a maximum of 70 years in prison. Two months following the sentence, Christopher and Ashley Bell, the parents of Cash, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Care.com – the website in question – as well as the daycare which previously employed Cullen.

As a referral site, Care.com is one of the largest of its kind with over 14 million members worldwide. Caregivers may freely post their qualifications, while care-seekers may purchase a subscription (starting at $37/month) to communicate with caregivers. For additional fees, they may also view a background check of any particular caregiver involved with the site.

Herein was the trouble for Christopher and Ashley Bell: according to their lawsuit, filed in Nebraska’s Douglas County Court, the background check on Sarah Cullen (for which the Bell parents paid the necessary fees) failed to reveal a conviction for drunk driving on her record. Had they known about this conviction, they claim they would not have hired Cullen as a nanny; perhaps many parents can easily empathize.

The stories of two other caregivers who have promoted their services via Care.com have inspired similar bad publicity for the site. Christina, a caregiver and Brazilian national, has worked successfully via Care.com; however, she has been living in the United States illegally since her tourist visa expired and has no plans to return to Brazil. Initially, she was dishonest with Care.com about her immigration status and her particular action was not caught: she answered “yes” to the question “Are you eligible to work in the United States?”, as a “no” answer would have made her ineligible for the position. She also claims that other undocumented workers have told the same lie and gained employment anyway.

Brendan Dougherty, another successful caregiver who has worked via Care.com (he is a legal U.S. citizen), has had personal information retrieved without his releasing it. A “preferred” background check, which includes criminal/sex offender registry checks and Social Security number verification for $59, indeed shows his clean record and that his Social Security number is verified; however, this was a “red flag” for Dougherty because he never disclosed his Social Security number to Care.com, even during the sign-up process, claiming he provided only his name, address, and birthdate. If they have it, he claims, how they acquired it is beyond his knowledge.

Amid such controversy, closer looks were taken at Care.com’s nearly 12,000-word “Terms of Use” and revealed some statements which, though troubling, should not be unexpected: the site assumes no responsibility for information included in background checks, adding that “we don’t control or vet user-generated content for accuracy” and “assume no liability that may result from the use of information on our site.”

The good news is that new relevant laws will begin to take effect later in 2015. Among these, child care agencies and states which accept federal child care funding will be required to perform FBI fingerprint checks on all eligible caregivers. Private agencies which do not accept federal funds will be exempt from this requirement, though some individual states are still considering doing so regardless of whether a caregiver receives federal funds, as well as imposing more stringent background checks on caregivers.

If your child has been injured while under the supervision of a professional caregiver, contact Mike Agruss Law for a free consultation. We are a Chicago-based injury law firm representing individuals (and their families) who have suffered an injury in an accident. We will handle your case quickly and advise you every step of the way, and we will not hesitate to go to trial for you.

Lastly, Mike Agruss Law is not paid attorneys’ fees unless we win your case. Our no-fee promise is that simple. You have nothing to risk when you hire us – only the opportunity to seek justice.

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