May 30th, 2014

A Bad Rap

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One out of four adults has a rap sheet (NPR, All Things Considered, May 29, 2014). Seriously, that does seem like a lot of people. Why am I writing about criminal records?  It’s not about the obvious: weeding out those really bad potential caregivers. Here’s the deal. There are tremendous “collateral consequences” resulting from youthful indiscretions. How many college students have some form of alcohol or other substance abuse on their records? I’m here to tell you a lot and too many. Who ever thinks about his or her future while at a frat party? Who is thinking her underage partying may impact job offers  after college? No one. The biggest issue under consideration for many teenagers and college students is who’s got the cups and booze for beer pong and where are we setting up the table?

Flash forward 5 or 10 years, and a background check is run on this young adult who is now out in the real world. The report comes back clean. Phew. Thank goodness that the crucial 7-year mark has passed. Look again. Those charges that were dismissed or thought expunged can still show up on some online judicial case searches. Oh, the glory of the internet and the glut of information to be found on it. Many data banks have outdated and incorrect information listed. Too bad.  This data, whether accurate or inaccurate, is in the public domain. Anyone who looks hard enough can find all those stupid things today’s young adults did in their youth (assuming they were caught). These inanities will follow them. They also present us with the unpleasant task of telling prospective employers that the terrific candidate they are about to hire has a past, however harmless it may be.

Here’s where I come down on this issue.  I am all for forgiveness if the charge was long enough ago and petty. Clearly, anything that could be construed as potentially harmful to children is another story and that candidate is history. I know I have evolved to this point of view. Before I had teenagers, I was much more of a hard-liner. Now I can see the gray and understand youthful indiscretion much better. Trust me, this evolution was not without pain. The take away: Make sure you have a very thorough background check performed on anyone who is going to take care of your children. If something does come up, forgiveness may be what the situation calls for. Or not.

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