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Social Worker Background Check: A Complete Guide  

social worker background check

If your organization is hiring social workers, you should complete a thorough background check on each applicant under consideration for employment.

Did you know that a Connecticut social worker was arrested after helping a child sex trafficking suspect evade the police?

Social worker background checks help to protect the clients you serve, your organization’s reputation, the public, and your employees from potential harm while ensuring the applicants you hire are qualified for their jobs.

At iprospectcheck, we conduct background checks for social workers across the U.S. and have written this guide for employers to use during the hiring process.

Let’s get started.

What Is a Social Worker Background Check?

A social worker background check can be conducted both before employment on applicants and on a continuing basis on existing employees.

This type of employment screening shows whether applicants have the required qualifications to work as social workers, are trustworthy, and whether they have any convictions related to their jobs.

Why Should Social Workers Be Screened?

Social workers work in multiple settings, including healthcare organizations, human services agencies, child welfare agencies, schools, criminal justice agencies, and others.

They perform numerous duties in their work, including the following:

  • Conduct needs assessments
  • Make referrals to community resources
  • Help identify client goals and the steps needed to achieve them
  • Help clients address challenges in their lives
  • Monitor the situations of clients and ensure they make improvements
  • Respond to crises
  • Maintain case records and files
  • Provide counseling and referrals
  • Conduct home visits

Because of the nature of their jobs, social workers have significant direct contact with clients. Many people who receive social work services are going through difficult times in their lives, which makes them more vulnerable.

The duties performed by social workers make it critical to ensure they’re trustworthy and competent, and social worker background checks help to screen out unqualified applicants.

What Shows Up on a Social Worker Background Check?

Many state licensing boards for social workers require FBI fingerprint checks for people applying for licensure.

However, a fingerprint background check might not show all of the types of information your organization might need to make an informed hiring decision.

To fill in the gaps left by fingerprint background checks, organizations that hire social workers request the following searches:

  • National criminal background search
  • County criminal background search
  • National sex offender registry search
  • Professional license verification
  • Education verification
  • Employment verification
  • Motor vehicle records check
  • Identity verification
  • Lab-based drug screen

Here’s what you might see on a few of these searches.

Criminal Records Check

A criminal background check for employment reveals whether a candidate has pending criminal cases or convictions on their record.

If a candidate has a criminal conviction or pending criminal case, a criminal background check will reveal the following information:

  • Case number
  • Offense date
  • Nature of offense
  • Level of offense (misdemeanor/felony)
  • Disposition
  • Disposition date
  • Sentence (if available)

A criminal background check can ensure your candidates don’t have convictions or pending criminal cases that should disqualify them from work as a social worker.

Professional License Verification

Professional license verification reveals the following information about a candidate’s social work license:

  • License type
  • License number
  • Issuance date
  • License status
  • Discipline or sanctions
  • Expiration date

Education Verification

Education verification ensures an applicant has the educational qualifications reported on their application and resume and is honest.

An education verification shows the following information about an applicant’s educational history:

  • Name and address of each educational institution attended
  • Dates of attendance at each school
  • Diplomas, certificates, or degrees conferred

Employment Verification

Employment verification discloses the following information about an applicant’s employment history:

  • Dates of employment with each employer
  • Job titles/positions held with each former employer

National Sex Offender Registry Check

If an applicant is a registered sex offender, a national sex offender registry check shows the following types of information:

  • Registration date
  • Registration jurisdiction
  • All names and aliases used
  • Physical descriptors, including tattoos and scars
  • Registration address
  • Photograph

If the offense of conviction is reportable, you’ll also see the offense date, offense type, offense severity, disposition, disposition date, and sentence the applicant received.

Lab-Based Drug Screen

A pre-employment drug test shows whether an applicant has recently used any of the following substances:

  • Amphetamines
  • Barbiturates
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Cocaine
  • Propoxyphene
  • Phencyclidine (PCP)
  • Opiates
  • THC/Marijuana
  • Methaqualone
  • Methadone

Motor Vehicle Records Check

Some social workers transport clients as a part of their jobs.

A motor vehicle records check may reveal the following information about an applicant’s driving record:

  • Driver’s license number
  • Driver’s license type
  • Issuance date
  • License status
  • Name
  • Expiration date
  • Traffic violations
  • Traffic crimes
  • Points

How to Run a Background Check on a Social Worker

Most states require FBI fingerprint background checks for licensing purposes. However, a fingerprint-based FBI background check will not provide a complete and accurate picture of an applicant’s background.

There are two main ways employers conduct background checks on social workers to fill in the information gaps.

1. Do-it-Yourself Social Worker Background Check

Some non-profit organizations and others that hire social workers attempt to complete background checks on their own.

A DIY social worker background check might involve searching for an applicant online, sending background information requests to several state agencies, requesting information from former employers and schools, checking the state licensing board, and checking references provided by the applicant.

This type of approach can take a long time to complete and might not return comprehensive, up-to-date, and legally-compliant background information, which could expose your organization to potential liability.

2. Working With a Third-Party Background Check Provider

The second option for conducting social worker background checks is to work with a reliable third-party background check company like iprospectcheck.

This method is much better than attempting a DIY background check for a social worker.

At iprospectcheck, we stay up-to-date with changes in relevant background check laws and leverage our advanced research methodologies and access to reliable databases to return comprehensive, accurate, and FCRA-compliant background checks to our clients.

What Disqualifies You From Being a Social Worker?

A social worker applicant might be turned down for a job for multiple reasons, including the following:

1. Disqualifying Criminal Convictions

Many states list specific types of criminal convictions that prevent social workers from obtaining licenses.

While having a criminal conviction might not disqualify an applicant, the following offenses could prevent someone from securing employment as a social worker:

  • Child abuse
  • Domestic violence
  • Certain drug crimes
  • Violent crimes
  • Sex crimes
  • Thefts

2. Professional License Problems

Applicants for licensed social worker (LSW) positions might be denied employment if they have the following types of issues with their professional licenses:

  • Expired/invalid license
  • Sanctions history
  • License suspension/revocation
  • Lack of a social worker license

3. Dishonesty About Past Employment

Some applicants provide false information about their past employment to try to hide employment gaps, claim they held positions with greater authority than they did, or omit employers with which they had problems.

Employers that request employment verification can easily see whether an applicant has been dishonest about their work history.

When an applicant has been dishonest, the employer will likely decline their employment application.

4. Dishonesty About Education

Another area in which some applicants might be dishonest is their education.

An applicant might claim to have obtained a degree they did not or to have attended a more prestigious institution than they did.

An employer that requests education verification can quickly see whether an applicant has lied about their education and will likely deny employment to a dishonest applicant.

5. Poor Driving Record

Some social workers are required to transport clients as part of their job.

If an applicant has a problematic driving record, they might be denied employment because of potential liability and insurability issues.

6. Appearance on the Sex Offender Registry

Because of the contact that social workers have with vulnerable clients, most organizations deny employment to applicants who are registered sex offenders.

7. Positive Result on a Pre-Employment Drug Screen

Most organizations that hire social workers extend conditional employment offers that are contingent on passing pre-employment drug tests.

If an applicant returns a positive result on a drug screen, they will likely be turned down for the job.

Social Worker Background Check Laws

There are no national laws that specifically apply to social worker background checks.

However, there are a few relevant laws that apply to employment background checks in general.

Federal Laws

Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)

The FCRA controls the handling, collection, and reporting of private consumer information by consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) and what employers can do with the information received on background checks.

If a background check report reveals negative information about an applicant, an employer can’t deny employment based on that information before completing the adverse action process.

Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (Title VII)

Title VII forbids workplace discrimination against applicants and employees based on their protected characteristics.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the agency that enforces Title VII.

Under its guidance, employers should individually assess criminal convictions as they directly relate to the duties of a job before making a decision not to hire an applicant based on that information.

State Laws

State laws for social worker background checks vary widely. Some states and localities have passed ban-the-box laws, which control when you can ask for criminal background checks during the hiring process.

You should consult your legal counsel about the state and local laws that apply to your organization.

How Far Back Does a Background Check for a Social Worker Go?

How far back a background check can go depends on both the FCRA and state laws.

The FCRA has a seven-year restriction on the following types of information for positions paying salaries of less than $75,000 per year:

  • Arrests that didn’t result in convictions other than for pending criminal cases
  • Liens
  • Civil lawsuits
  • Civil judgments
  • Bankruptcies

The seven-year restriction on the reporting of background information doesn’t apply to jobs paying more than $75,000 per year.

The FCRA also doesn’t restrict how far back information can be reported about criminal convictions, employment, education, licensure, and other crucial data.

In states that allow expungement, expunged convictions won’t be reported.

How Long Does a Social Worker Background Check Take?

How long it might take to complete a social worker background check will depend on the method you choose.

If you attempt a DIY background check on a social worker, it might take you several weeks.

If you instead partner with iprospectcheck, the process is much faster. Because of our resources and research skills, we often can return comprehensive background checks in as little as a couple of hours.

iprospectcheck: Your Partner for Comprehensive Social Worker Background Checks

Conducting thorough social worker background checks protects your organization, clients, and employees from harm.

Completing comprehensive background checks requires you to have access to numerous resources and knowledge of the relevant laws.

At iprospectcheck, we provide background screening services for all types of social workers, including the following:

  • Children and family social workers
  • Community social workers
  • Criminal justice social workers
  • Disability social workers
  • Environmental social workers
  • Elder care social workers
  • Medical care social workers
  • Mental health social workers
  • Licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs)
  • Military veterans social workers
  • Occupational social workers
  • Hospice social workers

To learn more about the social worker screening and clinical services we offer or to obtain a free quote, contact iprospectcheck today: (888) 509-1979

DISCLAIMER: The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Consult your counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.

Know Before You Hire

About the Author
Matthew J. Rodgers

Matthew J. Rodgers

Matthew J. Rodgers is a highly accomplished business executive with over 30 years of experience providing strategic vision and leadership to companies ranging from the fortune 500 to iprospectcheck, a company which he co-founded over a decade ago. Matthew is a valued consultant who is dedicated to helping companies create and implement efficient, cost effective and compliant employment screening programs. Matt has been a member of the Professional Background Screeners Association since 2009 . When not focused on iprospectcheck, he can be found spending time with his family, fly fishing, or occasionally running the wild rivers of the American west. A lifetime member of American Whitewater, Matt is passionate about protecting and restoring America’s whitewater rivers.