Paris: Revising a suggestion


Let me revise a suggestion I previously made regarding In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS). I still believe that once hired, criminal background should not be used to keep some employees at a lower pay level than others.

However, I totally agree that some people should not be licensed at all. And that is essentially what is happening with the IHSS Registry – it is becoming a licensing body. Examples of criminal charges that might permanently disqualify someone from the registry include criminal negligence, assault, rape, murder, child or elder abuse, or other crimes against persons.

One problem with the current situation is that the registry is based on how long ago an offense was committed, not the seriousness of the crime. Background checks generate all felonies for the past 10 years. That means that someone who committed a truly horrible crime long ago may register; and, conversely, someone with a lesser or “victimless” crime cannot register for many years.

The criteria should be changed to reflect the level of danger (to the person or the person’s environment or finances) along with recidivism rate for certain behaviors. Professions like nursing could serve as a model for establishing degree of risk of certain offenses.

IHSS recipients can choose their own caretaker, and this person might not meet the highest traditional standards. Many caretakers do not see themselves as career professionals (they are often untrained family members or acquaintances motivated to provide very good care) and shouldn’t object too strongly if pay level is translated into “provable” skills. The difference would be similar to that of a nurse and a nurse’s aide, and caretakers would always be welcome to qualify for the higher category.

It is this same freedom – that allows a recipient to choose whomever they want as caretaker – that allows them to choose someone with a criminal past. This introduces a heated and valid debate – should certain people not be hired at all? And if hired, what are IHSS’s responsibilities and rights to warn recipients or oversee their care? However, this “right” is state law, and not likely to be influenced at this moment.

The immediate controversy is because Lake County is considering a two-tiered pay structure (California has always paid a uniform rate per area), and criteria needs to be established for the higher pay. The question “to reward or not reward” those with a criminal past may actually have a simple solution.

Why not separate the two issues – membership in the registry and higher pay? Obviously, the registry (because it furnishes the names of potential employees to the public) must restrict membership to those who do not pose a threat. But if a caretaker is willing to consent to all other criteria for the registry (drug checks, training sessions, competency testing, to be decided) … why not let these caretakers earn higher pay? After all, they would be providing a higher level of care. And the county would avoid protest based on violation of civil liberties.

Janis Paris lives in Clearlake Oaks.