Keeping Children Safe with Software

MA Dept of Early Education and Care

The Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) provides childcare and early education resources for children and families in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The EEC regularly runs background checks – or processes to verify an individual's identity and identify potential problems, such as a criminal record – on candidates seeking employment that involve children.

The Challenge

In 2017, changes to the federal Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG), which funds early education and care programs in Massachusetts, required new Background Record Check (BRC) requirements. These requirements would give the EEC access to important information and allow it to conduct expanded background checks, which would provide additional safeguards to protect children.

To comply with these new requirements, the EEC needed to replace its legacy background check management system with a more comprehensive and efficient cloud-based application that also incorporated a fingerprint-based check of state and national criminal history databases.

The Solution

Thanks to the success of our work building a background check system for the Massachusetts DPU for Uber and Lyft drivers, we won the contract to build the EEC’s new background check system. While we initially hoped we would be able to replicate much of the work we’d done for the DPU, we soon realized that the EEC’s requirements presented a whole new layer of complexity.

We needed to build a system that could work around the existing fragmented structure and nature of the childcare industry in Massachusetts: an established sector with multiple existing systems and various stakeholders.

As part of our offering, we built multiple high-level systems:

  1. A background record check viewer, which allows agency compliance officers to review the status and results of an applicant’s background checks. The BRC viewer displays which applicants' checks have passed and which need review; highlights returned record content to facilitate review by compliance officers; adds comments to applicants' reviews and enables access to BRC history logs if applicable; sends background check results and decisions to the applicant electronically; enables compliance officers to review, accept, or deny appeal requests, request and review additional materials, and render an appeal decision; and generates reports to understand aggregated application process flow, throughput, and denial reasons.
  2. An applicant portal, which allows applicants to upload supporting documentation in a secure way. We built this portal to support secure, encrypted file communication between EEC BRC systems and enable a secure messaging platform between systems.
  3. A real-time search interface with the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families’ iFamily database. Previously, the legacy search was performed by a nightly batch process with rudimentary search heuristics that resulted in data quality issues. Our platform runs an ETL pipeline against an Oracle database that populates an ElasticSearch index. We wrote the ETL pipeline in Golang to ensure extremely fast data processing speeds.
  4. A program portal that allows child care providers to input new employee information, run background checks, manage hiring status, and integrate with third-party APIs.
  5. A background check broker and integrations, which integrates with various APIs to provide a single unified interface that allows state agencies to create background checks across a wide array of data vendors. The broker can query the following agencies: DCJIS CORI, DCJIS SORI, DCJIS Warrants, NSOR (FBI), SAFIS (FBI), Idemia (Fingerprint Scheduling), and DCF iFamily.
  6. Migration of 500K+ rows of data from the legacy system.

The Results

As a result of our system, the EEC can now process its 80K+ annual background record checks more quickly and comprehensively. Our system reduced the existing backlog, which expedited time-to-hire and allowed the EEC to improve customer service and expand its team’s productivity.

Our new BRC Viewer empowered compliance officers to take multiple actions easily, including flagging applications for review; adding comments to applicants’ reviews; generating reports to understand aggregated application process flow, throughput, and denial reasons; and sending background check results and decisions to applicants electronically, along with a clearance certificate upon approval.

Our DCF ETL service expedited an unwieldy and inefficient search of the iFamily database. The new index we built provides real-time search capabilities using a mature, robust platform (Elastic Search) that provides advanced search heuristics, result match scoring, powerful indexing, and a well-architected, modern REST API. With this system, users can get millisecond-level API responses against an index of several million documents.

Our Program Portal integrates automatically with the BRC Viewer API to run background checks and receive results in real-time, and it allows providers to import or perform data entry for new and existing employees. It offers a secure service layer API that allows third party data providers—from other Massachusetts agencies to other providers such as Care.com—to access the data.

Like what you hear and have a project of your own?