BISMARCK -- North Dakota's Department of Human Services is taking steps to speed up the fingerprint-based criminal background check process needed for foster care licensing, child care licensing and employment, and several service areas.

The department has consolidated three background check authorization forms into one, and on Aug. 1, will offer enhanced website content in an effort to reduce errors and accelerate background check turnaround time.

About 30% of authorization forms are being returned to applicants because they are incomplete or unreadable, said Tara Reed, supervisor of the department’s criminal background check unit.

“We’re hoping that this form is going to eliminate the errors, just because it’s a much simpler form. It’s very easy to understand,” she said.

Applicants will be required to type their information into the new authorization form online, which will reduce the number of applications returned due to unreadable handwriting. Applicants sign the form electronically and print a copy to take with them when they get fingerprinted.

The backlog of applications is “pretty minimal,” Reed said, but turnaround time is affected by the number of applications being handled by state and federal agencies that do the actual fingerprint analysis and criminal history checks.

In addition to foster care licensing and child care licensing and employment, the department completes criminal background checks for adoption and guardianship cases, employment in licensed foster care facilities, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Kinship Care, and relative care placements. The greatest impact of reduced processing time, Reed said, will be on licensed and regulated child care providers. On Oct. 1, the department will re-implement a federal background check requirement to comply with federal regulations on provisional employment. The state’s waiver expires Sept. 30.

In 2018, the unit completed about 7,000 background checks. About 67% of those related to licensed or regulated child care providers.

The department’s new website content includes links to forms, fingerprinting locations and FAQs. Applicants required to complete out-of-state forms can find the forms and instructions on how to complete them for 49 states and the District of Columbia.