Child protection team expresses concern over state school age law

Published 4:07 pm Friday, April 27, 2012

Polk County’s Community Child Protection Team said it reviewed four cases in 2011 and two of those might have been prevented if the children were required to be in school at an earlier age.
North Carolina requires children to be enrolled in school between the ages of 7 and 16.
The Polk County Board of Commissioners met April 16 and agreed to draft a resolution to send to the state in support of lowering the school age requirement to 6 years old.
North Carolina’s school age law was enacted in 1907, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
In South Carolina, children are required to be in school from age 5 to 16. In Tennessee, the requirement is from age 6 to 17; Georgia’s requirement is age 6 to 16 and Virginia’s is age 5 to 18, according to the department of education. Most of the age requirements were enacted in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Polk County commissioners recently heard annual reports from the child protection team and the child fatality team, which are combined boards.
The child protection team reviewed four child protective cases during 2011. The team identified several contributing factors related to child maltreatment including mental health issues, Asperger’s syndrome, substance abuse, poor parenting skills, inappropriate discipline, domestic violence, excessive absences from school, unstable and inadequate living arrangements and high-risk pregnancy.
Polk County Department of Social Service (DSS) Director Lou Parton gave the child protection team report and Helen White with the Polk County Health Department gave the child fatality team report.
The child fatality team reviewed three deaths during 2011, which were related to illnesses and congenital defects. The team reviews the deaths one year after the death occurs. Parents of the children reviewed are never contacted and the deaths are reviewed in executive session.
The purpose of the teams is to identify gaps in services and to prevent future child abuse, neglect and deaths.
Based on the team’s findings, recommendations can be made and implemented for changes to laws, rules and policies designed to support the safe and healthy development of children.
Parton said gaps in services identified in the child protection team report include the compulsory attendance law that does not cover under age 7, because children in school undergo home visits.
Other gaps in services include:
• Domestic violence cases not routinely referred to Steps to HOPE
• The lack of ability to legally share information and collaborate among all agencies involved until the situation reaches the level requiring the involvement of child protective services
• The restriction of mobile crisis as a voluntary service  and the inability to respond without client cooperation
• The lack of adequate funding for therapeutic foster care
• Pediatric psychiatric care being unavailable locally
Parton said progress made in 2011 includes improved communications with the district attorney’s office and new truancy protocols with schools.
Parton said many of the issues presented in previous years to commissioners remain the same, such as substance abuse, mental health, unstable living situations, inadequate parenting and domestic violence. The team asks commissioners every year to be aware of the needs that are prevalent and opportunities they have to make a difference in various organizations and agencies, to specifically be aware of the impact of the Medicaid funding cuts on mental health and substance abuse services and to support efforts to lower the school attendance law to age 6.

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