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ASHEVILLE – The welfare of children in Western North Carolina faces a range of challenges, but solutions are also available in public policies if the public will exists, according to a panel members at a Carolina Public Press forum on Jan. 26.
Panelists included Jennifer Nehlsen, the district administrator at Guardian ad Litem for the 28th judicial district; Glenda Weinert, chair of the N.C. Child Care Commission; Dr. Susan Mims, vice president for Children’s Services at Mission Hospital and executive medical director for Mission Children’s Hospital; and Natasha Adwaters, director of community supports at Children First/Communities in Schools of Buncombe County.
CPP Executive Director Angie Newsome and Investigative Report Michael Gebelein co-moderated the forum, which included an audience question-and-answer session. The event was sponsored by Lenoir-Rhyne University’s Center for Graduate Studies of Asheville and Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College and took place at Lenoir-Rhyne.
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A crowd of attendees from around the region packed the room and came armed with an array of questions about issues of concern to them.
Among the hottest topics of discussion was the unequal state formula for subsidizing child-care providers. The formula rewards providers in some counties, such as metropolitan Wake and Mecklenburg, at a much higher rate than others. Counties in the state’s western region experience a much lower rate of compensation, making it difficult for many providers to stay in business, Weinert said.
Several audience members described themselves as advocates for this particular issue and called on the state to devote an anticipated budget surplus to providing additional support for child care.
Another question addressed included the decisions that guardians ad litem, the courts and child protective services agencies face when confronting episodes of domestic violence in which the mother has been victimized.
Nehlsen expressed the view that little flexibility exists in these situations, which could require removal of children even when the mother is the perceived victim. She said that judges have to do what’s right for children.
In answer to another question, Nehlsen described her support for changing North Carolina’s sentencing guidelines for juveniles, to better reflect the practice in most other states with age 18 as the threshold for prosecuting someone as an adult.
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Discussing the challenges for pediatric health care in the region, Mims noted the limits to resources in more remote areas and the difficult of connecting individuals with appropriate care.
She also noted the importance of paying attention to children’s health in order to ensure healthier adults in the future.
A recording of the event follows: