A task force that may be operating under the radar of most of the community, continues to do important work for Lincoln County to help prevent child fatalities. In 1991, the North Carolina General Assembly created local teams in each county to review and recommend system improvements leading to reduced incident of child abuse, neglect and fatality. The Lincoln County Community Child Protection Team (CCPT) meets monthly to review active cases of abuse and neglect from the Department of Social Services (DSS). The Child Fatality Prevention Team (CFPT) reviews child fatality cases on a quarterly basis. These meetings are not subject to the open meeting laws and cases must be reviewed in closed session. The teams’ findings and suggestions were recently reported to the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners.
Sherry Reinhardt, who is the executive director for the Lincoln County Child Advocacy Center is the chairperson for each team, the composition of which is mandated by law. The team must consist of the DSS director, a DSS staff member and a DSS board member, the health director, a health care provider (appointed by the board of health), a law enforcement officer (appointed by the county commission board), a district attorney or designee, the school superintendent or designee, a guardian ad-litem coordinator, a mental health professional, up to five members appointed by the county commissioners. Additional members required for child fatality reviews include an emergency medical service employee or firefighter, a parent of a child that died before the age of 18 (appointed by the board of commissioners), a district court judge, the county medical examiner and a representative of a local daycare or head start program.
“The overall goal of this team is to identify ways to improve the delivery of services to protect our most valuable resources – our children and our families,” Reinhardt said. “The goals of both teams are to advocate. We go over the cases and recommend system improvements and needed resources where gaps and deficiencies exist and to report to the county commissioners, the board of health and social services our findings.”
Records are received from multiple sources including hospitals, medical practices, law enforcement, DSS, health department and most mental health records. The local team may not contact, question or interview the child, parents or family members. All information relevant to the case being reviewed is confidential and only discussed during closed sessions. Breach of confidentiality is a misdemeanor offense.
“All of these are taken into account when we look at a child’s death and we aren’t allowed to review a child’s death until the child has been dead one year,” she said. “We try to identify what might have prevented the death. Right now, we’re looking at safe sleeping. We’ve had some children who have passed away from unsafe sleeping.”
In the past, the team has recommended changes in traffic patterns. There was an intersection in north Lincoln where there were a lot of accidents involving teenagers. The team recommended some signage change for the roads to make it safer.
In reviewing child abuse cases, the team is looking for trends. Of the 15 cases which were reviewed last year, 47% had drug abuse involved, 33% were attributed to poor parenting skills, 27% included an infant born substance-affected, 6% included domestic violence and 33% of those cases included physical abuse of a child, 22% included sexual abuse. Parents’ employment status had a 6% rate in the percentages shown, safe and stable housing was not an issue in any of the cases. Alcohol abuse was evidence in 6% of the cases and 13% identified mental health needs.
The number one recommendation of the teams to the county commissioners was to increase
access to transportation services.
“County commissioners have really been looking at transportation and asked us to collect data,” Reinhardt said. “Since 2019, we’ve been doing that at child protective services. Of the
1,235 cases reported through child protective services intake only 698 cases had a means of transportation at their disposal, 43% did not.”
They also asked the commissioners for help increasing availability of parenting classes or counseling services, increasing the capacity of services needed in the community such as drug and alcohol assessments, domestic violence services, increasing parenting education, sex offender services and specialty medical pediatric needs. According to the teams’ findings, there continues to be a need to combat opioid addiction issues to reduce the number of unintentional overdoses and substance-affected infants in Lincoln County.