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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE: Updates, resources, and context

Judge Corpening gives New Hanover County commissioners concerning child safety update

New Hanover County
Judge J.H. Corpening addresses New Hanover County commissioners on April 1, 2024

On Monday’s New Hanover County Commissioners meeting, board members heard a presentation from the Child Protection Team on child safety throughout the county. Corpening noted that New Hanover County is a great place to live, and does well on many health issues, but still faces some challenges.

On Monday’s New Hanover County Commissioners meeting, board members heard a presentation from the Child Protection Team on child safety throughout the county.

Judge J.H. Corpening gave the presentation on Monday, citing county deficiencies and highlighting recommendations.

While New Hanover is known for having a robust foster care family network, there’s still a need for more licensed foster families in the region.

According to Corpening, the shortage has led to children sleeping in the conference room of the county’s DSS director, Tonya Jackson.

“We still have kids who spend the night in Tonya Jackson's conference room at the DHHS building," he told the county. "How fair is that to children?

[Note: New Hanover County later clarified that the last time a child had to use the DHHS building to sleep was in 2021; according to the county, that child has since aged out of the system.]

One of the other main topics of concern for the presentation was the lack of therapeutic placements and psychiatric residential treatment for children with complex needs within North Carolina. According to Corpening, some juveniles are staying in the juvenile detention center for much longer than is reasonable due to lack of bed space.

Corpening pushed commissioners to emulate a pilot program in Lenoir County, specifically aimed at local youth crisis stabilization.

Overall, the presentation focused mainly on mental and behavioral health issues — from the opioid crisis to suicide and firearm safety.

Other issues include financial barriers to treatment. Corpening said some facilities for children cost thousands of dollars a night. He also said some parents have lost Medicaid benefits due to children entering the foster care system.

Corpening pushed commissioners to ask for stricter legislation about oversight of Medicare providers in the community, expanded family residential treatment, safe medication and firearm storage, and housing advocacy.

When it comes to gun safety, Corpening cited a few data points from 2020. The leading cause of death of 15-to-18-year-olds in North Carolina was homicide. The third, was suicide.

The leading cause of death for 10-to-14-year-olds in North Carolina was suicide, which was baffling, according to Corpening.

“I would not have guessed. My brain immediately went to what kind of cancer but for 10-to-14-year-olds the leading cause of death in North Carolina and 20 was suicide," he said.

According to Corpening, 60% of households that have handguns that have children in the home, handguns are not secured, even though the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office has handed out over 500 gun locks from its permitting office.

Commissioners were asked to push for legislation and more advocacy for the needs of children within the county.

“If we can be hope dealers instead of dream crushers, we can change things," he said.

Camille hails from Long Island, NY and graduated from Boston University with a BS in Journalism and double minors in Classical Civilizations and Philosophy. Her story focus revolves her deep care for children, young adults and mental health. You can reach her at cmojica@whqr.org.