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NC Budget Cuts Take a Bite out of Legal Help for Kids

April 16, 2012

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Thousands of children are processed through the court system in North Carolina every year for minor offenses, such as truancy, and sometimes for more significant crimes. Legal assistance for those kids is becoming scarce due to state budget cuts.

The Council for Children's Rights, serving Charlotte and Mecklenberg County, is one example. The organization saw a 15 percent reduction in its budget from last year's state budget cuts. It is down to just one attorney to handle the cases of 1,000 children placed in the county's five mental health institutions.

Sheila Wall-Hill knows first-hand how important these services are. Her son was treated for mental health issues in 1998.

"There were times when I just really didn't know what to do to get my son the help he needed. You can't provide a service if we don't know what that need is."

Wall-Hill started Parent VOICE in 2002 to help support parents whose children are receiving mental health services. Her group is now part of the Mental Health Association of North Carolina.

Council for Children's Rights executive director Brett Loftis says having only one attorney is a real challenge to getting help to the kids who need it the most.

"These are the worst of the worst situations. If you wind up in a mental health hospital or a detention center as a child, that means everything has really fallen apart in your life."

Loftis says 70 percent of kids in prison have serious mental illnesses.

Reporting for this story by North Carolina News Connection in association with Media in the Public Interest. Media in the Public Interest is funded in part by Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.

Stephanie Carson/Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC