The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Monday December 5th

Mental Health Forum Stresses Education

Mental health professionals, local county officials and residents gathered Thursday night at Culbreth Middle School to discuss mental health issues regarding the juvenile justice system.

Orange County Commissioner Moses Carey served as an introductory speaker for the meeting, where eight members served on the Mental Health and Juvenile panel.

The members on the panel presented the fact that the juvenile justice system has very little money to spend on evaluating the mental health of young offenders. The little money the system does have is used to place individuals in environments where they can flourish. But funding shortages and an excess of offenders means this strategy is often temporary. "(The system) spends money to stabilize, but the lack of resources mean they are put back into the same environment and the problem returns," said Charles Anderson, a district court judge in Orange County.

Panel members said they want to get more funds to make the change permanent. Anderson said the primary question the panel needed to address was how to use the amount of resources available to meet the needs of children.

Janet Mason, a professor of public law and government at UNC, said the mental health services are an integral part of the N.C. Juvenile Code.

"I think it's a matter of the Juvenile Code and the juvenile justice system depending on a lot of other systems," Mason said. "The purposes of the juvenile justice system can't be achieved without resources.

"And high on that list are mental health resources for the juvenile and the juvenile's parents."

Xavier, a youth in the juvenile justice system, has attended two training schools, which are schools for kids who are deemed unsafe for a regular school. The name Xavier is used to protect the identity of the adjudicated individual, who served on the panel.

"Training school is not the place for everyone," he said. "There was not enough supervision."

Xavier also said he believes that if the training school staff members are evaluated more closely when they are hired, it would lessen the physical abuse suffered by students at the school.

"I express my opinions on many things so that I can benefit others and start changes," Xavier said.

Nancy Dickinson, a parent of a child with a mental illness, said she believes that changes are also necessary in order to benefit the individuals in the system.

"I would challenge the mental health system to observe the diagnoses that they are operating under," Dickinson said. "I think the services need to start early meeting the specific needs of these kids."

Residents were also given the chance to ask questions and make suggestions to the panel.

Evonne Lack, executive director of the Orange County Mental Health Association, said she hoped that Thursday's forum was educational.

"We like to do an educational forum every year," she said.

"The National Mental Health Association is doing a huge educational initiative about it, and we are affiliated with them."

The City Editor can be reached

at citydesk@unc.edu.


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