Areas of Policy Focus

Every day, we strive to ensure that the work we do reflects the mission of Council for Children’s Rights

To lead the community to stand up for every child’s right t be safe, healthy, and educated

 In support of that mission, we focus our priorities in four areas.    These are:

  • Raise the Age/Juvenile Justice Reform
  • CMS School Assignment
  • School Discipline
  • Mental Health

Areas of Policy Focus:

Statewide:

RAISE THE AGE

With recent agreements in New York between the legislature and the governor’s office to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction, North Carolina may soon be the only state that still requires the prosecution of all 16- and 17- year-olds accused of a crime in the adult criminal justice system. This law deprives children of proper services, increases the likelihood children will recidivate, and reduces the likelihood they will pursue employment and higher education.  As part of the Council’s on-going effort related to this reform, the Council will support amendments to the juvenile justice code in the areas of due process, children in confinement, and reducing entry to the delinquency system.  These targeted reforms will improve children’s legal rights and how juvenile court operates thereby improving outcomes for children.  These reforms will build a foundation for the Council to then advocate for the larger issue of raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction in future sessions. The Council will advocate in the General Assembly and among local and state-wide bodies to raise the age of mandated juvenile court jurisdiction from 15 to 17-years-old. It will also advocate for raising the minimum age for transfer to adult court, which was reduced to 13-years-old in 1994.

UPDATE (Aug2017): During the 2017 long session, the North Carolina General Assembly passed Raise the Age legislation via Senate Bill 257: Appropriations Act of 2017 (i.e. North Carolina Budget process). The bill accomplished several things, detailed here, including raising the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 for all crimes with a special transfer process for A-G felonies effective December 2019.

Council for Children’s Rights is actively engaged in implementation planning with a local group of juvenile justice stakeholders (including Criminal Justice Services, Court Counselors, Law Enforcement, District Court Judges, etc.). This planning group is exploring opportunities to address procedural inaccuracies, estimating the cost of implementation at each decision point (arrest, intake, access to counsel, etc.), and identifying additional service providers that may be impacted  (e.g. placements, mental health services, YFS, etc.)  We will continue dedicating resources to implementation as well as exploring other opportunities for juvenile justice reform.

Read more about efforts to Raise the Age here

County and Local Community:

CMS Student Assignment

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education has committed to making a decision about whether to change CMS’ school assignment policy. The school board has experienced pressure from the community as the number of high poverty, high minority schools grew from 12 in 2001-02 to 53 within ten years of moving to its current school assignment policy and redrawing school boundaries in 2002.  Foundational to the current plan is parental choice between a home school (close to the family’s residence), zone schools in designated feeder areas, magnet programs with specialized curriculum, and schools outside the feeder zone.  Options under consideration include redrawing school boundaries, making alterations to bus routes, and increasing the use of magnet schools in the district. The Council is dedicated to supporting the reduction of high poverty, high minority schools as well as reducing concentrations of low income and minority students in all schools.

UPDATE (Aug2017): Reducing Concentrations of Poverty and Racial Isolation[1]

CFCR supports CMS’ efforts to reduce concentrations of poverty and racial isolation across the district. Further, we support identifying additional strategies to increase socioeconomic and racial diversity in all schools.

In Fall 2016, the BOE agreed to move forward with a two-phase student assignment plan intended to address several issues facing the school system and adopted the following Guiding Principles:

  • Reduce overcrowding
  • Support the efficient use of resources (buses, buildings, etc.)
  • Reduce the number of schools with high concentrations of poor and high-needs children
  • Increase access to high-quality home schools
  • Preserve and expand schools that work.

Phase I, approved in February 2016, focused on the use of magnets and Phase II, approved in May 2017, focused on changes to school boundaries and feeder patterns. Details on each phase may be found here.

It is critical to recognize that the student assignment plan is simply a first step toward addressing the overcrowding and lack of diversity in CMS. Its success relies on effective implementation, continued evaluation of impact, and exploration of additional strategies. One such strategy is a $937 million bond referendum, proposed by the BOE and approved by the Mecklenburg County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) for the November 2017 ballot. Additional next steps can be found here.

Paramount to CFCR’s Mission is that the educational needs of children in our community are met, particularly the vulnerable children we serve. CFCR will work with CMS and other community partners to help make the plan a success and to advocate for educational equity in our community.

[1] After discussions with both research and policy committee members, CFCR updated the terminology for this priority to both reflect culturally appropriate terminology as well as more accurately describe our support in reducing concentrations of poverty and racial isolation beyond changes to student assignment policies.

READ MORE:
CMS-Reducing Concentrations of Poverty – Policy Brief, September 2017

School Discipline

Revising school discipline policies and practices has long been a priority of Council for Children’s Rights.  Growing evidence about the harms of exclusionary discipline include overwhelming data that suspensions negatively impact academic achievement, student behavior, and classroom climate. They increase the likelihood of dropping out, experiencing additional suspensions, and entering the juvenile justice system. The use of exclusionary discipline may also contribute to racial gaps in academic achievement as disparities exist in the ways minorities and whites are disciplined for the same or similar offenses. During the 2013-14 academic year, CMS issued 47,302 out-of-school suspensions and black students received 77.3% of them despite the fact that only 41% of the CMS population was black.  The Council will continue to work locally to help educate and implement more effective strategies that may reduce the number of unnecessary exclusions from school, reduce the number of children reassigned to alternative school, and reduce the number of school-based incidents that are referred to the court system.

Mental Health

The mental health system cannot currently meet the needs of children in Mecklenburg County, particularly in the availability of clinically-appropriate step down services and the appropriate number of quality therapeutic foster homes. The Council will continue to lead the conversation and work toward solutions that best close the gaps in the delivery of mental health services by identifying reasons why children are not obtaining clinically-appropriate (least-restrictive) placements and working with community partners to increase real community capacity and utilization of available beds. Through these avenues, the Council hopes to see a reduction in the number of days children remain in detention, acute facilities, PRTF’s, and out-of-county placements due to unavailability of step-down placements.

 

 

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