Our View: Pasquotank should rent space to Kids First

The Daily Advance

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We’re still wondering if Jeff Dixon, Pasquotank County commissioner and county Finance Committee chairman, was pandering or was just uniformed when he helped head off a vote in support of the county renting space at the Edgewood Center to Kids First, the local nonprofit that provides evaluation and treatment services for abused and severely neglected children.

Dixon’s reservations, his “heartburn” as he termed it, was the worry that, by renting space to the nonprofit for the lease rate of $2 per square foot, the county would be under-cutting local individuals and businesses that rent property.

Dixon pointed out also that Pasquotank County appropriates $24,000 a year to Kids First and that helping it with a low rental rate would be like “giving them the whole apple pie.”

His choice of words suggests that Dixon isn’t fully aware of the work that Kids First does, its impact on the region or the strict compliance requirements the agency must meet to fulfill its mission.

Perhaps if he and his colleagues on the board more fully understood, they would be agreeable to Kids First’s request to rent the Edgewood property.

First, it may not be widely known but child abuse nationally affects one in three girls and one and six boys under the age of 18. The impact locally is often even more severe. In the last year, Kids First treated 226 cases of child abuse in the seven-county area, according to Kids First Executive Director Ronda Morris. That’s between one and two cases every two days.

Given the high incidence of abuse in the area — along with the financial restraints and limited staff under which the agency operates — it is nothing short of remarkable how much is achieved at Kids First.

And we wonder if Dixon knows that Kids First’s treatment services are free to Albemarle-area abused children and their families.

Furthermore, the agency actually saves Pasquotank about four times as much money as the county allocates to it. According to a three-year national study comparing communities with access to Child Advocacy Centers and those without CACs, the savings per child was over $1,100, according to Morris. The savings generated by Kids First is closer to $1,800 per child, she said.

This is a savings to Pasquotank County in mandated services of at least $100,000 annually, including travel expenses or overtime that would be required to transport kids to Greenville or Chapel Hill if Kids First did not provide the services.

Also, as a nationally certified CAC, Kids First must maintain demanding standards of quality care and evaluation. Because of those standards, the agency also works cases of child abuse that come before the (U.S.) Naval Criminal Investigative Services, the FBI and the SBI. The state of North Carolina also works with Kids First on cases that arise under the national Rape Elimination Act, affecting inmate rape victims in the state’s corrections and prison system.

Because of the area’s high rate of abuse, Kids First has been the driver of training for area medical and counseling professionals in evidence-based treatment for traumatized abuse victims.

It may surprise some commissioners — and many residents as well — that Kids First does all of this and operates on an annual budget of only $300,000.

The agency depends on a lot of sources for its operational funds. Pasquotank and other area counties make much-needed and appreciated contributions. However, it must rely on many funding sources, from grants and private donations to allocations from Albemarle Area United Way and East Carolina Behavioral Health. Unfortunately, none of its funding is guaranteed, and agency needs must match the area’s growing incidence of abuse. That’s why Kids First staff and volunteers can be found selling plates of food on some weekends, raising a few more dollars here and there to maintain the high level of services needed to treat and heal the damage done to so many area children.

The reasons Kids First is looking for a new location is the need for more space and to be able to operate on a single floor. The agency’s current location is on the second floor of a two-story building and is not handicapped-accessible, requiring some services to be conducted off-site.

Kids First’s current landlord at the Rochelle Building has been sympathetic and accommodating by releasing the nonprofit from its lease to find more a more suitable home. It seems that if that landlord is understanding enough to give up Kids First as a tenant, certainly the county commissioners would not be seen as acting recklessly toward other private landlords.

Given all that, and the value of services and impact that Kids First has on the area, one might assume that Dixon plainly chose the wrong time and the wrong agency to bring up his “heartburn” about the fairness of the county’s rental decisions.

We would expect Commissioner Dixon to be as willing to stand up for the area’s abused children and their families as he apparently is about insuring local landlords are treated fairly. If that’s the case, he will have no trouble rectifying his digestive issues with the more pertinent objectives of Kids First.