The New Jersey Department of Children and Families announced in an April 12 news release that it has awarded contracts to 15 service providers to administer and organize youth mental well-being and prevention services through regional hubs as part of the rollout for the New Jersey Statewide Student Support Services integrated network, also known as “NJ4S.” NJDCF anticipates that the hubs will launch by September 2023. Additional details, including the selected hub operators for each of the 15 regions, follow below.

This latest news comes in the aftermath of the governor’s Nov. 16 announcement that the NJDCF would issue a request for proposals to create the new NJ4S program in time for the 2023-2024 academic year, while pledging to provide funding to continue the School-Based Youth Services Program through fiscal year 2024. Indeed, the governor’s proposed fiscal year 2024 budget both maintains level funding for NJDCF’s School Linked Services Program ($40 million), which includes SBYSP, and an additional $43 million to launch the NJ4S program. The corresponding line items may be found on page D-39 of the budget detail.

Originally the administration indicated that funding for SBYSP would be discontinued and services would be provided by the new program beginning in the 2023-2024 academic year. The SBYSP is a decades-old mental health program that operates in approximately 90 of the state’s schools. Following public feedback regarding the importance of minimizing disruption to current school-based programs in the transition to NJ4S, the governor announced that he would propose to maintain funding for the current SBYSP in fiscal year 2024.

Dr. Timothy Purnell, executive director and CEO of the NJSBA, cheered the reversal in a news release. “NJSBA supports efforts to enhance and expand mental health services for students,” he said. “However, the Association raised concerns about the difficulty of ensuring the continuity of services for those districts currently in the SBYSP, which provides students with critically important supports. We thank the governor for his commitment to the students of New Jersey.”

Details on the 15 Regional Hubs

NJ4S is intended to support children and youth through the regional organization and local delivery of wellness, well-being and prevention-oriented services to students in New Jersey’s schools and in trusted sources within their community.

Under NJ4S, the 15 regional hubs will be the organizational centers for prevention-oriented services (such as prevention of bullying, suicide, teen pregnancy and substance abuse). Prevention specialists and mental health clinicians will be dispatched from the hubs to offer services to students along local “spokes” within the integrated network, which can include schools as well as other trusted sites within the community, such as public libraries, churches, or community centers.

Each hub will be operated by a contracted service provider, and will be guided by a local advisory board, comprised of students, parents, elected and community leaders, business owners, faith leaders and local social services organizations. By incorporating this important aspect of governance, each hub will be able to respond and adapt to the needs of their service areas and to tailor the model with a local focus. In addition, the hubs are aligned with the care management organizations for the Children’s System of Care, ensuring that youth referred for more intensive services will be supported by local programs and providers.

Services administered through the hub will be targeted and tiered, with Tier 1 services covering universal supports that all students can benefit from, including school assemblies, webinars for parents and school staff, social-emotional learning curriculum and more. Schools will be able to access these services on-demand, whenever they want to incorporate them for the students and families supported by the school.

Tier 2 services include group-based prevention, such as extracurricular programming and mentorship. Tier 3 services are intended for brief, clinical intervention as the student in need is referred to and connected to more extensive, comprehensive ongoing therapeutic supports through the Children’s System of Care and in-community resources.

NJ4S is specifically designed to avoid duplication of services and to effectively utilize the limited pool of mental health experts in a way that reaches students throughout New Jersey. NJ4S will also act as a connector for other components of the behavioral health system, to develop a continuum of care from prevention to mental wellness to mental health care. The NJ4S network is expected to launch within the 2023-2024 academic year.

The 15 awarded hub providers are:

  • Atlantic and Cape May counties: Acenda, Inc.
  • Bergen County: Children’s Aid and Family Services, Inc.
  • Burlington County: Legacy Treatment Services.
  • Camden County: Center for Family Services, Inc.
  • Essex County: Family Connections, Inc.
  • Hudson County: Partners in Prevention.
  • Mercer County: Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton.
  • Middlesex County: Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care.
  • Monmouth County: Preferred Behavioral Health Group.
  • Morris and Sussex counties: Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris, Inc.
  • Passaic County: New Jersey Community Development Corp.
  • Union County: Prevention Links.
  • Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren counties: Center for Family Services, Inc.
  • Ocean County: Preferred Behavioral Health Group.
  • Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem counties: Acenda, Inc.

The 15 selected hub providers will be meeting with NJDCF later this month to plan for the launch of NJ4S prior to the first day of school in September 2023.