In response to the sharp increase in rates of depression, anxiety and stress facing New Jersey’s teens and young adults, Gov. Phil Murphy and members of his administration announced in a Sept. 30 news release an infrastructure proposal for student and family support, the New Jersey Statewide Student Support Services network – also called NJ4S – operated by the New Jersey Department of Children and Families.
The NJ4S network is expected to launch in the 2023-2024 academic year and will include an additional $8.5 million in American Rescue Plan Funds to support the startup of NJ4S hubs on top of the $6.5 million in ARP funds already included in the 2023 budget to meet student needs.
“Building on our existing efforts to address the mental health needs of New Jersey’s students has never been more important, as countless young people throughout the state – and the nation – face mental health challenges that have been exacerbated by the turbulence of the past few years,” Murphy said. “Implementing this new mental health support model will allow us to reach more students and offer the evidence-based resources and services they need. My administration will continue to prioritize the well-being of New Jersey’s youth as we seek to support their mental health.”
Christine Norbut Beyer, commissioner of the DCF, said that like the rest of the nation, New Jersey is still reeling from the trauma caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. “According to a recent CDC report, nearly one in four young adults in the United States has been treated for mental health issues during the pandemic, and the U.S. surgeon general issued a report indicating more than one in three students reported feelings of persistent sadness and hopelessness,” she said. “Depression, anxiety and suicide attempts are all on the rise. We are at a crisis point, and we need new tools and new strategies that reflect this new reality – that’s what the NJ4S proposal delivers.”
The NJ4S network will provide statewide coverage through regionally based hubs that will offer proven prevention strategies used to support every student in the state and their families. Each hub will integrate its programming with existing state and local services. Hubs will offer a tiered menu of evidence-based prevention and intervention strategies that can be deployed in high-need districts. The NJ4S network will provide universal supports to all students, and more intensive supports to students in schools with higher needs. NJ4S was informed by input from students, parents, school leaders and providers of the state’s existing School Based Youth Services programs.
Universal resources and targeted support through the hubs will focus on promoting positive mental health; teaching and strengthening social, emotional and behavioral skills; and supporting a positive school climate and staff well-being. Additionally, the hubs will consider the needs of the entire family in the context of serving individual students.
Each service hub will be staffed by a hub director, support staff, prevention specialists and mental health counselors who can be mobilized to support the needs of schools, as well as deliver services and support at other areas within the community, including libraries, community centers, faith-based organizations, social service agencies and residential homes. Communities with the greatest need for services and support would be able to receive greater intensity of services from their regional hub.
Each hub will be administered and implemented by a social services agency, selected through a competitive request-for-proposal process. Agencies that currently provide school-based youth services would be eligible to apply to operate a hub, individually or as collaborative teams. Additionally, each hub will be guided by an advisory council, comprised of community and civic leaders, parent and youth representatives, school leaders and others, to ensure that the hub meets the needs of the community without replicating existing supports.
The NJ4S Network is envisioned to be funded through a mix of state and federal dollars, strategically leveraging existing state investments and resources as well as federal funding opportunities to advance a statewide approach to student mental health and wellness that creates a sustainable and cost-effective model for New Jersey.
Coinciding with the announcement of the program, the DCF has issued a white paper to solicit public feedback on the proposal. Send feedback to NJ4SFeedback@dcf.nj.gov by Oct. 14, 2022.