Recognizing the pivotal role parents and caregivers play in shaping the mental health and well-being of youth, the New Jersey Department of Health recently announced that it is accepting applications from youth and parent/caregiver serving organizations interested in operating a new statewide program to help equip parents, caregivers and youth-serving professionals with the training and education to better support children and adolescents navigating mental health, sexual health and substance use challenges.

According to the news release, “Eligible applicants must be a New Jersey-based agency such as a private, nonprofit health or social service agency with a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) tax exempt status; local health department; public school; or education agency. Interested applicants must attend a required Technical Assistance meeting to be held on Sept. 22, 2023. Registration information is available in the RFA.”

The aforementioned Request for Applications seeks organizations with the capacity to develop and implement a centralized web-based hub for parents, caregivers and youth-serving professionals to access virtual and in-person evidence-based trainings through the Statewide Parent and Professional Engagement Program. The RFA will be available from Sept. 15 through Oct. 27, 2023.

The grant award will total $250,000, with an additional three-year continuation based on agency performance of prior years and availability of funds. A single award is scheduled for December 2023, and the official launch for training registration is set for Spring 2024.

Central to S-PEP will be Teen Speak, an innovative, motivational interview-based training tailored for parents and caregivers. Teen Speak, which is currently offered to a limited extent by NJDOH and aids parents and caregivers in broaching sensitive topics with adolescents, will now include more of a focus on mental health, sexual health and substance use.

S-PEP will also incorporate Motivational Interviewing Training for Empowering Youth toward change, which equips youth-serving professionals – educators, coaches, mentors and more – with the information, skills and tools necessary to engage their children and teens in conversations that increase resiliency. Because these individuals are strong influences outside of the home, MITEY Change aims to empower them to use motivational interviewing strategies to provide effective and efficient risk coaching to youth.

Recent studies by the Kaiser Family Foundation in 2022 revealed that 85% of parents and caregivers in the United States express concern over depression’s impact on their teenagers. According to a statewide survey by the Rutgers Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling in March 2022, about half of all parents of middle and high school students are very or moderately concerned about their child’s risk for depression and about one-third about their child’s risk for suicide. S-PEP underscores the belief that while parents and caregivers often understand their children’s needs, a gap remains in their ability to effectively address sensitive topics and identify potential threats to their children’s mental health.

Details about the S-PEP RFA are available here.