A popular, decades-old mental health counseling program will continue to operate in 90 New Jersey school districts as part of a compromise that will allow Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration to move forward with a separate plan to create a statewide network of off-campus treatment services.
It’s a victory for staunch supporters of school-based youth services — including high school graduates, educators and state lawmakers — who have argued the programs have provided a safe haven for troubled children. .
Murphy has yet to officially announce the deal, but suggested it would happen during a television appearance on Tuesday night.
“We took a step back and said these programs were great, but felt we needed to expand our network. Because everyone’s mental health has been affected by this pandemic,” Murphy said on News 12 New Jersey.
He added that “people should expect” an announcement that the state will have both programs “at least for a while.”
“We’re going to be very comfortable funding the programs that already exist, but we’re also going to implement this hub-and-spoke notion to cast that wider net,” the governor said.
Last month, State Commissioner for Children and Families Christine Norbut Beyer announced a statewide plan called New Jersey Statewide Student Support Network that would host school assemblies, workshops , mentoring programs and off-site counseling for students who need the most help.
To help pay for the new network, Norbut Beyer planned to use the $30 million that ran school-based youth service programs in 90 districts, founded by Governor Thomas H. Kean’s administration in 1988. Existing programs would close at the end of the current school year in June, as part of his plan.
The commissioner also offered to cut his funding two years ago as a cost-cutting maneuver when state finances appeared to be in a precarious state due to the pandemic.
Proponents fought successfully to save the program in 2020, and now appear to have prevailed again.
State Sen. Vin Gopal, D-Monmouth, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, released a statement Tuesday evening thanking Murphy for reaching a compromise.
“I’m pleased to see that state funding for youth school services will continue in the 90 districts that have them,” Gopal said. “These services are vital and must continue so that there is no disruption in service. Here in Monmouth County, The Source at Red Bank has been a statewide model for real mental health services .
“At the same time, we should continue to pursue a statewide system so that every child in the state has access to quality mental health services,” the lawmaker added. “Both can absolutely happen at the same time and I thank the governor’s office for moving in that direction.”
“National research shows that one in five teenagers is living with serious mental health issues and the rate of youth suicide continues to rise. Making quality behavioral health care accessible to all of our students with mental health needs must be the highest priority.
The existing school curriculum serves only 25,000 to 30,000 students, or about 2% of all 1.3 million people in public schools, according to the Ministry of Children and Families.
The statewide “hub and spoke” model envisioned by Norbut Beyer would consist of 15 hubs, each of which will serve one or more counties. Each center will receive a budget of about $3.2 million to employ a director, deputy director, support staff and mental health clinicians, according to the department. A panel of students, parents, school staff, community leaders and social service representatives would advise the center on needed services, according to the proposal.
The centers would provide three tiers or levels of intervention: one that would host school assemblies and workshops to promote mental well-being and discourage disruptive behaviors like bullying; one that would offer mentoring or small group sessions to students identified as “at risk” for behavioral or mental health issues; and one that links students in need of assessment and referral to counseling outside of school.
It’s unclear when the statewide network would launch. With an overall price tag of around $48 million, Norbut Beyer said in October, the network would operate at the start of the 2023-24 school year.
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