New K-12 Mental Health Network Meets Resistance

Source: North

School administrators and service providers are protesting the state’s decision to revamp and centralize its K-12 mental health and support services by eliminating a decades-old program they say provides reliable and critical in-person services to 90 school districts that need them the most — an outcry which nearly overshadows the unveiling of the New Jersey Statewide Student Support Service Network (NJ4S).

The new network will use a “holistic” approach to “strengthen and expand the reach of school-linked services…that is not bound by bricks and mortar and address the diverse needs of today’s students” and their caregivers, stated a concept paper released by the Department of Children and Families.

Services will in the future be provided through a “hub-and-spoke” model that will operate out of 15 county districts, consisting of schools, libraries, community centers and social service agencies that are linked to a central NJ4S hub. Each hub will have an advisory group consisting of community members, educators and students, starting with services already available in schools (assemblies, career programs, etc.) and ramping up to clinical interventions for students who need them.

NJ4S will replace the existing School Based Youth Services (SBYS) program, which has operated since 1988 and will end to make way to begin operating in the 2023-24 school year. But people who work at the soon-to-be-closed school-based centers say that a hub and spoke model might not be able to engage with the community in the deep and human way that school-based services provide.

Beverly Canady, a counselor in a school-based program in Irvington, says, “We’re on the ground. Our communities evolve and change every day, but when you’re in a hub you don’t know what the issues are on the ground until somebody calls and tells you.”

The program at Irvington has been working since 1991 out of a trailer that operates on the school grounds, said Canady. School officials notify the program when a child or teen in the school needs help, and counselors follow the same children through the year to see how they are progressing. For example, when a student is suspended, he or she gets services in the trailer, sometimes including breakfast, and remains there until school lets out. Canady said this is tremendously helpful for working-class parents who cannot stay home and are worried their children might get into trouble “on the street.”

These services are provided through New Jersey’s School Linked Services, an umbrella program that includes other services designed to help children and families. School-Based Youth Services work mostly with high schoolers in 90 school districts and also offer programs for pregnant and parenting teenagers and adolescent pregnancy and juvenile delinquency prevention.

“All current schools that have SBYS programs will be incorporated into their local hub and will receive services through their hub, including programming and mental health services delivered in their schools,” said Jason Butkowski, spokesperson for the state’s Department of Children and Families.


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