The New Jersey Department of Children and Families (NJ DCF) announced this week that it has awarded contracts to 15 service providers to administer and organize youth mental wellbeing and prevention services through regional hubs as part of the rollout for the NJ Statewide Student Support Services (NJ4S) integrated network. NJDCF expects these regional hubs to open in September 2023 to provide preventative services to school districts. This “hub and spoke” approach is a new initiative of the Murphy Administration to expand options to address student mental health statewide.
“Supporting the mental health of students throughout New Jersey requires a comprehensive statewide response that recognizes and responds to the challenges facing our youth today,” said Governor Phil Murphy. “With this announcement, we are one step closer to getting the NJ4S network off the ground, to serve as part of the larger continuum of care our state offers to young people in and out of the school setting.”
“New Jersey, like the rest of the nation, is facing a youth mental health crisis, exacerbated by the COVID pandemic and social unrest, and made worse by the current workforce challenges,” said NJ DCF Commissioner Christine Norbut Beyer. “Young people are struggling emotionally, and many schools are not equipped with the staff or expertise to assist them. NJ4S will serve as the vanguard of mental wellbeing, providing in-school and in-community supports to help students to avoid crises, build resilience, and access additional help as needed. Working together with our sister state agencies, local school boards, and community service providers, we can provide care across the entire spectrum of need and make the most of our current infrastructure to support students in all facets of care.”
NJ4S is intended to support children and youth through the regional organization and local delivery of wellness, wellbeing, 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 unique 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.
“By incorporating the local voice of students, parents, community leaders, and social services agencies, we’re allowing our hubs to be what their communities need, while still making the most of evidence-based prevention solutions that have been identified on the national clearinghouse,” said DCF Assistant Commissioner for Family and Community Partnerships Sanford Starr. “This approach gives the communities being served by our NJ4S hubs ownership and shared leadership, so that we can work collaboratively to address the unique needs of the communities, while also connecting to services and supports on the ground, whether funded by the state, local school districts, or philanthropic and non-governmental organizations.”
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, including extracurricular programming, mentorship, and more. 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 currently available in our state 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. (CAFS)
- BURLINGTON COUNTY: Legacy Treatment Services
- CAMDEN COUNTY: Center for Family Services, Inc. (CFS)
- ESSEX COUNTY: Family Connections, Inc.
- HUDSON COUNTY: Partners in Prevention
- MERCER COUNTY: Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton
- MIDDLESEX COUNTY: Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care (UBHC)
- MONMOUTH COUNTY: Preferred Behavioral Health Group
- MORRIS AND SUSSEX COUNTIES: Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris, Inc.
- PASSAIC COUNTY: New Jersey Community Development Corporation
- 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 DCF later this month to plan for the launch of NJ4S prior to the first day of school in September 2023.