Legislators and Mental Health Advocates Condemn Murphy Administration’s Plan to Close School-Based Youth Services ProgramsOctober 21, 2022
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The New Jersey Legislature’s Joint Committee on the Public Schools, statutorily empowered with oversight of its public schools, convened a virtual hearing Wednesday to examine a Department of Children & Families (DCF) proposal to eliminate the long-standing and successful School Based Youth Services Program (SBYSP) at the end of this school year.
According to DCF Commissioner Christine Norbut Beyer, who testified at the hearing but did not take questions, the Department intends to replace it with New Jersey Statewide Student Support Services (NJS4), which will consist of regionally based “hubs” mobilized through “spokes” to provide mental health services to students in various community locations.
The SBYSP was implemented in 1986 and reaches students in 91 school safe spaces; settings where they are most comfortable and have built trusted relationships. They also enjoy wrap-around services, including academic, social, recreational, cultural, and medical supports.
More than a dozen invited guests, including superintendents, providers, students, parents, and advocates presented testimony to the bipartisan committee of legislators and more than 100 attendees. They unanimously expressed unwavering support for continuation and expansion of the existing SBYSP, noting that its elimination will come at the expense of services to high-needs students who have faced the most significant post-COVID-19 challenges, and for whom access to these services is far too often non-existent.
Testimony included poignant stories of students whose lives were literally saved by the program, while the quality of life for all who participate was tremendously improved. Testimony was universal that the hub and spoke model simply cannot replicate the existing program.
Concerns were also raised that the new initiative cannot be put in place by the 2023-24 school year, leaving these students abandoned.
The powerful Legislative Black and Latino Caucuses have called for the continuation of the SBYSP, and legislation (A4808) has been introduced to ensure the program remains intact. LBC/LLC Chairs, Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter (D-Passaic) and Senator Nellie Pou (D- Passaic), speaking for their respective Caucuses, offered full support for a hub prevention program that would work in concert with, but not at the expense of the SBYSP.
Mental health and supportive services are crafted to meet the specific needs of each school program, and a one-size-fits-all model is completely inadequate to serve individual and group needs. To eliminate this program at a time when students are recovering from the aftermath of a pandemic whose social, emotional, and mental health ravages are disproportionately impacting students in high-needs districts would be a travesty.
The LLC and the LBC are calling upon the DCF to continue existing programs, fully intact, while it examines avenues to meet the needs of all New Jersey students.