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NJ Education Report was contacted by Jason Butkowski, Director of Communications for the New Jersey Department of Children and Families, regarding last Friday’s article about the Murphy Administration pulling back on plans to implement the NJ Statewide Student Support Services (NJ4S) network. Mr. Butkowski asked that we correct this conclusion: in fact, at a hearing of the Senate and Budget Appropriations Committee on Thursday, Commissioner Christine Norbut Beyer told legislators NJ4S was moving full-steam ahead with the original plan to create fifteen regional state-run hubs offering mental health services to students.
In response to a question from Senator Douglas Steinhardt (at 11:30 at this link) about small and rural districts’ needs for student mental health services, Beyer says, “one of the reasons we created NJ4S is “we know about the mental health crisis that exists in our state” and a hub is already planned for the northwest portion of New Jersey where, Steinhardt noted families still lacked broadband internet and relied on dial-up. “We have evidence-based programs we will make available,” she said. “We have created a needs assessment in determining the highest-needs districts” that will be addressed through the hub and spoke system. In fact, providers for the 15 hubs have already been selected and they will be fully operational in September for the school year 2023-2024.
She notes that NJ4S is not intended to replicate services, but to ensure that all students, particularly in underserved or high-need areas, have access to prevention and mental well-being services in schools and in trusted locations within the community.
Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz reiterated her concerns about NJ4S (at 23:45 at the link) when she asked the Commissioner, “will this be the last time the Legislature and advocates have to come back to protect these [in-school] programs?,” noting that the Legislature is completely committed to getting rid of student mental health programs if they’re not working but determined to preserve those that are accessible within school buildings and located “where children feel safe.”
The Commissioner responded that there is no intention of replacing well-run programs and NJ4S would be part of a “continuum” of prevention and care, with both models–school-based and hub-run—responsive to the concerns raised by advocates and legislators: “We want to look at the quality of the services being provided [and] how we can continue to build on that continuum.” She said that the Department “was looking at and listening to constituents, legislators, children, and families,” and “we’re really pleased at this point.” There is no intention to replace school-based programs (that currently exist in 86 districts) but to offer services for districts that lack high-quality ones.