Union County, NJ – In a post-pandemic world, the state of New Jersey, along with the rest of the nation, finds itself in the midst of an increasingly alarming youth mental health crisis. Mental health conditions can have a significant impact on a young person’s life, including their academic performance, social relationships, and overall quality of life. However, despite the prevalence of mental health issues among youth, many do not receive the care and support they need. Recent data from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports that among U.S. adolescents aged 12-17, 1 in 6 experienced a major depressive episode and 3 million had serious thoughts of suicide (SAMHSA).
In response to this dire crisis, the community non-profit Prevention Links will be spearheading the Union County “hub” for the newly designed NJ Statewide Student Support Service (NJ4S) Network funded by the New Jersey Department of Children and Families. NJ4S will modernize and expand the state’s efforts to ensure that New Jersey’s 1.4 million school-aged children have access to comprehensive mental health support.
The primary goals of NJ4S are:
- Create a statewide network of supports for students and their families offered to all New Jersey school districts.
- Recognize the whole family – in addition to the individual student – as the focus of support and to increase academic achievement.
- Provide a standard set of supports and services, with local adaptations, that leverage the best approaches the field has to offer, so that no matter where a New Jersey student lives, they can be assured of accessing a core set of high-quality services and programming.
- Involve communities in design and implementation and ensure integrated programming.
- Intentionally integrate with existing statewide and community-based services and supports for school aged youth, to maximize public funding and avoid duplication of services
For decades, Prevention Links – the longstanding Prevention Hub of Union County – has been providing these life-saving prevention and family support services, but frequently faced setbacks due to lack of funding. With $4.1 million dollars to support their expansion, the organization is being given the opportunity to comprehensively address behavioral health challenges starting in preschool going all the way to high school graduation day.
Barriers to resources worsen the youth mental health crisis.
Stigma, lack of access to care, and inadequate mental health resources are some of the significant barriers standing in the way for families seeking support. Addressing these barriers requires a comprehensive approach that involves policymakers, healthcare providers, educators, and community organizations. The organization’s programs will be co-designed by parents, students, and experts in the field, all tailored to the specific needs of Union County. They will also be leveraging long-standing relationships with fellow community organizations to rollout the NJ4S network including: Iris House, Partners in Prevention, New Jersey Prevention Network, Mental Health Association of New Jersey, and Partnership to End Addiction.
The NJ4S Union Hub will Address Racial Health Disparities
This program presents the opportunity for Prevention Links to address mental health disparities disproportionately affecting people of color, who make up more than a third of Union County’s population. According to a recent statewide survey conducted by Rutgers in partnership with DCF, Black and Hispanic parents were more likely to report their children had poor or only fair mental health. Additionally, as parents, they experienced greater symptoms of anxiety, loneliness, and depression than white respondents. These findings are especially important given that research has shown that poor parental mental health is a top indicator for increased likelihood of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), poor youth mental health, and family poverty.
The NJ4S Advisory Board Needs Community Member Applications
In order to accurately center the needs of Union County’s students and their families, the NJ4S Union County Hub advisory board will be comprised of students, caregivers, school personnel, social service agencies, businesses, faith-based organizations, and other community leaders. This group will provide ongoing input on hub design areas of focus, supportive community resources, etc. To apply for or recommend somebody for the NJ4S Union County Hub Advisory Board, visit https://forms.gle/xvVkzx3ydXacLeFG6
Hiring Key Staff & Personnel
The Union County Hub will employ key staff, including a hub director, assistant director, support staff, prevention specialists, and mental health counselors to provide universal resources and targeted support aimed at promoting positive mental health, teaching, and strengthening social, emotional, and behavioral skills, and supporting a positive school climate and staff well-being. The primary focus will be on prevention: substance use, suicide, bullying and violence, pregnancy, and other prevention-focused areas of need. If you or someone you know is interested in applying for a position on the Prevention Links NJ4S team, please click here to view our open positions.
Prevention Links, established in 1971, has an extensive history of providing science-based prevention, family-strengthening, and addiction recovery programs. The organization’s mission is to foster healthy sustainable communities by empowering people through education, collaboration and by serving as the linkage to resources.