We are profoundly concerned about the proposal to abolish the School Based Youth Services Program (SBYSP) to be replaced by the planned NJ Statewide Student Support Services (NJ4S) model. Under NJ4S, successful and effective SBYSPs will not be able to provide the immediate, hands-on assistance often required that counselors currently can, instead offering a one size fits all approach responsible for the state’s 1.3-million students’ mental health and wellness needs.
It is admirable and undoubtedly laudable to offer more standardized care and cast a wider-reaching net to combat the serious and exacerbated mental health challenges confronting our students. However, defunding the SBYSP will only jeopardize our students’ well-being and add further undue hardship for those already in crisis. Especially when these evidence-based, best-practice programs are often responsible for executing the state’s mental health and wellness mandates.
For 34 years, these programs have proven culturally inclusive and responsive to students’ diverse, changing needs and whose methods can be replicated across the state. Yet we are limiting consultation from our local stakeholders and facilitators when best-in-class programs like the SOURCE have been on the front lines of mental health and wellness awareness and offering personalized, community-based care for over 20 years.
The Red Bank Regional High School school-based youth services program has built bonds between students in need and the community since 2000. Funded through state grants and ancillary financial support from the SOURCE Foundation, the SOURCE offers comprehensive counseling services, prevention programming, advocacy, academic support, employment services, community forums, and more at no cost to beneficiaries.
We agree that all students and families should access quality mental health services. But, denying students who have come to rely on in-person, on-demand, or scheduled mental health services is wrong for them, their families, and their communities. Subsequently, administrators and youth services professionals have already stated that this new model cannot effectively assist young people. So, what is the merit of rushing implementation for the 2023-2024 academic year?
Clearly, eliminating this critical state program in favor of an impersonal approach is dangerous to all who benefit from their services and a misguided attempt at mental health and wellness program equity. The moral cost is too great and will affect the lives and livelihoods of young people and their families across the state. We, therefore, urge your administration to let our SBYSPs continue providing the level of care that our students have come to trust.
Assemblywoman Marilyn Piperno & Assemblywoman Kim Eulner