South Brunswick school district could lose state funding for mental health programs

A South Brunswick school district could be at risk of losing mental health programs due to a loss of state funding, under the state’s proposed plan to reform the student mental health system.

South Brunswick is one of 62 school districts facing the suspension of mental health programs following Gov. Phil Murphy’s early October announcement of the New Jersey Network for State Student Support Services (NJ4S).

The new NJ4S network is expected to launch in the 2023-24 school year.

South Brunswick School District Superintendent Scott Feder, in a letter to the school district community on Oct. 17, said it was “devastating news” that was delivered to public schools on Sept. 29.

“The New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) attacked counties at the meeting above by announcing a sweeping funding overhaul that will strip South Brunswick of its support for school-based youth services, which currently funds our BRIDGE program and a direct partnership with Rutgers Behavioral Health,” he said.

The impact of the state’s plan on South Brunswick will result in the loss of more than $550,000 in aid from the school district.

The loss of aid would close district-provided mental health programs like BRIDGE [Building, Respect, Independence, Diversity, Growth & Education] program at South Brunswick High School and Crossroads North and South Middle Schools.

According to the school district, the BRIDGE program provides recreational and mental health services in schools. Services include individual, group and family counseling; Conflict Solving; parent support groups; and entertainment programs.

Feder noted that while the county agrees the state needs reforms and more funding for mental health, they announced a plan that again takes money away from South Brunswick.

“Beginning in 2023-24, this new program will eliminate School-Based Youth Services Programs (SBYSPs), which are in-house mental health services that take place in public schools,” he said. “The level of concern among the 62 counties, much of the mental health field and many other organizations is high.”

The NJ4S network is proposed to be managed by the Department of Children and Families through regional centers that offer proven prevention strategies for students and their families.

Each center will integrate programming with existing state and local services, improve coordination and reduce duplication of effort. These centers should provide a tiered menu of prevention and intervention strategies that can be deployed in high-need areas, according to the governor’s office.

They are expected to focus on promoting positive mental health; teaching and strengthening social, emotional and behavioral skills; and maintaining a positive school climate and staff wellbeing.

Each center will also consider the needs of the entire family, consisting of serving individual students and serving as liaisons to engage existing supports through the child welfare system and other state and local resources to maximize the effectiveness of the child care system. youth mental health and to avoid duplication of services, the governor’s office said.

Center staff will consist of a center director, support staff, prevention specialists and mental health consultants who can be mobilized to support the needs of the schools.

In addition, the centers will provide services and support at libraries, community centers, faith-based organizations, social service agencies and even residential homes, according to the governor’s office.

Feder said the state’s plan is “ill-conceived, lacking in detail and, most importantly, based on misused and flawed data.”

“For example, the study they used to justify some of their decisions has already been denounced by its own author as unscientific and not designed or intended for the purpose that DCF and DOE chose to use it for,” he said.

“Furthermore, this whole move to defund school programs goes against best practices for how to support students’ mental health needs.”

Feder added that the school district is partnering with Save our Schools NJ and other state organizations.

“Please know that we are not sitting idle. Rather, we have engaged with the governor’s office and will testify against these changes,” he said.

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