NJ Assembly Advances Legislation Targeting Student Mental Health

NJ Assembly Advances Legislation Targeting Student Mental Health

The mental health of New Jersey students was a growing concern before the COVID-19 pandemic hit...

The mental health of New Jersey students was a growing concern before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Nationally, as well as in New Jersey, suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 15 and 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Studies have also shown that nearly half of students with diagnosable mental health illnesses do not receive treatment.

The added stresses of remote learning, limited extracurricular activities, and social isolation have compounded student mental health concerns.  To address the issue, the New Jersey Assembly recently passed a package of five bills intended to better equip New Jersey schools to address the mental health and social-emotional learning of their students.  Below is a brief summary:

  • Assembly Bill 4433: The bill would establish a grant program for the training of school-based mental health services providers.  School districts that receive a grant under the program are required to use the funds to create and grow programs that train students who are attending graduate school to become school-based mental health services providers (which includes State-licensed or certified school counselors, school psychologists, school social workers, or other mental health professionals legally qualified to provide mental health services to children).  Prior to applying for the grant program, a school district or group of school districts is required to form a partnership with one or more institutions of higher education that offer graduate programs in school-based mental health fields.  The Commissioner of Education is charged with establishing selection criteria for awarding grants under the program.  Priority for grants will be given to high-need school districts, and the criteria for designating high-need school districts will be determined by the Commissioner of Children and Families, in consultation with the Commissioner of Education.
  • Assembly Bill 4434: The bill would establish the Student Wellness Grant Program, which aims to provide grants that support school districts in implementing school-based programs and practices that promote mental wellness, social and emotional learning, and student resilience.  A grant awarded under the program would be used to support school districts in 1) the provision of school-based mental health clinics or workshops for both students and families designed to engage the community on topics such as student wellness and mental health, 2) the implementation and coordination of policies, practices, and programs that support the mental, emotional, and social needs of students, 3) the provision of mental health services on school premises to students in need of short-term counseling or crisis intervention, and 4) the timely and appropriate referral of students in need of long-term therapeutic counseling or mental health intervention.  An interested school district may submit an application to the Commissioner of Education who, in consultation with the Commissioner of Children and Families, must develop criteria for evaluating applications and allocating grants within the limits of the available appropriations.  The bill also directs the Commissioners to develop and disseminate to all school districts model policies and best practices in school-based programs that promote mental wellness, social and emotional learning, and student resilience.
  • Assembly Bill 4435: The bill would require the School Based Youth Services Program (SBYSP) to give priority to certain school districts in awarding grants under the program.  SBYSP services include mental health counseling, employment counseling, substance abuse education and prevention, preventative health awareness including pregnancy prevention, primary medical linkages, learning support, healthy youth development, recreation, and information and referral.  Under the bill, priority for SBYSP grants are given first to applicant school districts that operate or host a center or other entity that focuses on providing individual, family, and group clinical mental health counseling services to students.  This center or other entity shall 1) be separate from, but integrated into, a school within the applicant school district, 2) be open for students to visit clinical mental health professionals before, during, and after school hours, and 3) include clinical mental health professional staff, who may be school district employees, that provide mental health counseling services to students either in-person or remotely.
  • Assembly Bill 4436: The bill would establish the Student Mental Health Task Force to study and survey the resources that are available to schools and parents when helping a student or child that experiences mental health issues.  The task force would consist of 15 members, including representatives of local boards of education.  The bill requires the task force to survey, with respect to schools and parents,  the availability of 1) mental health treatment services provided within each county and region of the State, 2) mental health care provider networks that offer mental health treatment services within each municipality, county, and region of the State, 3) State, county, or municipal agencies within each county or region of the State that offer funding, professional mental health treatment services, or other resources to address the mental health needs of students, and 4) partnership opportunities with institutions of higher education within each county and region of the State to address the mental health needs of students.
  • Assembly Bill 4437: The bill would permit a student assistance coordinator, school counselor, or school psychologist (or other mental health professional working in a school district) to refer, or help facilitate the referral of, a student to a private individual licensed to provide professional counseling, for mental health assessments and services.  If a student is not legally permitted to consent on his or her own behalf to the mental health assessments and services, the student’s parent or guardian must be notified of, and consent to, the referral or the facilitation of a referral prior to any assessment or service by the licensed private individual.  In the case of a referral (or facilitation of one), neither the school district nor the referring or facilitating individual shall bear the cost of the assessments or services provided to the student.

We are closely monitoring all of the mental health bills and encourage school administrators to check back for updates.  If you have any questions about the proposed legislation and how it may impact your school district, we encourage you to contact a member of Scarinci Hollenbeck’s Education Law Group.

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