Gov. Phil Murphy and members of his administration have announced a new web tool – covid19.nj.gov/youthhelp – that is designed to link parents, youths and educators with resources and supports to address youth mental health challenges exacerbated by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
In the last two budget cycles, Murphy has invested more than $100 million in annual funding to modernize and rebalance the Children’s System of Care, in recognition of the need for a strong mental healthcare safety net for children and youths dealing with the emotional effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a press release from Murphy’s office.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for all of us throughout the state and we know that children, teens and young adults are no exception,” Murphy was quoted as saying in the press release.
“At a time when we knew our children would need it, we did not shy away from investing state resources where they were needed most – in strengthening and enhancing the Children’s System of Care.
“By investing critical state dollars in modernizing the youth mental health system, and by helping families navigate the programs that are available to help, we are living up to our responsibility, as a state, to support youths who were hit hard by the emotional weight of the pandemic.
“No one should ever feel like they are struggling in isolation. In New Jersey, we lift each other up and we will get through this crisis stronger together,” Murphy said.
“Early in the pandemic, we recognized the signs of what I referred to as a parallel epidemic of youth behavioral and emotional concerns,” New Jersey Department of Children and Families Commissioner Christine Norbut Beyer said.
“We know that all of us, in the last year-and-a-half, have experienced a sense of loss and grief – whether we lost someone close to us as a result of COVID-19, or we lost any sense and semblance of ‘normal.’
“We recognize that the transition back to in-person education is not particularly quick or easy, but when children are exhibiting a pattern of prolonged stress or anxiety, that is when parents should seek out some additional help.
“We ask that parents be aware of the signs – maybe it’s uncharacteristic changes in mood, or increased and prolonged patterns of fighting or lying, or maybe it’s not enjoying the activities they once enjoyed.
“Don’t be afraid to ask your children what’s wrong, and normalize asking for help when they need it. To the children, teens and parents who are struggling, please know that help is available,” Beyer said.
The webpage, which is accessible through New Jersey’s COVID-19 web portal or by going directly to covid19.nj.gov/youthhelp, is intended to act as a one-stop web resource for programs, services and supports that specifically address youth behavioral or emotional health concerns, according to the press release.
The site will continually be improved and updated to provide youths, families and educators with tools to empower themselves to support their own mental health and demystify and destigmatize the need to ask for help, according to the press release.
Resources are available for different audiences – the 2ND FLOOR phone and text helpline and the Crisis Text Line for children and youths; the Children’s System of Care hotline and mental health first aid tools for parents; and resources and tools for educators to support their students’ mental health in the classroom.
The Children’s System of Care has recently seen an uptick in activity – an increase of 30% over usual demand for services in September, according to the press release.
Behavioral signs indicating a more serious issue can include prolonged or recurring opposition and aggression; property damage and disrespect; feelings of anxiety or depression; a pattern or prolonged lying or fighting; stealing or substance use; or running away or engaging in acts of self-harm.