EAST WINDSOR, NJ - The New Jersey Department of Children and Families’ (DCF) Division of Child Behavioral Health Services (DCBHS) unveiled a new youth development plan today at its first statewide Conference on Children’s Mental Health. The DCBHS Youth Development Council Guiding Document serves as the department’s plan to ensure youth are decision-makers in their own care, empowered as self-advocates and supported as community advocates with a distinct voice.
Young people and adults alike cannot be completely healthy unless all aspects of their health - including their mental health - are addressed,” Governor Jon S. Corzine said. “By focusing on stronger youth engagement and development, we are readying our youth to plan for themselves, understand what works for them, and prepare for adulthood.”
“The entire system of care benefits when youth are given opportunities to contribute to the quality of care, and this document is truly built on the voices of young people,” DCF Commissioner Kimberly Ricketts said. “This new document will help guide our work with youth, and ensure that youth are fully engaged and listened to at every part of the system.”
The Youth Development Council was formed in the summer of 2009 to engage a core group in outlining a plan and process to more meaningfully incorporate authentic youth voice and roles throughout the system. The members of the council, in addition to youth involved in the system of care, included leaders engaged in youth development and not typically involved in the planning and administration of DCBHS: Girl and Boy Scouts, Boys & Girls Clubs in New Jersey, 4-H, and the Department of Health and Senior Services as the state’s public health agent. The Governor’s Council on Anti-Stigma leadership was a full and valued member as well.
Historically, the state’s system of care focused primarily on family-guided care, but did not necessarily engage youth as individuals in the same manner. In line with trends demonstrated in the adult mental health and child welfare community, the system has recently move towards increasingly consumer-guided and directed decision-making. This youth initiative supports the central role of families – including youth – in making use of strengths, driving to outcomes, and maintaining accountability for those who work with youth and families.
“Young people managing mental illness and natural developmental processes have a challenging road. When they are invited and supported in meaningful involvement in the service delivery system, they are better able to achieve health and wellness,” Dr. Nadezhda Robinson, DCBHS director, said.
The guiding document outlines specific values and principles for the work of engaging youth, as well as provides core concepts essential to any type of youth development and offers guidance on creating a continued community dialogue to reduce the stigma of youth with mental health challenges.
Over 300 people attended the statewide conference, including youth from the system of care, professionals working in case management, mobile response agencies, family support organizations, crisis intervention services and DCF. The conference provided a forum to learn and discuss current trends in serving children and adolescents with behavioral and mental health challenges along with their families. It was a unique opportunity for youth, families and practitioners to network and better understand the roles of the various disciplines in the New Jersey children’s system of care.
Today’s conference also featured a keynote address from Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D., a senior fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy – a not-for-profit organization based in Houston that promotes innovations in service, research and education in child maltreatment and trauma. Dr. Perry has been an active teacher, author, clinician and researcher in children’s mental health and the neurosciences.
Over the last few years, DCF has made significant strides to improve child behavioral and mental health services for youth and families in New Jersey. Those improvements have included:
▪ an exponential increase in the number of youth who have mental health services available to them. Approximately 36,000 youth receive services every day – with 99.5 percent of those youth served in their own homes and avoiding unnecessary out-of-home placement.
▪ an increase in community service options to serve a greater range of youth, changing the dynamic of the system to serve youth at an earlier age rather than just as older adolescents. In the past the majority of youth served were between 14-17 years old, now most youth are between the ages of 10 and 14.
▪ serving more and more youth in their own homes and communities, with 95 percent of children served by Mobile Response remain in their homes and avoid out-of-home placement. Annually, more than 10,000 youth are served by Mobile Response.
▪ developing more in-state resources so fewer children have to receive services in other states and far from their homes. In 2006, well over 300 children were sent out of state to get the help they needed. Since then, DCF has worked to safely reduce that number by more than 85 percent. As of September, there were only 52 children placed out of state to receive behavioral health services.
The guiding document can be viewed at: