TRENTON, NJ — Advocates for the School Based Youth Services Program, which is set to be eliminated from the Fiscal Year 2021 New Jersey state budget, are holding a virtual rally on Wednesday afternoon to try to persuade the state to keep the program.
The program, which operates in 91 schools across the state, provides students access to a variety of services, including crisis counseling, inside the participating schools.
In Brick Township, more than 800 students sought help from the counseling services in the 2019-2020 school year, according to Dave Seegert, the program director.
The program, started in 1987, is set to be eliminated in New Jersey’s nine-month fiscal year 2021 budget. Officials with the state Department of Children and Families said the state believes its Children’s System of Care can provide those services and meet those needs through out-of-school programs.
“What makes the School Based Youth Services Program special is that it goes right to the students in the school,” Brick Township Councilwoman Andrea Zapcic said Tuesday night during the township council meeting. “They don’t have to go out, they don’t have to rely on a parent driving, they meet the students right where they are.”
She said the School Based program, which operates at Brick Township and Brick Memorial high schools and at Veterans Memorial Middle School, also works in tandem with two of the Brick Municipal Anti-Drug Coalition programs, in efforts to deter substance abuse.
Officials with the state Department of Children and Families said the state has built “robust, statewide networks of care for children and adolescents with behavioral health needs and/or intellectual and developmental disabilities,” and the shift in funding will provide allow students access to out-of-school services.
“In addition, in 2015, the federal Every Student Succeeds Act created federal support for robust out-of-school-time programs,” a state official said, and referred to the 21st Century Community Learning Centers. The Department of Education oversees 63 of those centers, which provide academic enrichment programs in areas of high poverty and low-performing schools, according to the federal program.
The School Based Youth Services Program is part of the Office of School Linked Services and had a budget of $15 million in fiscal year 2020, state officials said.
“School-based programs provide students on a daily basis with the mental health and crisis intervention services that they are in such need of right now, and there will be a significant gap in the care of these students without these programs,” wrote Nick Spanola, the school-based counselor at Brick Memorial High School, on a petition he posted on Change.org.
“Many students are not able to afford mental health care outside of School-Based for various reasons, and these students will now not be able to receive services necessary to their development and health,” he wrote.
Read more: NJ Cut Of Student Mental Health Program Amid COVID Sparks Outcry
The virtual rally begins at 4 p.m. and will be held via Zoom. The link for the meeting is bit.ly/saveNJkids and the link is case-sensitive.
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