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Majority Leader Greenwald Introduces Sweeping Bill Package to Address Mental Health in NJ Schools

Legislation Would Create Student Mental Health Task Force, Establish Student Wellness Grant Program, Streamline Counselor Referral Process & More  

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic led to a public health emergency and a shutdown of the State, one-in-five students nationwide were already struggling with a mental health condition. Approximately 75 percent of elementary, middle and high school students, receive mental health care in a school setting. Without in-person schooling, many students may not have access to that care elsewhere. In response to this crisis, Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald has introduced a five-bill package of landmark legislation aimed at improving mental health supports in the wake of the coronavirus.
“Social isolation during the pandemic, particularly while stay-at-home orders were in place, resulted in too many students battling mental health issues including depression and anxiety,” said Greenwald (D-Camden, Burlington). “A study reveals students’ mental health struggles will continue even after we begin the return to normalcy. Educators and other school employees are uniquely qualified to begin early intervention efforts because they are equipped to identify early signs of mental health issues.”   
The legislation sponsored by Greenwald would:
·       (A-4433) Establish a grant program to encourage school districts to partner with institutions of higher education in training school-based mental health services providers;
·       (A-4434) Create a “Student Wellness Grant Program” within the New Jersey Department of Education to provide grants that support school districts in implementing school-based programs and practices that promote mental health wellness, social and emotional learning, and student resilience;
·       (A-4435) Require the New Jersey Department of Children and Families to give priority to certain school districts with student mental health counseling centers in awarding grants under the School Based Youth Services Program;
·       (A-4436) Establish a “Student Mental Health Task Force” to identify and study resources available to schools and parents to address student mental health needs;
·       (A-4437) Permit certain mental health professionals working in school districts to refer or help facilitate referral of students to private professional counselors.
“As we await guidance on the reopening of our schools this fall, we must take a proactive approach to ensure mental health support mechanisms are in place now so that our schools can effectively address student mental health issues when they reopen,” said Greenwald. “My legislation will help ensure there is a pipeline of trained mental health professionals in our schools. The bills will also improve methods by which impactful interventions will happen quickly when students having mental health struggles are identified.”
“The uncertainties of this pandemic have directly impacted the lives of New Jersey’s children, raising anxiety levels in students of all ages. As principals plan to welcome back our students this fall, a top issue on our minds is their health and wellbeing, both physically and mentally,” said Debra Bradley, Director of Government Relations for the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association. “We thank Assemblyman Greenwald for this comprehensive bill package which will give us the tools needed to increase school-based mental health services.”
A longtime, staunch advocate for mental health care, particularly with regard to youth, Greenwald introduced another measure (A-4205) last month that would enter New Jersey into the Psychology Interjurisdictional Compact to aid in the fulfillment of unmet needs for mental health services by permitting out-of-state psychologists who are members of the Compact to provide telehealth and telemedicine to residents in our state. The agreement would be reciprocal. 
“This bill package is necessary and urgent,” said Greenwald. “When our schools do reopen for in-person learning, we need to be able to provide counseling, and we must have the ability to connect students with mental health concerns to effective community resources and appropriate counseling. It is paramount that we assist our schools in better understanding which community resources are available in order to better help our students.”