With the goal to ensure first responders in need of counseling after a traumatic incident receive quality and professional help, legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Annette Quijano, Carol Murphy and Linda Carter was approved Monday by the full Assembly, 69-0-4.
Currently, first responders may seek help through a peer counseling program. Peer counselors guide their colleagues through emotional or physical issues following a distressing incident, and prepare them to return to their jobs. New Jersey law establishes evidentiary privilege for any information exchanged between first responders and peer counselors during these sessions.
The bill (A-4954) requires peer counselors to be certified by the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, Inc., or a similar entity designated by the New Jersey Commissioner of Health.
“First responders keep our communities safe. Every day they witness dangerous and devastating incidents that may linger in their minds, or they may suffer physical injuries on the job. This can take a toll on anyone,” said Quijano (D-Union). “First responders are heroes, but they are also human beings. If they ever need help of their own, they should have access to the very best.”
Under the measure, certified crisis assistance counselors would be required to provide proof of certification to their employer. If they were to violate the requirements of crisis assistance law, the provider would notify the certifying organization of the violation and the counselor would be decertified and ineligible to provide services for five years.
“Peer counseling programs have helped many first responders cope with mental and physical challenges after a traumatic incident,” said Murphy (D-Burlington). “By requiring peer counselors to have improved training, the program will become even more helpful to first responders who need assistance.”
“About 30 percent of first responders develop depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or other behavioral health conditions,” said Carter (D-Middlesex, Somerset, Union). “Our first responders represent some of the most caring, selfless and heroic individuals in our communities. Should they ever need help, peer counselors will be appropriately trained and ready to help them through a tough time.”
The legislation now heads to the Senate for further consideration.