Legislation sponsored by Assemblywomen Celeste Riley, Gabriela Mosquera and Pamela Lampitt to officially expand and fund an innovative support network for mothers and families of children with special needs received final legislative approval by both houses on Thursday.
The bill (A-4339), approved 77-0-1 by the Assembly, would officially establish the “Mom2Mom Peer Support Program” helpline to receive and respond to calls statewide from mothers of children with special needs and their families.
“The issues facing mothers of children with special needs are truly unique and no one understands them better than a mother who has already faced these same challenges,” said Riley (D-Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem). “It’s no wonder that this program has been well-received in its short inception. This bill will ensure that it continues to operate and expand to meet the needs of parents throughout New Jersey who face these unique challenges.”
The program was initially established by the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) in the fall of 2010 to care for the mental and emotional health of mothers of special needs children in Essex, Union and Morris Counties. With the support of the state Department of Children and Families (DCF), the program recently expanded this year to serve all 21 counties.
“Sometimes the best support you can get is from someone who knows exactly what you’re going through,” said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester). “Based on the early success of this program, that seems to be the case for moms throughout New Jersey who are raising children with special needs. This program deserves to be continued and expanded.”
The helpline is now administered by DCF in conjunction with University Behavioral HealthCare of Rutgers, the State University.
The bill would provide for the training of helpline staff, the establishment of a list of credentialed resources and behavioral health care providers throughout the state to ensure that mothers, children, and their families receive ongoing counseling and a continuum of care in New Jersey, and consultation with various state agencies to ensure the quality of the assistance provided by the helpline program.
“When it comes to such a challenging area, nothing trumps peer counsel and support,” said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). “Who better to help moms juggle their daily demands while meeting the unique needs of their child than another mom who has experienced it all already? This support is invaluable.”
In order to ensure that the program continues to operate, the bill would also provide an annual appropriation sufficient for the maintenance of the helpline.
The Mom2Mom Peer program offers live, 24/7 call service answered by a mom peer or mental health specialist through the University Behavioral HealthCare Access Center and on-call clinicians. Live chat is also available through the website mom2mom.us.com. Since its inception in 2010, over 29,000 contacts have been made.
Among the top ten issues reported by mothers calling the helpline are: family/parenting, school stressors, depression/mood disorder, child mental health, anxiety/phobias, marital/couples, legal, developmental disability, medical/somatic compensation.
The measure was also approved 34-0 by the Senate. It now heads to the Governor’s desk.