Bridgeway Behavioral Health Services announced it will deliver school-based mental health care to children and families in Somerset and Union counties.
The program is supported through a combination of federal funding for outpatient counseling services in Union County, and funding from Somerset County for school-based services.
Bridgeway received $190,824 from Somerset County, and other funding came from a larger federal $2 million Community Mental Health Centers (CMHC) Grant program.
“Mental health is essential to the overall health and wellness of our students. Access to adequate mental health services and remaining stigmas around the treatment of mental illnesses are barriers for our community,” said Elizabeth Filippatos, executive director of Student Services in Plainfield. “Partnering with Bridgeway will give our families access to the myriad of services Bridgeway can conveniently provide to our students.”
Bridgeway also will provide training and support to school personnel. The program will focus on the Franklin and Plainfield school districts. Assemblyman Louis Greenwald, D-Camden, who is sponsoring a bill package aimed at student mental health, said teachers are the first eyes and ears.
“They are our first line of defense,” Greenwald said. “They’re the ones who are going to identify something that’s out of the norm, something that raises a red flag for them. But they’re not behavioral health experts and they’re not mental health experts, and we’re not asking them to be. We can help teachers identify signs and when to intervene. …And stop a tragedy before it happens.”
“School staff we have trained have been very receptive,” said Allison MacFadyen, Bridgeway’s director of Psychiatric Emergency Screening Services. “They often feel frustrated and powerless to help students with mental health issues. They want to learn the skills to recognize signs and direct the student to the help they need.”
Seven out of 10 public schools reported increases in children seeking mental health services since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a survey by the federal Institute of Education Sciences. The survey also said that three-fourths of school faculty and staff have concerns about depression, anxiety and trauma in students since the start of the pandemic, yet only about half said they could provide needed services. Many of them did not have a previous mental health crisis before the pandemic.
“The Bridgeway services will provide clinically-based crisis response to students, their families and school professionals, which will be delivered in-person and by telehealth modalities,” said Cory Storch, president and CEO of Bridgeway. “In partnership with the Somerset and Union school districts, our goal is to eliminate barriers to behavioral health and substance use services for families. We want to intervene as early as possible, so crises are averted, and ER and inpatient services are avoided.”