Middle and high school can be a challenging time for adolescents as their bodies and minds develop.

But in New Jersey, they have support.

The School-Based Youth Services program provides a wide array of services to an estimated 35,000 students in 92 high schools, middle schools and even a few elementary schools in all 21 counties in the state.

Last year the state funded more than $16 million of the program’s annual $23 million budget.

“The program provides counseling services, it provides healthy development services, it gives kids a place to be able to expend their energy, to know that their voice matters,” said Shondelle Wills Bryce, administrator of the Office of School Linked Services within the Department of Children and Families.

She said School-Based provides “a place to talk if they’re going through issues at home, and how to hang out with friends and find good friends, it lets our young people look at what they’re going through now and life beyond high school.”

 

“Let’s say they just had a loss in their family or there’s a divorce situation. [Now] they have a place where there’s a certified licensed clinician they can go talk to about that situation,” said Bryce.

Counseling services are also available for academic as well as social-related issues.

“Student may need a place to be able to have that conversation, and recognize that what they’re going through is just as normal as the next person,” she said. “Really it’s about uplifting our youth so they can really just be the bright starts of tomorrow that we expect them to be.”

The School-Based Youth Services program also provide counseling related to job training, interview skills, how to dress for a job interview, and what to expect during an interview.

Bryce pointed out the program also allows kids to give back to the community.

“They’ll do a drive for a local senior center where they’ll collect food, or help a community damaged by a natural disaster like superstorm Sandy,” she explained.

She added kids these days get lots of information and pressures through social media, and they’re "conflicted about who they are and if that’s OK or not OK when it comes to their body image or their sexuality, or who they’re dating or not dating.

"School-Based provides that space for them to be able to know they can have that conversation, normalize the situation, get the tools that they need to be able to deal with that situation.”

New Jersey was the first state in the nation to set up a comprehensive program of this sort in all parts of the state.

“The School-Based program deals with the social and the emotional development of a young person that is so necessary,” she said. “School-Based is a nice safe haven where they can find good friends and a trusted adult.”

Program directory: School-Based Youth Services in each county: