Efforts are underway in New Jersey to expand Mom2Mom, a 24/7 peer counseling helpline for caretakers of children with special needs, nationwide. Started in 2010 and operated by Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care, the Mom2Mom helpline has helped moms care for their own mental health while looking after their special needs children. The helpline is unique in that calls are answered by mothers of special needs children who have been trained as peer counselors. Those counselors either provide various resources, host support groups throughout the state,or just lend an empathetic ear.

Photo: Mom2Mom Facebook group

Two years ago, the Mom2Mom program expanded statewide and since then, mothers from 35 states have called for help, according to program director Cherie Castellano.

"Because the scope of our funding and because our state contract is for New Jersey, we have only been able to give them a referral and not provide the ongoing peer counseling that we've been able to give mothers in the Garden State," she said. "But, the demand is there and it's just a matter of how we can get these services to moms and caregivers in other states."

To start, the Mom2Mom USA project will include a monthly conference call with representatives from New Jersey's Mom2Mom program and 28 mothers from 16 states.

"We are going to spend a year working on this national expansion. This isn't a well-funded initiative at this moment because it's been created by demand, not by a grant or a funding opportunity," Castellano said. "So, once a month, we will participate together in a call during which we will communicate what the needs are in these states, what the capacity is, what the populations look like, what the disabilities are and what their resources are."

Castellano said the goal is to identify how each state's expertise can be integrated into a national helpline.

"There is a healing in advocacy. If you are coming together with people who have a shared experience, it normalizes it and is comforting to people in that caregiver role," Castellano said.

According to the Mom2Mom website, the organization is the only one in the U.S. that focuses on the mental health of mothers with special needs children.