NJ lawmaker says we must address a worsening child mental health crisis
A New Jersey lawmaker is sounding the alarm over what she describes as a severe shortage of mental health professionals for children.
With only about six weeks to go before the start of a new school year, Assemblywoman Aura Dunn, R-Morris, said the Garden State is woefully unprepared to address the mental health crisis facing our kids.
“We’re hearing children aren’t even getting seen until 30 days after reaching out for help and services, and that’s at the minimum. It can go up to five, months which is clearly unacceptable,” she said.
Her legislation, A3698, would provide student loan redemption payments of $1,000 a year for four years and gross income tax credits of $1,000 for each taxable year a mental health professional is providing services to children and adolescents.
According to an NJ Spotlight News article, the average medical student is carrying a debt of $350,000 to $400,000 and medical residents are leaving New Jersey, going to other states for lucrative loan repayment options.
“We’re a state of 9 million people and New Jersey has 17 practicing child and adolescent psychiatrists per 100,000 children, it’s not enough,” Dunn said.
Of the $9.62 million in the new state budget to increase the number of mental health professionals, 8% is specifically set aside for child and adolescent psychiatrists.
Dunn said the shortage has been brewing for years, but things got really bad when the pandemic began.
She said the pandemic, domestic tensions, inflation, fears about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the worldwide supply chain crisis and many other issues have a profound impact on kids.
“They’re picking up on the emotional temperature of every household right, and we are under a tremendous amount of stress and children struggle the most in terms of expressing that,” she said.
She’s asking Democratic lawmakers and members of the public to support her effort to bring attention to this issue and get the measure passed.