New Jersey Parents' Caucus History

The New Jersey Parents Caucus

The New Jersey Parents' Caucus (NJPC) is a non-profit organization primarily governed and staffed by parents and caregivers of children with emotional and behavioral challenges. The organization was established in 1990 when a group of concerned parents raising children with special needs came together to create changes to the public systems that served their children. For more than 20 years, the New Jersey Parents' Caucus has worked diligently with parents, caregivers, family members, other family organizations, government agencies, active legislators, and interested professionals throughout New Jersey to insure that the state addressed the special needs of families raising children with emotional, behavioral and mental health challenges.

The New Jersey Parents' Caucus spearheaded a coalition of children's advocacy groups to change existing policy and provide services to families and children struggling with special needs. The coalition formulated the "Ten Principles of Care" which would eventually govern a new system. The principles were presented to family organizations, child-serving agencies, Boards of Chosen Freeholders, and other active legislators to gather support. In 1999, through diligence and hard work, NJPC achieved its long-range goal to convince state officials that the system serving children with mental health challenges was in dire need of change. On January 24, 2000, Governor Whitman adopted the "Ten Principles of Care" as a foundation for the new Children's System of Care Initiative (CSOCI). At last, this meant comprehensive reform for children's mental health services built on the foundation of partnering with families at all levels, from local to state, and at all phases of activity including planning, oversight and quality assurance. In the year 2000, NJPC incorporated with the mission to ensure that parents and caregivers of children with emotional and behavioral challenges were given an opportunity to play a strong and active role in the development and delivery of effective and timely services for their children.

For the next 2 and 1/2 years, NJPC was contracted by the Department of Human Services to serve as the statewide parent advocacy agency for the CSOCI. NJPC continues to support the CSOCI, by training parents and caregivers to better access services for their children, families and communities, prepare them for leadership opportunities in the child-serving arena and employment opportunities in child-serving agencies. In addition to our accomplishments with the State Department of Human Services, soon thereafter NJPC was selected as one of forty-two funded Statewide Family Networks through The Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) of the US Department of Health & Human Services and charged with working with youth, family members and professionals to improve outcomes for children with emotional and behavioral disturbances and their families. In 2005, NJPC was contracted by the SAMHSA TA Center to provide technical assistance to other Statewide Family Networks throughout the country to build capacity and ensure sustainability. NJPC also works with new family-driven grass roots organizations throughout New Jersey to help them build capacity. NJPC has served in a consulting capacity to the National Technical Assistance Center for Children's Mental Health at Georgetown University's Center for Child and Human Development and National Cultural Competency Center providing Transformation Facilitation Technical Assistance and Support to state children's mental health directors throughout the country.

In 2008, NJPC was selected as one of twelve organizations throughout the county and the only organization in the state chosen by the US Department of Justice/Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to provide family strengthening prevention services to families raising children and youth at risk of entering the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. NJPC's Families Uplifted Prevention Initiative is charged with providing family strengthening strategies and programs that focus on improving family economic success, family support systems, and building thriving and nurturing communities in which healthy families can purse long-term goals. Continuing to support parents raising justice-involved youth with emotional and behavioral challenges, NJPC developed the New Jersey Youth Justice Initiative (NJYJI), a family-driven justice program which seeks to improve outcomes for justice-involved youth, end the practice of waiving youth to the adult system, ensure family and youth involvement on all levels of decision-making, end solitary confinement for youth, and ultimately decrease recidivism rates through a myriad of supportive programs which include:

  • Providing education to parents,family members and youth on their rights and responsibilities and the advocacy skills needed to navigate child-serving systems
  • Providing free legal advice and representation to parents and youth by a qualified attorney
  • Supporting attorneys at trial
  • Providing leadership opportunities to system-involved youth through the NJ Youth Coalition
  • Providing peer support programs for parents, family members and youth
  • Increasing awareness through public testimonies and legislative advocacy
  • Training juvenile justice professionals and providers
  • Tracking and corresponding with youth who have current or prior involvement with the juvenile and adult system, and their parents, caregivers and family members and
  • Providing evaluation and data analysis.

Family involvement is critical for youth who are involved with the juvenile justice system. Youth and parents need information, training, services and support to help them become knowledgeable about the juvenile justice system and effective advocates for themselves and their children. At the same time, juvenile justice systems need to ensure that their policies and procedures support family and youth involvement and that staff are trained to better understand the family perspective, the benefits of family and youth involvement, and specific strategies for engaging parents and youth. The services provided by NJYJI are particularly timely, coming in the wake of a new paradigm for sentencing youth in the adult system laid out by the United States Supreme Court in J.D.B. v. North Carolina (2011) in which the court recognized that children do not have the full capacity to exercise mature judgment.

NJYJI represents a new frontier in the family movement, as it establishes a formalized support network for families raising justice-involved youth. Currently, there is no organization in the state of New Jersey providing this type of support to parents, family members, incarcerated youth or criminal defense practitioners. NJPC founded the initiative to fill this void and provide unique family-driven solutions. By addressing youth and family needs with support from the time of sentencing through reentry to the community, we enhance the quality of juvenile representation, provide supportive services for families and improve outcomes for NJ's justice-involved youth.

In the fall of 2014, NJPC published the data brief - Psychotropic Medication Use among New Jersey Children & Youth - in which more than 56% of children and youth reported the use of one psychotropic medication in the past year. In 2014, NJPC received a state spotlight and was highlighted by the National Juvenile Justice Evaluation Center (NJJEC), identifying our data analysis and evaluation studies representing more than 20,000 parent training hours and 6,000 children, which showed improvements in the utilization of mental health, special education, and developmental disability services, and declines in the involvement of children and youth in the juvenile justice system. The analysis also demonstrated reductions of family involvement in the child welfare system.

In addition, NJPC was highlighted in 2014 and 2015 by The National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice (NCMHJJ) for the publication of the Navigating the Juvenile Justice System in New Jersey: A Family Guide and The Incarceration of Children & Youth in New Jersey's Adult Prison System: New Jersey Youth Justice Initiative which highlight the prevalence of children with mental health disabilities incarcerated in the adult system with nearly 70 percent of those placed in solitary confinement having a mental health diagnosis and nearly 37% having two or more diagnoses.

To date, NJPC has been able to reach over 43,000 parents and caregivers and 9,800 professionals and providers throughout the state through a myriad of programs and supportive services offered through NJPC's NJ Model of Parent Empowerment and Collaboration: This model includes training and education provided through the NJPC's Parents' Empowerment Academy©, a comprehensive, parent-driven training and education program, curriculum and program offerings

  • Enables parents and caregivers of children with emotional and behavioral challenges to appropriately and collaboratively negotiate with government agencies and other system partners
  • Provides the opportunity for parents to strengthen their knowledge of the systems that serve their families and their rights and responsibilities within those systems
  • Offers parents, caregiversnand professionals a thorough understanding of children's mental health disorders, NJ's community-based services, and medications associated with childhood disorders
  • Assists professionals in understanding the reality of raising a child with an emotional disorder and prepares them to seek out and partner with families in order to develop and implement treatment plans that will achieve optimal outcomes
  • Enables parents and caregivers to ensure mental health services are culturally competent
  • Offers opportunities for parents to become certified to train and
  • Provides volunteer and paid opportunities for parents to provide training in their local communities.

The Academy currently offers training in the areas of

  • Professional Parent Advocacy,
  • Understanding Childhood Mental Health Challenges,
  • Family Involvement in the Child Welfare System,
  • Understanding NJ's Juvenile Justice System,
  • Empowering vs. Enabling,
  • Professionalism,
  • Conflict Resolution,
  • Assertiveness,
  • Cultural Competency & Diversity,
  • Building Systems of Care: An Overview For Families (A Shiela Pires Primer),
  • Collaborating with Agencies Dedicated to Children,
  • Man to Man: Training for Fathers and Male Caregivers,
  • Strengthening Families in At-Risk Communities,
  • Empowering Families & Communities Through Public Policy Work,
  • Bridging The Gap for Professionals Dedicated to Children's Services,
  • Building Family-Driven Grass Roots Organizations, and Empowering The Parent Trainer.

To date, NJPC has been able to offer educational training through The Parents' Empowerment Academy to over 3,222 parents, caregivers and professionals and to certify over 1, 973 parents and caregivers as trainers in the state of New Jersey. Translators are available at each training to ensure cultural competence and linguistic and cultural accessibility. Advocacy & Informal Support through NJPC's Information & Referral line serves over 6,000 parents, family members, service providers and government agencies throughout the state of New Jersey. Referrals comes from a variety of sources, including DYFS, CASA, FSO's, schools, probation officers, other community organizations, providers and self-referrals. Individuals are able to receive referrals in both English and Spanish to service providers, community and government agencies and/or information regarding such things as what to do about a child's behavior or how to get supports for a child in school. Most often, family members are put in touch with dedicated advocates, local support groups and programs. Service is available via our 800 line and website. Cross-system Advocacy services are provided to families that are involved with multiple system partners (i.e. Juvenile Justice, Child Welfare (DYFS), Mental Health, Special Education, Division of Developmental Disabilities) and are having difficulty accessing appropriate care and treatment for their child. Parents are connected with trained parent advocates who work with them to develop a Family Advocacy Plan. The advocate accompanies the parent or caregiver to their treatment team meeting, court appointments, IEP meeting, DYFS, etc. to assist parents in overcoming systemic barriers to individualized, strength-based care, ensure the parents' voice is heard and the family's needs are met. NJPC has been able to provide cross-system advocacy services to over 1,920 families raising children with emotional and behavioral challenges and maintains 2 bilingual advocates. NJPC's Annual Outreach Tour, educates families of children in the six of the most crime-ridden cities in the state, promotes public awareness of children's mental health issues, provides free psychological evaluations for children and provides rich linkages for services to families in underserved communities. The Tour visits one neighborhood in each city per day via our donated 28ft RV. Staff on hand includes psychologist, parent advocates, youth group members and outreach workers. Our 2008 tour provided over 90 evaluations for children and distributed more than 6,000 pieces of literature specific to parents and children. To educate New Jersey communities on children's mental health and increase public awareness, NJPC hosts the informational Website -, a comprehensive internet site which provides families and professionals with a myriad of information concerning children's mental health on a state and national level. With over 3,000 links to other organizations who share NJPC's mission and informational sources, the website receives over 5,000 visitors per year. The website provides a comprehensive statewide information and referral database for parents and professionals who are unable to contact the office during regular hours, hosts a series of surveys including Custody Relinquishment, Bullying Awareness, etc. and is the primary communication vehicle used by our statewide youth group. NJPC administers surveys throughout the year, including Custody Relinquishment, Bullying Awareness and Prevention.

In a recent survey conducted by NJPC of 1,850 children and youth under the age of 18 in the state of New Jersey served by NJPC in the past year,

  • Sixteen percent were White,
  • Fifty-nine percent were African-American,
  • Twelve percent were Hispanic,
  • Six percent were Asian,
  • The remaining eight percent were Asian/Pacific Islander, American Indian/Alaskan Native, multiracial, other race or unknown;

Gender of child

  • 78% Male,
  • 22% Female;

Parent's Marital Status

  • 57% Single,
  • 21% Divorced,
  • 14% Married,
  • 7% Separated;


  • 65% Medicaid,
  • 26% Private Insurance,
  • 9% No Insurance;

Child's Diagnosis

  • Conduct Disorder -48%,
  • ADHD- 48%,
  • Depression 39%,
  • PTSD- 9%,
  • Bipolar-4%

and the systems serving their families included

  • Public Mental Health-34.8%,
  • Child Welfare - 46.1%,
  • Juvenile Justice - 18.7%,
  • Developmental Disabilities - 16.1%,
  • Social Services/Welfare - 4.3%.

The data compiled from our survey indicated that approximately 65.2 % of families raising children with mental health issues are not being served through NJ's public mental health system while 65% are receiving public insurance - Medicaid.

As well, NJPC and its members maintain numerous seats on mental health coalitions and advisory groups and is an active participant of the following:

  • Federation of Families for Children's Mental Health,
  • NJ Task Force on Child Abuse & Neglect - Prevention Sub Committee,
  • NJ Statewide Network for Cultural Competency,
  • New Jersey State Mental Health Planning Council, and
  • New Jersey Coalition for Bullying Awareness and Prevention.

As well, NJPC has served as the NJ State organization of The Federation of Families for Children's Mental Health and member agency of The Child Welfare League of America.


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