Program links law enforcement with systems of care for addicted children

Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin, Department of Children and Families Commissioner Christine Norbut Beyer, and Department of Human Services Commissioner Sarah Adelman announced the launch of a new pilot program to train law enforcement officers and community stakeholders on how to recognize and interact with children and families affected by addiction and connect them with systems of care. 

The program, known as the Child Trauma Response Initiative, will launch in three pilot municipalities across the state, Asbury Park, Millville and Plainfield.

Those communities in Monmouth County, Cumberland County and Union County were identified based on an assessment of their need and existing resources.

The Child Trauma Response Initiative, which is being paid for with $2 million in opioid settlement funds, will be administered under the Office of the New Jersey Coordinator for Addiction Responses and Enforcement Strategies (“NJ CARES”), within the Department of Law and Public Safety, in coordination with the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the Department of Human Services (DHS).

The goal of the program is to give law enforcement and community stakeholders the necessary tools to identify families – and particularly children – impacted by addiction during opioid-related incidents and then link children and caregivers to the services they need in an effort to engage them in successful treatment and sustained recovery.

“Among those hardest hit by the addiction epidemic are the children who experience trauma as the result of a parent or caregiver’s substance misuse. Sadly, this suffering is often overlooked,” said Platkin. “By recognizing these hidden victims of addiction and intervening to help them and their families get the assistance they need, law enforcement can play a key role in reversing the long-lasting and destructive ripple effects of the opioid crisis.”

“About a third of children who enter foster care in New Jersey have a parent suffering from substance use. Historically, child welfare systems have taken an unforgiving and punitive approach with families impacted by substance use disorder,” said Norbut Beyer. 

“We want to change that. We know that a parent struggling with addiction doesn’t love their child any less—they just need access to supports and resources in their community,” said Norbut Beyer. “This pilot demonstrates the state’s commitment to engaging families through a healing-centered lens, in an effort to reduce childhood trauma and keep families together.”

“The children and families of those impacted by substance misuse often face their own unique struggles, which are often overlooked even though the impact can last a lifetime,” said Adelman. “This pilot program is an important step to assist and support children and families so they can find healing and move forward successfully.”

“The program announced today will help ensure that community members most often in contact with families impacted by addiction – including law enforcement officers – are trained to recognize the signs of a family in crisis and know what programs and services are available to assist,” said Kelly Levy, director of NJ CARES. “We will continue to find innovative and impactful ways to use opioid settlement funds to bolster the resiliency of communities harmed by the unlawful conduct of drug manufacturers and others.”

Initial funding for the initiative comes from a settlement with global consulting firm McKinsey & Company that resolved an investigation into the company’s role in fueling the opioid epidemic by designing aggressive marketing strategies used by some of the nation’s largest opioid manufacturers, including Purdue Pharma.

New Jersey will receive a share of about $16 million under that $573 million multistate settlement.  

The Child Trauma Response Initiative will forge a partnership among law enforcement, state agencies, and community providers that will utilize existing addiction and recovery services and programs to provide support and assistance to children and families who are experiencing emotional or behavioral crises as a result of addiction.

The Child Trauma Response Initiative partnership will also address gaps in existing systems of care within the community to strengthen the safety net for children and families.  

Under the program, law enforcement and community stakeholders will be trained to identify the need to link families to services as a result of addiction in situations, such as when:  

  • A parent or other adult member of a child’s household has overdosed
  • A parent or other adult member of a child’s household has been arrested on drug-related charges
  • Law enforcement has responded to a domestic incident involving children, where drugs were involved

 The Child Trauma Response Initiative program will train law enforcement officers to recognize circumstances that often occur in these conditions that may be traumatic to children, and to link the family members to appropriate services that will provide them with support to heal from the trauma of the event and successfully recover.

“We all know the impact opiate addiction has on adults, but can sometimes overlook the adverse effects it has on our children,” said Sergeant Michael Casey, public information officer for the Asbury Park Police.  “This valuable training is an additional resource our officers have to utilize in connecting children and families to much-needed services.”

Millville Police Chief Jody Farabella said, “I believe this initiative will have an incredibly positive impact in our community by connecting children and their families to services available.” 

Plainfield Police Director James T. Abney said he fully supports the initiative.

The new program is the latest initiative from the state aimed at strengthening trust between law enforcement and historically marginalized communities, and training police to serve as a lifeline to connect individuals in crisis to care and treatment instead of funneling them into the criminal justice system.

NJ CARES will hire a full-time project manager to oversee, implement, and evaluate the pilot program and the agency is now accepting applications for the position. For more information and how to apply click here.

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