Since its launch in fall 2010, the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey’s Mom2Mom peer support initiative has been successfully caring for the mental and emotional health of mothers of special needs children in Essex, Union and Morris Counties, reaching 958 families. And now, thanks to a partnership with the New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF), the 24/7 Mom2Mom helpline (877-914-MOM2) and related services are available to parents of children with special needs statewide.
“We are truly excited to be able to collaborate with Mom2Mom on this important project and we see it as a natural partnership based on a mutual mission at heart,” said DCF Commissioner Dr. Allison Blake. “Supporting our caregivers through difficult times and in moments of despair is not only fundamental to ensuring the safety and well-being of our most vulnerable of populations—particularly children with special needs—but also to the well-being and success of every member of a respective family.”
Nicole Pratt is one of the new peer counselors. She is a single mother of two special needs children, who has been a helpline caller since Mom2Mom’s inception. “I learned about Mom2Mom at a time when I was feeling overwhelmed and stressed by my daughter’s difficult progress. I needed someone to talk to,” Pratt says. “The counselors have been a big help—just by talking to me or calling me to see how I’m doing. They guide me, calm me and help me think clearly.”
Pratt, who has advocated for children with special needs through community and state organizations and has a B.S. in psychology, decided to train as a counselor because, she says, “I have so much to share with my experiences of having children with two different types of disabilities and with the knowledge I have about services.
“Talking to peers who are trained as counselors is so important to those who call,” Pratt continues. “Unless someone is living the same life, they can only try to understand what we are going through. It’s important for moms of children with special needs to talk to other moms who share their experience and can guide and uplift them.”
“Stories like Nicole’s highlight the need for attention to be paid to caregivers’ mental health,” says Cherie Castellano, M.A., L.P.C., director of Mom2Mom. “We at Mom2Mom thank the Department of Children and Families for its support, which allows us to move forward with our mission to serve mothers and families of children with special needs.”
By dialing the Mom2Mom helpline, a caller receives the following services:
Mom2Mom Peer Counseling Support: Moms of special needs children trained in peer counseling and crisis support will offer peer support, explain resources and explore the needs of helpline callers. Mom2Mom peer support is also available via live chat online through the website (www.mom2mom.us.com) and the Mom2Mom Facebook page offers a forum for mothers and counselors to connect and share resources.
Mom2Mom Clinical Assessment: Mom2Mom clinicians assist as part of the team of clinical professionals available for telephone assessment and gauge the depression, anxiety and family and marital issues, etc., that may be impacting their lives.
Mom2Mom Network: A Mom2Mom database of specially trained service providers is available for referrals for callers’ mental health needs.
Mom2Mom Support Groups: Mom peer supporters are available for monthly Mom2Mom support group meetings in local communities.
Reporters interested in interviewing Program Director Cherie Castellano or peer support counselors hired for the statewide expansion can contact Patti Verbanas at 973.972.7273 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos of DCF Commissioner Allison Blake meeting the new peer support counselors hired are available here.
About the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey:
The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) is New Jersey’s only health sciences university with more than 6,000 students on five campuses attending three medical schools, the State’s only dental school, a graduate school of biomedical sciences, a school of health related professions, a school of nursing and New Jersey’s only school of public health. UMDNJ operates University Hospital, a Level I Trauma Center in Newark, and University Behavioral HealthCare, which provides a continuum of healthcare services with multiple locations throughout the State.
About the Department of Children and Families:
DCF, New Jersey’s state child welfare agency, was created in July 2006 as the state’s first Cabinet agency devoted exclusively to serving and safeguarding the most vulnerable children and families in New Jersey. DCF includes the Division of Child Protection and Permanency, Division of Family and Community Partnerships, Division of Children’s System of Care and Division on Women. For more information about DCF, please visit http://www.nj.gov/dcf/.