There’s a shortage of child psychiatrists in the Garden State. The good news is there's a plan moving forward to remedy the situation.

Assemblywoman Joann Downey, D-Monmouth, who chairs the Assembly Human Services Committee, is sponsoring a measure that would allow a psychiatrist who agrees to provide mental health care services through the state Department of Children and Families to participate in the state’s tuition reimbursement program.

Under current law, a psychiatrist serving underserved areas or in a state psychiatric hospital can receive tuition reimbursement totaling 25% for additional academic training in psychiatry for one year.

New Jersey has 16 psychiatrists for every 100,000 children. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry recommends 47 psychiatrists for every 100,000 children.

The largest shortages are in Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Salem and Warren counties.

Downey said other types of psychiatry can be more lucrative, but another factor is a greater number of children now need mental health help.

“There’s environmental, there’s social factors, what’s in our diet, what happens within a family unit, the increased demands we have in the school curriculum for children,” she said about the stress factors that children face.

“We continue to have more and more devices that increase their stress and anxiety, bullying, especially when we talk about cyber bullying — all of these things add to what we’re looking at.”

Downey also pointed out "we had many children who always needed help but just weren’t getting it, so a lot of it also masked by the fact that we didn’t treat the way we probably should have back then, anyway.”

She said the stigma for getting mental health help is lessening but it’s still there and “now the help is harder to get.”

The proposed legislation would require the commissioner of Children and Families to transmit a list of the projected number of psychiatrists needed by the department to the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority, which is responsible for the administration of the tuition reimbursement program.

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