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Pilot Mentoring Program to serve young people in nine counties across the state 

TRENTON – The New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF) has launched the New Jersey Peer to Peer (P2P) EnlightenMENT Program. Currently open to youth residing in foster care in nine counties across the state, this pilot program was developed by young people who have experienced foster care themselves, to offer support and guidance to other youth who are in care.  

“At DCF, we recognize that supportive and caring connections in a young person’s life are fundamental to their overall wellbeing and future success,” said NJ DCF Commissioner Christine Norbut Beyer. “This program was designed to ensure that youth in foster care have access to mentors that understand what they are going through and are best positioned to help them through this difficult period in their lives, because they themselves have experienced New Jersey’s child welfare system.”

The DCF Youth Council, part of the department’s Office of Family Voice, identified and adapted BraveLife Intervention– the credible messenger model utilized at New York-based Children’s Village – to align with New Jersey’s practices and policies in order to develop EnlightenMENT. The model was refined with support from the model purveyor, Fordham University, three regional provider partners, and various offices across DCF.

Youth ages 14 to 21, who reside in Essex, Middlesex, Union, Mercer, Monmouth, Ocean, Atlantic, Burlington and Camden Counties are eligible to participate in the program. Through three contracted P2P EnlightenMENT Program service providers – Children's Aid and Family Services, Children's Home Society, and Oaks Integrated Care, Inc. – youth will get support through Peer Navigators who are trained professional staff that have their own lived experience in foster care.

“This mentoring program is so much more than just having someone help you to navigate the State’s foster care system, although that in itself can feel overwhelming,” said Assistant Commissioner for the Division of Child Protection and Permanency, Laura Jamet. “Having another young person who has gone through similar circumstances gives the Peer Navigators instant credibility. They are best equipped to help other young people entering and exiting the foster care system.”

“The P2P program gives young people comfort in knowing that someone with whom they have established a solid and trusting relationship is there for them every step of the way, to provide guidance, advice and to help them through the challenges they are facing,” said Sanford Starr, Assistant Commissioner of DCF’s Division of Family and Community Partnerships. “At DCF, we have made stakeholder voices an integral part of our strategic plan. In this case, youth have been empowered to help create healthy and helpful practices, like the EnlightenMENT peer mentoring model.”

Youth can connect with the providers themselves to participate in mentoring or can be referred through their caregivers, CP&P caseworkers, law guardians, CASA workers, CMOs, schools or other supports in a young person’s life. Youth who are interested and eligible will be matched with a Peer Navigator. The Peer-2-Peer model is comprised of three phases: engagement, empowerment, and connection. While the frequency and duration of the program are flexible depending on the needs of the youth, most youth participate for about a year.

“We are so excited about the launch of this program because the peer navigators are a remarkable resource for youth,” said Katie Bourgault Executive Director of the DCF Office of Family Voice. “The peer navigators are passionate about helping youth in foster care have the supports that, in many cases, they themselves may not have had when they were in the system. Peer Navigators offer young people important social connections that build resilience. They are trained to help the young people they work with develop critical life skills and connect to resources needed to succeed. The youth leaders from the Youth Council have shared that they believe having this support from someone who ‘has walked in your shoes’ is what will make all the difference.”  

The DCF Youth Council is comprised of young leaders who have become an integral voice at DCF. They provide much needed and valuable input to accelerate support for young people as they enter and exit the child welfare system. Council members were involved throughout the entire P2P process, from creating the vision for the program to reviewing the Request for Proposals, to developing the program manual.  Several members have also become Peer Navigators for the EnlightenMENT program.

“It’s difficult to understand everything that is happening, where to turn, what to do, and how to advocate for yourself, when you’re in the foster care system,” said Youth Council member turned Peer Navigator, Jordan Ivey.  “It can feel pretty scary.  But now that we have this program created by youth for youth, they will have one of us on their side, someone that they truly connect with, and can actually relate to what they are going through.”

To learn more about the New Jersey Peer to Peer–EnlightenMENT Program, visit

Youth interested in learning more about the program can visit

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