A Brief History of Consumer Connections

The Mental Health Association in New Jersey’s leadership in the wellness and recovery movement and commitment to expanding mental health consumer employment is reflected in our Consumer Connections program.

In the early 1990’s, MHANJ secured grant funding to create a pilot project to train consumers as outreach workers and case managers. The grant also allowed the MHANJ to create Peer Outreach Support Teams (POST) which employed the newly trained consumers in homeless outreach programs. Their impact on homeless outreach efforts was substantial and paved the way for a consumer provider training program that would impact a broader range of public mental health services.

In 1997, through a contract with the NJ Division of Mental Health Services, the project was reborn as Consumer Connections. The initial mission of Consumer Connections was to train consumer providers to work in Programs for Assertive Community Treatment (PACT), in Integrated Case Management Services (ICMS) and in staff expanded self help centers. Consumer Connections trained 350 consumers within its first three years. Ninety five percent of the participants completed the training, and 70% secured employment within NJ’s mental health system. With the early success of the program, the scope of training and the variety of positions in the mental health system held by consumer providers were further expanded.

Since its inception, Consumer Connections has been recognized as an innovative program and has received:

• The National Mental Health Association’s Innovative Program of the Year Award

• The Eli Lilly Reintegration Award for an Advocacy Program

• The National Association of County Behavioral Health Directors’ Award for Innovation in Community Behavioral Healthcare

• US Department of Labor’s recognition as a “Best Practice” in workforce development for consumer providers

• The Commonwealth Fund recognition as a promising innovation in behavioral healthcare

• The Annapolis Coalition’s Consumer Innovation Programming Award

• The National Association of Peer Specialists recognition as a national model for training

In 1999, as a direct result of Consumer Connections’ work in creating a consumer provider workforce, the federal Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provided funding to the MHANJ to support the creation of the Consumer Provider Association of NJ, the only state level consumer organization focusing on the development and support of consumer providers.

Consumer Connections continually reviews and updates its trainings to ensure it is bringing the best and most current information to participants. It also continues to expand the scope of training as consumer providers become employed in a wider variety positions and in more varied areas of behavioral health care.

Consumer Connections, funded by the NJ Division of Mental Health Services and the Mental Health Association in NJ, continues to evolve its training, support services, and partnerships to strengthen and expand the consumer provider workforce in New Jersey and to provide leadership on a national level for this vital emerging group of behavioral health care workers.

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Funding for Superstorm Sandy Recovery
Efforts through Generous Grants from:
American Red Cross Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Mental Health Association in New Jersey, Inc.

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                        Springfield, NJ 07081

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