Peer-To-Peer Youth Mentor Program Enlightens Displaced Youth

By: Savannah Scarborough, Follow South Jersey Intern

SOUTH JERSEY – The New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF) launched the Peer to Peer Program: EnlightenMENT to serve and mentor youth, ages 14 to 21, in the Child Protection and Permanency (CP&P) program recently.

EnlightenMENT focuses on serving children in out-of-home placement for less than 18 months across nine counties: Essex, Middlesex, Union, Mercer, Monmouth, Ocean, Atlantic, Burlington, and Camden. 

The DCF utilizes the Youth Council and its critical voices because it provides accelerated support for young people entering and exiting the foster care system. DCF Youth Council members act as “Peer Navigators” for individuals to ensure that the youth do not feel alone in their struggles. 

Three contracted service providers, Children’s Aid, and Family Services, Children’s Home Society, and Oaks Integrated Care, Inc., will also provide the youth with support services through Peer Navigators. These individuals are trained professional staff members with lived experiences in 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.

The program intends to help increase youth’s ability to articulate and work towards their goals, interact with professions, and be able to initiate connections to resources on their own. Additionally, EnlightenMENT aims to push youth towards resilience, positive development, increased social connectedness, self-esteem, and confidence.

“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,” saif NJ DCF Commissioner Christine Norbut Beyer. 

Youth can connect with Peer Navigators themselves or be referred through caregivers, CP&P caseworkers, law guardians, CASA workers, CMOs, schools, or any other support in their life. 

Typically youth and their Peer Navigators meet twice a month for a year. Youth will focus on three phases during that time: engagement, empowerment, and connection. 

According to the DCR Youth Council, the three phases consist of the following:

  1. The ‘Engagement’ phase includes the Peer Navigator reaching out to the youth to build a positive healing relationship. Further, the Peer Navigator will build an empathetic and trusting relationship with you based on the understanding that they have walked in the same shoes as them
  2. The ‘Empowerment’ phase is strength-based. Peer Navigators will listen to the youth’s priorities and focus on building and strengthening the skills they need to work on. Peer Navigators help model behaviors with the youth through role play and positive reinforcement, preparing them for meetings with professionals and family members to help the youth achieve their goals
  3. The ‘Connections’ phase will allow the youth to make their connections to appropriate individuals and organizations in the community with resources that correspond with the youth’s goals

“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,” said Katie Bourgault Executive Director of the DCF Office of Family Voice. 

To learn more about the program, visit

Follow South Jersey provides local journalism which highlights our diverse communities; fosters transparency through robust, localized, and vital reporting that holds leaders and institutions accountable; addresses critical information needs; supports people in navigating civic life; and equips people with the information necessary to partake in effective community engagement. If there is a story or event you think we should cover, please send your tips to with “NEWS” in the subject line.