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Kathy Hochul, Governor
Suzanne Miles-Gustave, Esq., Acting Commissioner
March 2019 — Vol. 4, No. 3

Message from the Commissioner

I am extremely proud to announce the opening of the OCFS Human Services Training Center (HSTC) in Rensselaer, a state-of-the-art facility where human services providers from across the state will continue to receive the training that will lead to the safety and well-being of children, families, and vulnerable adults.

The creation of this facility has been a project almost two years in the making, and now OCFS staff have been working in the new center since late January. One look inside tells you this is a place where every effort is made to familiarize social workers with the various environments where they will serve New Yorkers. Each year, tens of thousands of trainees will benefit from this new resource, an evolution from our previous arrangement with SUNY Buffalo’s Center for Development of Human Resources.

OCFS saw the need to enhance its training model and optimize the style of instruction to better prepare workers for real-world encounters. In response, the agency designed a dynamic, cost-effective training model that will deliver more of the trainings our stakeholders require, allow for greater flexibility to meet changing needs, lead to staff retention, and consolidate numerous contracts, thus reducing unnecessary overhead and indirect costs. Our investment in this new model will result in better outcomes for families and a more skilled workforce for the local districts.

I’d like to thank the leadership and staff in the Bureau of Training and Development, Office of Management and Support, Bureau of Human Resources, Counsel’s Office, and Budget and Finance for the many hours of work and attention to detail put into this important advance at our agency. This job well done means that quality, comprehensive training of social services workers and those who work in child protective services, juvenile justice facilities and foster care will lead to positive outcomes for those we serve every day. The launch of the HSTC is yet another example of the amazing work done by our dedicated OCFS workforce bringing our mission to life.


State-of-the-Art Training Center Opens Under OCFS Leadership

OCFS’s new Human Services Training Center opened in late January, a 100,000 square-foot facility in Rensselaer whose training rooms include simulation rooms for child care, child welfare and juvenile justice trainings that can be broadcast to other training rooms. 

The facility will focus on quality, comprehensive training including the training of social services workers and those who work in child protective services, juvenile justice facilities, foster care, and adult protective services. It will provide all trainees with the skills, knowledge and technical training they need. The centralized location will allow all 62 counties in New York to take advantage of it, minimizing the cost of outsourcing many trainings.

One part of the facility known as Sim Alley houses state-of-the art simulation training laboratories with observation rooms where as many as 20 trainees can observe from behind a glass wall. In the simulation labs, child welfare workers learn how to effectively testify before a judge in court; case worker trainees will use a simulated apartment to identify problematic situations that could be warning signs of inspection issues where violations would be reported; a simulated day care center provides a practice field for licensor trainees to identify, prioritize, and help the providers correct regulatory violations; and a juvenile justice facility setting offers detention trainees practice in handling situations that might come up in an actual residential center with youth and parents. A grand opening is scheduled for Thursday, April 18 at 10 a.m.

OCFS Offers Guidance on Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA)

As part of its commitment to providing guidance and support to local departments of social services and foster care agencies, and in response to the 2018 FFPSA, OCFS has provided a wealth of materials related to FFPSA on its website and will invite county liaisons to a series of webinars starting in March and concluding in June.

Among the topics to be discussed:
•  Diving into Family First: Where is New York: What's Next?
•  Data at Your Fingertips: Numbers You Need for Family First Readiness
•  Call to Action: Implementing the Family First Prevention Services Act
•  What We Stand to Lose: The Cost of Family First
The law (P.L. 115-123) aims to limit federal funds for placing youth who are in foster care into congregate care placements; provides federal resources for a limited set of prevention practices; and makes other child welfare-related updates to federal policy. As OCFS begins implementing the new law, counties and voluntary agencies are coming to understand the implications and opportunities the new law presents. The agency has shared its efforts to date that will support the field. The federal government recently approved New York State’s application for a two-year delay in the provision that limits federal funding for congregate care. The provisions related to prevention and congregate care take full effect on September 29, 2021. 
OCFS’s stakeholder engagement strategy includes hearing concerns, responding to questions and developing tools to aid in the response to FFPSA. Some of the agency’s recent and upcoming activities include
•  convening the Statewide Implementation Team (SIT) for three day-long strategy meetings;
•  statewide webinars and presentations to provide an overview of FFPSA;
•  state changes to policies and procedures to comply with FFPSA provisions;
•  the NYPWA presentation, “Tapping into the Power of Data in Planning for the Family First Prevention Services Act;” and
•  developing a workbook based on the guidance of the SIT to guide FFPSA compliance at the local level regarding family-based placements and congregate care.
Policy directives related to the new law include the following:
•  18-0CFS-INF-06 - an overview of FFPSA requirements. This INF includes a one-page summary of the law's provisions and a ten-year timeline of key actions.
•  18-0CFS-ADM-16 - direction on meeting the FFPSA mandate of providing foster care placement verification to youth 18 years of age or older exiting foster care
•  18-0CFS-ADM-17 - procedures for electronic submission of all requests for placements through the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children

OCFS Part of Governor's 2019 Women's Justice Agenda; Safe Sleep Campaign Ahead

OCFS will be part of a joint initiative to promote safe sleep practices for infants and further reduce preventable infant deaths. New York State has designated May as “Infant Safe Sleep Month” to raise awareness about the ABC’s of safe sleep. A public awareness campaign run by OCFS and DOH will include radio, television, and social media, postings on public transit, and in major transportation hubs. This campaign will educate parents, grandparents, and caregivers about best practices in safe sleep.

Part of the campaign includes the expansion safe-sleep kit distribution to reach nearly 10,000 families. These kits include a door hanger with safe sleep information, a baby book about safe sleep, and an infant sleep sack, which is a safe alternative to a blanket that can suffocate the baby. The campaign will focus on regions where infant mortality due to unsafe sleep practices is high. Kits will be distributed to homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters, runaway and homeless youth shelters, mother/baby programs, home visiting programs, and community-based programs serving pregnant and new parents. 

OCFS, NYSCB Thank Supporters of Blinds Vendors for $8,000 in Grant Funding

One of the effects of the recent federal government shutdown was the loss of food products in stores that are located in federal buildings and operated by vendors who are blind. The Reader’s Digest Partners for Sight Foundation has provided $8,000 in grants to cover those losses, and the Catholic Guild for the Blind will distribute the grants after evaluating the needs of each vendor the shutdown affected. Those vendors operate food service facilities and vending machines in federal buildings as part of the New York State Commission for the Blind’s (NYSCB) Business Enterprise Program.

“I am grateful that the Reader’s Digest Partners for Sight Foundation and the Catholic Guild for the Blind reached out to the Commission for the Blind to provide this generous grant to help our vendors survive this difficult time,” said acting OCFS Commissioner, Sheila J. Poole. “This assistance is a lifeline in what would otherwise have been a devastating loss to their businesses.”

“I can’t thank our friends at the Foundation and the Catholic Guild enough for their support of our vendors,” said NYSCB Associate Commissioner Brian Daniels. “These businesses bring independence, self-sufficiency, pride, and security. This generous grant has helped to restore all of those things and more.”

The NYSCB Business Enterprise Program provides New Yorkers who are blind or deaf-blind the opportunity to operate food service facilities, newsstands, or vending operations in federal and state buildings. These sole proprietors receive training on how to operate a small business, obtain interest-free loans for startup costs, and receive continual support to succeed. There are 75 such vendors in New York State whose average annual income is $43,000. Across the nation, the program employs 2,500 vendors whose annual revenue is more than $800 million.

The OCFS Youth Advisory Board is Recruiting!

The mission of the YAB is to make a difference for youth in care by giving them the voice to help create positive changes in the foster care system. The board is comprised of up to 15 members who provide feedback on their experience in foster care and help shape state policies and initiatives. They are young adults from all around New York State who advise and collaborate with OCFS on policy topics related to foster care as they shape their transition to independence. YAB members have been speakers at venues such as the OCFS Homefinders Summit, the New York Public Welfare Association’s annual conferences, and various speak-out events around the state. You can find out more about the board on our website, and if you or someone you know is interested in applying to become a board member, please email Heather.Babcock@ocfs.ny.gov.

Outreach Night at HSCC Means Serving Others

On February 19, HSCC staff volunteered during an “Outreach Night,” this time at the City Mission in Schenectady. They set tables, plated meals, and served as waiters taking orders restaurant-style. In some cases, they filled to-go containers with second helpings and at the end, they pitched in to clean the tables and floor.


OCFS Youth Join in Observing Black History Month

OCFS celebrated African-American History Month with presentations that included OCFS youth reading poetry and showing off their musical skills at the home office. This year’s theme was “Black Migrations.”

In their opening remarks, Deputy Commissioner Lisa Ghartey-Ogundimu and acting Commissioner Sheila Poole praised the participation of the youth and thanked those in attendance for helping to shine a light on the contributions African Americans have made to the nation and the world. The celebration included youth from Highland Residential Center, Brentwood Secure Center, Columbia Secure Center, and Red Hook Residential Center. Felicia Reid of the Office of the Ombudsman showed videos that stressed the value in sharing stories of African American heritage and celebrated the song, “Lift Every Voice,” also known as the “Black National Anthem.”