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

Message From the Commissioner

Spring has sprung and OCFS is planting pinwheels and sharpening its focus on our core mission: promoting children’s safety and well-being; and enhancing our efforts to serve older youth and young adults. During this national Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month, we reflect on our year-round commitment to helping to keep children and families healthy and happy. The supports and services we provide can make a life-changing difference.

To that end, I am thrilled to announce our agency’s new Division of Youth Development and Partnerships for Success, headed by Deputy Commissioner Nina Aledort. This division will focus on older youth and young adults, especially those at risk of needing services and those who are already involved in the child welfare and youth justice systems, such as runaway and homeless youth, those who are part of the Close to Home initiative in New York City, youth being served by detention programs, those who can benefit from educational and vocational advocacy, and human trafficking survivors. The OCFS Youth Advisory Board will play an important role in this deepening of our impact with this population, as will our partners at other state agencies.

I hope you will join us on April 17, “Wear Blue Day,” and wear something blue to raise awareness of child abuse prevention efforts. On that day, OCFS will gather in the park outside the home office for a “Pinwheels for Prevention” ceremony. This recognition of how precious our children are can help us all stand strong in serving children and looking out for their best interests. Thank you for all you do to promote the safety, permanency and well-being of our fellow New Yorkers.

Sheila J. Poole
Acting Commissioner


Child Abuse Prevention Month Activities Highlight OCFS's Core Mission

OCFS and its partners at Prevent Child Abuse New York (PCANY) gathered at the capitol in Albany on April 2 for a pinwheel-planting ceremony to raise awareness of Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month and related activities central to the agency’s mission. OCFS staff will also plant pinwheels in Rensselaer’s Huyck Park on April 17 and at the agency’s new Human Services Training Center (HSTC).

Speaking of the important work being done in prevention, Commissioner Poole said, "It really is about partnerships with all of you advocates, our foster care programs, our local departments of social services, our kinship families and Kinship Navigator, and thousands of individuals."
PCANY Executive Director Tim Hathaway praised the Healthy Families New York program that offers free home-visiting services to new families from pre-birth to school. “We know that program works, Hathaway said. “We know from the research that’s been done here in the state that that is an opportunity we have to continue to build.”
Hathaway and Commissioner Poole thanked Assemblymember Patricia Fahy for joining them and for her support of the work done in child abuse prevention. “Prevention never gets the headlines,” Fahy pointed out, “but that’s the critical, critical piece.”
On April 16 and 17, the Division of Child Welfare and Community Services will be sharing child abuse prevention materials in the home office’s south lobby, and sharing pinwheels for planting the next day. April 17 is Wear Blue Day, when OCFS staff are asked to wear something blue to show support for programs and practices that help to prevent child abuse.
Among the other activities going on this month is the collection of baby items to be donated to new and expecting parents receiving services at the Whitney M. Young, Jr. Health Center; a “baby shower” of gifts from OCFS staff who bring them to SCR building, the HSTC, and the buildings at the home office. The agency has posted a calendar of ideas for preventing abuse and providing for the well-being of children. 

OCFS Creates Division of Youth Development and Partnerships for Success; Names New Deputy Commissioner Nina Aledort

A new division within OCFS was created in recognition of the need to enhance the focus on older youth and young adults who are involved with the child welfare and youth justice systems, or are at risk of becoming involved. The Division of Youth Development and Partnerships for Success will be responsible for overseeing youth development initiatives and services for runaway and homeless youth, the OCFS Youth Advisory Board, educational and vocational advocacy, detention programs, the Close to Home initiative in New York City, human trafficking, and the LGBTQ community.

Dr. Nina Aledort (left) has been appointed deputy commissioner for this new division. Dr. Aledort joined OCFS in 2012 and was most recently associate commissioner for the Office of Youth and Young Adult Services. She was instrumental in overseeing OCFS’s work during the implementation of the Close to Home initiative and, more recently, implementation of Raise the Age.

The new division will focus on interagency partnerships for youth justice and advocacy with the Division of Criminal Justice Services including the Youth Justice Institute, Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, Office of Mental Health, Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS), State Education Department (SED), Department of Labor (DOL) and the Office of Court Administration (OCA). This division will continue to work in close coordination with the Division of Juvenile Justice and Opportunities for Youth (DJJOY) and the Division of Child Welfare and Community Services (CWCS).

Puerto Rico's Secretary of the Department of Family Affairs Tours New OCFS Human Services Training Center Ahead of April 18 Grand Opening

Acting OCFS Commissioner Sheila Poole and members of her executive team shared an inside look at the agency’s new training center in Rensselaer on March 15, providing a tour for some of their counterparts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. government, including Glorimar Andujar-Matos, Puerto Rico’s secretary of the Department of Family Affairs (DFA).

The project was almost two years in the making. OCFS staff have been working in the new center since late January. It is designed 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 OCFS’s previous arrangement with SUNY Buffalo’s Center for Development of Human Resources.
The training center is a dynamic, cost-effective training model that will deliver more of the trainings that stakeholders require, allow for greater flexibility to meet changing needs, lead to staff retention, and consolidate numerous contracts, thus reducing unnecessary overhead and and indirect costs.


OCFS Youth Compete in Women's History Month Game Show

An educational competition at the home office saw youth from OCFS facilities competing against each other to find out which facility’s youth have the best knowledge of women’s history. They have been studying about 45 notable women for several weeks. Thomasina Winslow sang and played guitar to begin the morning’s activities. As youth from Taberg, Brentwood, Harriet Tubman, Columbia and Highland listened, the staff members presented clues to the identities of 20 famous women, including the singer Nina Simone, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and Malala Yousafzai, the activist and education advocate who is the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate. The contestants wrote their answers based on the information the staff members provided, while audience members played along. Harriet Tubman youth won second place and Brentwood third. Highland youth received an honorable mention for their participation. The winning teams received medals presented by acting Commissioner Poole, and all appeared to greatly enjoy the event.

Wildlife Show Impresses at Industry Residential Center



 On March 18, The Industry Residential Center presented Bwana Jim’s Wildlife show to all of the youth at the facility. The show includes a wide variety of animals and birds including red- tail hawks, turkey vultures, and owls; snakes, lizards, an alligator and a rabbit. The show offered a great learning experience, providing the youth an opportunity to learn about the animals and their natural habitats, what they eat and how they eat, where they came from and how they were rescued. It’s an interactive event with games and time for residents to hold some of the animals and ask questions.


OCFS Graduates Supervisory Cohort 13 and Paraprofessional Institute Cohort 3

Supervisory Cohort 13 is the first to complete its course and graduate at the new Human Services Training Center. More than 260 OCFS supervisors have either graduated or attended the program.

L-R: Rick Fitzpatrick, Maith Fleming, Ted Hutchins, Trainer Michelle Camacho, Rob Kennedy, Heather Girard, Mike Fraterrigo, Cyndy Knox, Barbara Gregorek and Sam, Homero Martinez, Linda Darrah, Jason Cobb, Maryann Wilson, Heather Pakatar, Pam Weinman, Barrett Howland, Alyssa Hogan, Jen Lauer, Donte Blackwell, Amanda Hladik, Yolanda Virella, Mark DeCicco, Scott Semprivivo

The third cohort of the OCFS Paraprofessional Institute has graduated. The Bureau of Training and Development offers the program designed for the professional development of the paraprofessional staff within OCFS. Participants gain skills and knowledge necessary for performing their jobs effectively and supporting staff in the execution of our mission. The program also readies them for potential career advancement. The program involves two days of training each month for three months, then three months of independent learning tailored to the needs of their current job duties and future career goals. Paraprofessionals include administrative assistants, program aides, call center representatives, Native American program aides, office assistants, secretaries, senior business management assistants, supply assistants, and youth communications aides.

L-R: Kwan Jordan, Angela Murray, Susana E. Alvear, Nissa Morin, Eugene P. Ashley, Shannel Johnson, Sheila Poole, Marium B. Tariq, Jamie Mannara, Rhiannon Yoworski

OCFS Steps Up To the 10 Gallon Challenge


When SED Commissioner Elia (right) took to Twitter to challenge acting Commissioner Poole to show OCFS’s support for New York’s farmers and food pantries, the OCFS chief stepped right up and met the popular social media challenge at a store in East Greenbush. The beneficiary of the 10 gallons of milk is the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York.
In her video message on Twitter, Commissioner Poole said, “It would be ‘udderly’ ridiculous for our good work to stop (here), so I am challenging New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance Commissioner Michael Hein.”

Below, right: Kathleen Samaniuk-Hayes, of the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York

The "10 Gallon Challenge" was created last summer by Wisconsin agricultural reporter Ty Higgins, who is now working at the Ohio Farm Bureau. It benefits dairy farmers and families who sometimes depend on food pantries and regional food banks. We’ll be looking for you on social media with your 10 gallons and the food pantry of your choice.

NYSCB To Participate in "Living With Vision Loss" Conference

The New York State Commission for the Blind will participate in the second annual “Living With Vision Loss” in Watertown, New York on April 30, in collaboration with the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired of Northern New York. The event is free and open to the public.

Discussion will include the K-12 Special Education process for legally blind students, transition services, Orientation & Mobility, guide dogs, diabetes and its threat to vision, various therapies, and NYSCB’s role.
To register call 315-755-1620 or email: Devin.Reidy@abvinny.org.

Families Can Benefit From New York's Landmark Paid Family Leave Program

Adoptive and foster parents play an essential role in providing safe, nurturing homes to children whose birth parents are unable to care for them. With this role may also come the many challenges families face in finding time to bond with newly adopted or fostered children as they transition to new environments and routines. 

Thankfully, New York State now has support for families during this critical period. Millions of working New Yorkers may be eligible for job protected, paid time off to care for their families under New York Paid Family Leave, a state law that took effect on Jan. 1, 2018. Parents can take Paid Family Leave to bond with a new child within the first 12 months of the child’s birth, adoption, or foster placement. Parents need to complete the necessary request forms for bonding under Paid Family Leave, and attach supporting documentation:

  • For foster care, a copy of the letter issued by the county, city department of social services or voluntary foster care agency is required.
  • For adoption, a copy of the court document finalizing adoption, documentation in furtherance or court order finalizing adoption is needed.
  • If the parent is not named in these documents, the parent will also need additional proof verifying the relationship to the parent named in the document (i.e. a marriage certificate, civil union documents, or domestic partnership documents). Adoptive or foster parents may also be able to take Paid Family Leave before the actual adoption or foster placement of a child if an absence from work is required for placement to proceed. This may include, for example, attending counseling sessions, appearing in court, or consulting with an attorney.
New Foster Care Webinar and Other Resources

In honor of National Foster Care Month, the NYS Workers' Compensation Board is hosting a new webinar on using Paid Family Leave to bond with a newly fostered child. The webinar is free and open to the public, and will be held on Tuesday, May 7, from 12-1pm.

Qualifying Events

In addition to bonding, there are two other qualifying events for which eligible employees can take Paid Family Leave:

  • Family Care – Eligible employees can take leave to care for a family member with a serious health condition – one that requires inpatient care or continuing supervision of a health care provider. If you yourself have a serious health condition and need care, an eligible family member of yours may be able to take Paid Family Leave to care for you.
  • Military Deployment – Eligible employees can also take Paid Family Leave to assist family for certain situations that arise when your spouse, domestic partner, parent, or child is deployed abroad on active military service.
Strong Benefits and Protections

Paid Family Leave benefits are phasing in over a four-year period that began in 2018. This year, eligible employees can take up to 10 weeks of leave and receive 55% of their average weekly wage, up to a cap of 55% of the statewide average weekly wage ($746.41 per week). By 2021, eligible employees will be able to take up to 12 weeks off at 67% of their average weekly wage, up to a cap of 67% of the statewide average weekly wage.

In addition to wage and time off benefits, Paid Family Leave has strong protections to ensure that employees do not lose their job if they take it and that they can continue their health insurance while on leave, on the same terms as if they had continued working. The law also says employers can’t discriminate or retaliate against employees for requesting or taking Paid Family Leave.

Paid Family Leave is insurance that is funded by employees through a small payroll deduction. Most employees who work for private employers in New York State are covered, and public employees may be covered if their employer has opted in to provide the benefit. Union-represented public employees may be covered if the benefit has been negotiated through collective bargaining.

Learn More

New York is here to help employees utilize this landmark benefit. Complete details are available at PaidFamilyLeave.ny.gov, including fact sheets, leave-specific brochures and request forms in multiple languages, and information on how to apply. The Paid Family Leave Helpline, (844) 337-6303, can answer questions in any language, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Whether you’ve welcomed a new child or have a family member who requires support, research shows time with loved ones can make a positive difference. New York Paid Family Leave is now here to help make that difference for when you need your family or when they need you.

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