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Kathy Hochul, Governor
Dr. DaMia Harris-Madden, Commissioner
July 2019 — Vol. 4, No. 7

Message From the Commissioner

This summer, for the first time in New York State, a mobile treatment center is now in operation to serve survivors of child sexual abuse and their non-offending family members – and more mobile units like it are on the way. Our OCFS staff and partners in social services agencies have done a wonderful job in making this latest tool available to those who need it. Child advocacy centers (CACs) have been operating across the state to provide these services; now a CAC on wheels is doing this critical work in Delaware County, one of several counties that are among the state’s largest and most rural. These are areas of our state where it can be costly or time-consuming for families to travel to a CAC located far from their home.

The $4.45 million announced six months ago will also bring mobile services to St. Lawrence, Cattaraugus, Hamilton, Steuben and Franklin counties, and will expand services for children and families in Steuben, Sullivan, Tioga, and Wayne counties.

CACs are a national model of child-protective investigative best practice. OCFS is proud to administer this program on behalf of many key stakeholders, and I am grateful for our partnership with the Office of Victim Services, which is providing additional funding that helps to expand access to services in communities that need them.

Like all CACs, these mobile units will serve a vital function: lessen trauma for children and families who previously may have had to visit multiple offices and relive painful experiences in front of several service providers. More child abuse survivors have a safe place to get support from a multidisciplinary team of trained professionals who can ease a child’s journey on the path to recovery.

I hope you have a great summer, and I thank you for all you do to promote the safety and permanency of New York’s children and families!


Anti-Trafficking Summit Highlights Youth Voices, Leadership

The 2019 OCFS Anti-Trafficking Summit in Syracuse focused attention on the value of following the lead from youth and listening to their voices. One of the highlights was a presentation from Selena Bermejo Romero, Destiny Kennedy and Kat Dobreve, three members of the OCFS Youth Advisory Board (YAB). They shared their experiences serving on the board over the last two years and gave a preview of key concepts in the forthcoming YAB guidebook, a tool to help local governments and non-profits develop effective YABs of their own. OCFS’s YAB makes 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.

Above: OCFS staff members Heather Babcock, Robin Gilbert, Matt Newman, Nathaniel Gray, Karen Sessions, Kenneth Kirton, Madeline Hehir

Attendance was approximately 200. Madeline Hehir, OCFS's anti-trafficking coordinator, presented on working through common challenges in program development, leading participants through a process based on the “Turn the Curve” model to strategize approaches to local challenges.

OCFS Youth Development Specialist Karen Sessions presented an overview of Safe Harbour: NY programming that highlights key areas of program development. This was a session where attendees considered how these elements can be built or developed as they build a trauma- informed system response to the commercial sexual exploitation of children.
Left: OCFS Deputy Commissioner Nina Aledort delivers opening remarks
Amy Papandrea, who oversees the child welfare effective supervisory program (KEYS) at OCFS and Adele Costa, an Excelsior Fellow with OCFS who helps manage the family assessment response (FAR) and Effective Supervision programs at OCFS provided an overview of personal and organizational symptoms of trauma. This included introductions to the concepts of effective supervision, trauma-informed techniques and tools that can be folded into good supervisory practice no matter the professional setting. 

Rachel Lloyd was one of two keynote speakers. Lloyd is founder and CEO of Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, and drew on her experiences as an advocate with extensive experience supporting survivor-led services for commercially sexually exploited and domestically trafficked girls and young women. She shared information on how to incorporate youth experiences into programming by creating leadership roles and mentoring opportunities into services for youth at-risk of exploitation. The second keynote speaker was Alia Whitney-Johnson, co-founder of Freedom Forward, a non-profit working to improve systems in San Francisco to reduce the risk of and harm caused by commercial sexual exploitation of youth, and to ensure that youth who've been exploited have opportunities to thrive. Whitney-Johnson was co-chair of San Francisco’s Youth Trafficking Committee for the Mayor’s Task Force on Anti-Human Trafficking in 2017 and 2018, and started the task force’s first youth advisory board.

Mobile Child Advocacy Center Makes Debut in Delaware County - More to Follow

Delaware County is the first in the State of New York to receive a mobile child advocacy center (CAC) as part of a $4.45 million investment by the state to improve services for children who are victims of physical or sexual abuse. The first unit was unveiled on June 24.

On Monday, June 24, OCFS Commissioner Sheila Poole joined Office of Victim Services (OVS) Director Elizabeth Cronin and other leaders in the social services and law enforcement fields for a grand opening event that highlighted the mobile unit. Local media gave it news coverage and it was shared on social media as well.

“These mobile child advocacy centers will go far in lessening trauma for survivors of abuse and provide the services they need to heal,” said Deputy OCFS Commissioner Lisa Ghartey Ogundimu. “The spectacular work done by Bernadette Johnson, Melaney Szklenka, Adam Berry, Darci Primeau, Jaclyn Nemetz and the staff in our child welfare division has been critical in rolling out this important resource.” 


Above: Adam Berry and Melanie Szklenka, of the OCFS Child and Family Safety Unit, and Bernadette Johnson, director of the Bureau of Program and Community Development

New York State announced the funding – available through a partnership between the Office of Victim Services and Office of Children and Family Services – late last year. CACs bring child protective services, law enforcement, medical providers, advocacy and therapeutic resources together to investigate allegations of child abuse or maltreatment, making that process less traumatic for children. The mobile unit is a CAC on wheels, allowing counties that are larger in geographically larger and rural communities to help children have access to resources and services.

L-R: Jerry Vernold, Town of Hancock supervisor; Shelly Bartow, Delaware Opportunities; Sheila J. Poole, OCFS commissioner; Elizabeth Cronin, OVS director; Dana Scuderi-Hunter, Delaware County social services commissioner; Wayne Marshfield, Town of Hamden supervisor; Gene Pigford, Town of Sidney supervisor; John Hubbard, Delaware County district attorney

CACs are child-focused centers that coordinate the investigation, prosecution and treatment of child abuse while helping abused children heal. CACs bring professionals and agencies together as a multidisciplinary team. In 2018, New York State CACs served thousands of children who were victims of abuse.

CACs help to hold offenders accountable by utilizing a coordinated approach in prosecuting child abuse perpetrators. CACs help child victims heal by offering specialized medical exams, trauma-focused mental health services, and ongoing advocacy services to all child victims and to non-offending caregivers. They are an effective and positive response to child abuse.


OCFS Celebrates World Elder Abuse Awareness Day

Every year, thousands of older New Yorkers suffer from neglect or are victims of physical, emotional or financial abuse. Studies have shown that an estimated one in 23 cases of elder abuse ever comes to the attention of authorities. World Elder Abuse Awareness Day highlights the importance of the public and professionals knowing the signs of abuse, which can include physical trauma, depression, anxiety, and isolation from family members, neighbors and friends.

The theme of this year’s World Elder Abuse Awareness Day was “Building Strong Support for Elders,” providing a renewed call to action for individuals, organizations and communities to raise awareness of abuse, neglect, and exploitation of older people, and to send a strong message that causing physical and emotional harm to an older person, taking financial advantage or jeopardizing the health or welfare of a senior is inexcusable.

The abuse of older adults includes financial exploitation, as show in OCFS’s The New York State Cost of Financial Exploitation Study released in June of 2016, which has been described as “one of the most comprehensive studies to quantify both the financial and the non-financial costs of financial exploitation of vulnerable adults,” and is cited in the recently published book Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk.

Elder abuse is a major public health problem. Survivors suffer higher levels of psychological distress, they are twice as likely to be hospitalized, and they face a greater risk of dying sooner than other seniors. That is why New York State agencies, including OCFS, the Office for the Aging, the Department of Financial Services, and the Office of Victim Services are working diligently with local partners to increase public and professional awareness and implement a variety of measures to prevent and intervene in cases of elder abuse.








Above: Bureau of Adult Services Director Alan Lawitz shares information about elder abuse at the OCFS home officed; Right: Lawitz and New York City Adult Protective Services Deputy Commissioner Deborah Holt-Knight present the governor's proclamation during the NYC Elder Abuse Awareness Conference on June 12.



AASP Awards Announcement Expected This Month

On May 3, the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) invited not-for-profit, community-based organizations to submit proposals for the development of quality after-school programs based on the Advantage After School Program (AASP). Awards are expected to be announced this month. Grant awardees will receive annual installments that are subject to the availability of funds for the four-year grant period. These programs, in partnership with local schools, offer a broad range of educational, recreational, cultural, and age-appropriate activities in a safe environment; they integrate what happens in the school day with less formal learning experiences, and encourage the active participation of children, youth and families in the design and delivery of program activities.

Children who participate in quality after-school programs have higher school attendance and academic achievement, and are less likely to be involved in risky behaviors during after-school hours. In safe and supervised after-school environments offered through AASPs, school-age children and youth are given the opportunity to have positive experiences that encourage good choices for their futures. One of the key components for AASPs is having both youth and family involvement in the program planning process and implementation. Youth and family participation, aligned with the partnerships that are formed through school and community, form the foundation upon which the AASPs are built. OCFS currently funds 137 contracts that include 177 program sites through AASP. The programs currently serve approximately 17,000 children.

OCFS, Commission for the Blind Honor New York State Preferred Source Program Employee of the Year

Mark Foster accepting award
Mark Foster accepts award from NYSPSP Executive Director Carrie Laney and Ronald Tascarella, chairman of the board at Empire State Employment Resources for the Blind

Congratulations to Mark Foster of Binghamton, the New York State Preferred Services Program's Employee of the Year for 2019. Foster and several other nominees gathered in Albany on June 13 for NYSPSP's annual awards luncheon. The New York State Commission for the Blind and the New York State Preferred Source Program work to create employment opportunities for New Yorkers who are blind and recently joined again in signing a Letter of Designation.

In her remarks honoring the nominees and NYSPSP, Commissioner Sheila Poole pointed out the fine work done by firms that employ blind an visually impaired New Yorkers, including one that helped produce thousands of safe sleep kits that promote sleep environments that can save babies' lives.

Foster works at the Association for Vision Rehabilitation Employment as a machine operator whose duties include overseeing the training of new employees. NYSPSP says he is committed to quality and on-time delivery and "never hesitates to step in as a leader when needed." 

Award nominees
Commissioner Poole and OCFS Associate Commissioner Brian S. Daniels with the nominees for NYSPSP's employee of the year.

Highland Youth Experience Minnewaska State Park, Focus on Long-Term Goals

For the tenth year, Highland Residential Center staff led youth on an excursion to Minnewaska State Park, where five residents and four staff enjoyed some time in a nature setting. The had time to see the sights, and touch snake skins and turtle shells.

The residents had recently looked at pond water under a microscope. At the lake, they saw a blue-tailed skink, a type of lizard. Their ranger guide told them it was only the second one she had seen in her years at Minnewaska. They also measured the alkalinity of the water and used a Secchi disc to measure turbidity. The students saw how soil is formed and accumulates from lichens and mosses on rocks, and evidence of strong roots that help prevent erosion. As is tradition, the trip ended with the hike to Awosting Falls. 

Highland Residential Center residents have also been working toward their long-term goals with some inspiration from a program that involves visual representations of where they are headed when they leave OCFS. A project that involves "vision boards" (below) focuses on the use of daily affirmations, and helps in reaching long-term goals. The message is "Once you dream it, the next step is to believe it!" Last spring, the facility held an event where the youth showcased their boards, displaying thoughtful and creative expressions of how they envision their future. The proud staff celebrated the students' good work with a reception in the cafeteria.

OCFS Lean Team Earns Project Impact Award for Work on Adoption Agency Authorization Process

OCFS’s Office of Agency Performance Improvement (OAPI) has been awarded for its work to speed up the cycle time for the adoption agency authorization process. The team has reduced the process by more than a year--from 730 days to the current average of 255 days – a 65 percent reduction. They accepted the award at a ceremony at the Empire State Plaza on June 7, 2019. "We couldn’t be happier with the end result, which allows authorized agencies to engage in their vital work of placing children of all ages with loving, safe and permanent families much more quickly," said Barbara Kruzansky, director of OCFS's Office of Agency Performance Improvement.
L-R: Barbara Kruzansky, OAPI director; Susan Gilman, children and family services
specialist; Tye Woodson Craig, NYS Lean's acting director; Terri Beers, OCFS
adoption specialist; and Carol McCarthy, director of the Bureau of Permanency Services

Adoption is an option embraced by many New Yorkers as they begin or expand their families, and OCFS is committed to regulating, supervising and approving quality adoption programs. OCFS allows not-for-profit agencies to operate in New York State after successful completion of an authorization (or reauthorization) process. Several OCFS divisions and bureaus play a role in this process, including the Bureau of Permanency Services, the Bureau of Financial Operations, and the Division of Legal Affairs. The process entails full review of the completed application and supporting documentation, a program review, including at least one site visit by OCFS, and a written report and recommendation for or against authorization/reauthorization. Final steps in the process include approval of the adoption agency’s certificate of incorporation or amendment, filing with NYS Department of State and confirmation back to OCFS.