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Kathy Hochul, Governor
Suzanne Miles-Gustave, Esq., Acting Commissioner
September 2019 — Vol. 4, No. 9

Message from The Commissioner


September is Kinship Care Month in New York State, a time when we recognize and support the more than 100,000 families across the state who provide safe and stable homes for relative children, many of them grandchildren. Grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins, and close family friends are among those who step up when a child cannot remain with their parents. Kinship Care Month celebrates the families who provide for and raise relative children, so please join me in thanking and continuing to encourage the kinship caregivers in our community and those in government who support the program.

I’d like to thank the staff who helped make our presence at the Great New York State Fair a memorable one for the thousands of people who saw our display and those who stopped to learn about our services or just pick up a shiny new pinwheel. This outreach event provides a valuable opportunity to talk to people from across New York State about foster care, adoption, safe sleep, child care options, services for elderly and vulnerable New Yorkers and so much more. And, it provides an opportunity to meet a few of the dedicated and positive OCFS staff who work hard every day on behalf of the children and families of New York State. I truly appreciate all you do to drive our success.


Sheila J. Poole


OCFS Hosts 2019 Home Finding Summit

OCFS convened its annual Home Finding Summit in Colonie on August 13-14 to focus on improving recruitment of foster and adoptive parents, licensing and oversight. The conference brought together staff from local departments of social services and voluntary agencies whose work includes finding stable homes for children and youth. They recruit, certify, approve, retain, and support foster/adoptive homes.

Deputy Commissioner Lisa Ghartey-Ogundimu speaking at a lectern

OCFS Deputy Commissioner of Child Welfare and Community Services Lisa Ghartey Ogundimu (above) provided an overview of the home finder’s role, which is aimed at improving the quality of foster boarding homes and keeping children in care safe. “Kids do better when they’re in families in homes—we all do better,” she said. “They need a home. They need a connection. Too many of our kids age out of congregate care settings without any connections to adults; without any real pathway forward.” Attendees focused on recruitment and retention strategies to help find, develop and support foster/adoptive families, and show them the value in fostering a teenager. OCFS collected feedback, suggestions and next steps to send to participants.

Keynote speaker Denise Goodman, Ph. D. (below) is an independent trainer and consultant from Ohio and an expert in foster care and adoption. A former foster parent, she has worked in child welfare as a child care worker, ongoing protective worker, and coordinator of residential treatment. She shared stories of youth who contacted newspaper reporters to offer themselves for articles advertising for a family—and it worked. “If they are willing to be courageous; if they’re willing to be brave and put themselves out there, I will turn over every rock I can find. I’m like a dog with a bone. I’m gonna track down a family…I think you have to do that," she said.

Goodman came out from behind the lectern to drive home her message with both humor and the go-get-‘em demeanor of a veteran coach firing up her team. Goodman’s inspiring stories from the field and from her own life experiences recharged the audience, inspiring them to get back to work at making a difference for youth who need the love and stability of a home. “I want you to recommit here today to go back and connect with your youth; to go back, double down and get these kids families and put yourselves out of business.”

"Best of OCFS" Highlights Excellence in Serving Vulnerable Populations

On Friday, August 16, Commissioner Sheila J. Poole welcomed staff members, advisors and family members who each presented an overview of the excellent work they are doing in their areas of the agency, including safe sleep initiatives in the Division of Child Welfare and Community Services, collaborative efforts of caregivers and staff on the Statewide Family Partnership Committee and the work of former foster youth on the Youth Advisory Board. Each nominee shared details of how their work improves the lives of those OCFS serves.

The Best of OCFS showcases the important and meaningful work done at OCFS, and how the work directly impacts children and families across New York State. The third round of honorees presented their work at the home office, highlighting the dedication and devotion that goes into the agency’s services and the positive results that spring from that commitment.
Michael Miller, a child and family services specialist, set up a crib to demonstrate the correct way infants should sleep: alone, on their back, and in a crib. The work this unit is doing is spreading the word through collaborations, news outlets and social media about how to keep babies safe. Look for the hashtag #SleepSafeKeepSafe.

Ahmer Kaheim is a family support advocate in the New York City Community Multi-Services Office who has 44 years of experience in juvenile justice. He spoke of the history of the Statewide Family Partnership Committee and the impact family involvement has on youth and their families. “My motto is, It’s Not Going To Work Unless Families Are Involved,” Kaheim said while standing in front of slide show of images from gatherings of youth, staff and family members. “We don’t want families to look at us as just case managers, but folks who are concerned about their well-being and that we want them to be a partner with us.” Kaheim was joined by Wanda Greene, whose grandson is an OCFS youth, and Denise Martin, who is a family support liaison whose son was an OCFS youth. “A lot of parents are apprehensive about OCFS and reluctant to come to the events, said Martin. They’re reluctant to really open up and talk. But then when I tell them, ‘I know what you’re going through,’ they’re more inclined to let me know what’s going on and what they need.”

Wanda Greene said, “I actually think that with more caregivers—and I’m calling us ‘caregivers,’ not ‘parents’ not ‘grandparents, anybody that takes care of a child or has an interest in that child’s well-being—should have a voice in what goes on with that child.” Her own voice no doubt played a role in her grandson earning a high school diploma in July.

A former foster youth who presented a short speech, Destiny Kennedy, is a member of the OCFS Youth Advisory Board, which makes a difference for youth in care by giving them the voice to help create positive changes in the foster care system. They are young adults from all around New York State who advise and collaborate with OCFS on policy topics related to foster care. Kennedy’s was one of the voices that led to foster youth receiving duffel bags to use during a move; the bags replace what has long been the default mode of transporting personal belongings: a plastic garbage bag.


The Best of OCFS demonstrates the positive impact our work has on our fellow New Yorkers and inspire us all to strive for excellence and to nominate fellow staff to be among the next round of honorees. Please send your nominations to bestofOCFS@ocfs.ny.gov.


The following people and the work they do represent the best of OCFS:
Safe Sleep: David Bach, Lauren Capece, Rick Charbonneau, Kim George, Anne Johnson, Heather Mason, Christine McNall, Mike Miller, Laura Naumiec, Anne O'Neil, Danielle Salvatore, Ron Simmons, Jamie Stewart, Jennifer Wright
Statewide Family Partnership: Matt Carpenter, Akmeer Kahiem, Wanda Greene, Denise Martin     
Youth Advisory Board: Heather Babcock, Michelle Dowe, Destiny Kennedy, Kenneth Kirton

OCFS School Supply Drive Sends Students Back To School Ready To Roll

Exterior of school buildingOCFS staff are generously helping children start the new school year with the school supplies they need. The agency donated crayons, notebooks, backpacks and other items to the Rensselaer Park Elementary School in Lansingburgh, where students in grades 3-5 are putting them to good use. OCFS delivered the supplies on September 4 to the welcoming school staff and students. Thank you to all who generously donated items at collection sites at the home office, the Human Services Training Center, the Human Services Call Center and the SCR—you are living our mission of promoting the well-being of New York State’s children and families.


Supplies lined up on hallway floorOCFS staff off-loading supplies from a truck










Pens, glue, backpacks and a man looking into a box of supplies

New York State Council on Children and Families Announces $134,475 in Grants Awarded for Regional Collaboration on Child Care

The New York State Council on Children and Families (CCF) announced that its New York State Birth Through Five Project (NYSB5) will award grants of up to $15,000 to child care resource and referral agencies (CCR&Rs) that partner with their regional economic development councils (REDC) to identify challenges and collaboratively assess their region’s child care needs. The initiative recognizes child care as an economic development issue that child care providers and the business community must work together to address.

The funding is made available under an $8.7 million Preschool Development Birth Through Five grant awarded to CCF by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration of Children and Families. The one-year grant supports an assessment of the needs of the early childhood system in New York State. It seeks to strengthen partnerships, increase parent choice and improve access to quality early care and learning environments.

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul announced it August 2 at the Edu Kids Buffalo Promise Neighborhood Child Care Center.

The REDCs were tasked with including child care as a priority in their 2019 Strategic Plans. Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, who chairs the REDCs, directed them to address child care and community needs in their plans for economic development and growth in a May letter. Lieutenant Governor Hochul is also co-chair of the Child Care Availability Task Force.

“I know how important it is to have access to child care to help balance responsibilities at work and at home,” said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, Co-Chair of the Child Care Availability Task Force. “We want to ensure that working families are provided with the resources they need for safe, accessible, and affordable child care. This grant funding will help the statewide Regional Economic Development Councils meet our directive to address child care needs, promote investments, and provide high-quality child care across the state.”

This grant also complements the work being done by the Early Childhood Advisory Council, whose goals include making more quality care available to families and working with families to assess and meet their early child care and education needs.

Council on Children and Families Executive Director Renée Rider said, “This grant provides an opportunity for child care providers and the business community to come together and assess what their region’s child care needs are, to identify the barriers families face in making decisions around early care and education and to identify the supports they need to make quality early care and education accessible to all children in their region from birth to age 5.”

Early Care and Learning Council Executive Director Meredith Chimento said, “The Early Care and Learning Council and its network of 35 CCR&Rs are eager to partner with and be an integral component of the REDCs’ commitment to increasing the availability of and access to quality child care for New York State families. CCR&Rs are positioned to collaborate with businesses in all 62 counties of New York State, which will strengthen the workforce, reduce employee absenteeism and strengthen the economic prosperity of New York’s communities.”

CCR&Rs help parents find child care that meets their specific needs, provide technical assistance and training to individuals who want to become child care providers and support those who already provide care. New York State established ten RECDs to develop long-term strategic plans for economic growth for their regions. By working together, the agencies and councils can take a close look at what their regions need so strategies can be developed to make quality child care more accessible to working parents in their regions.

Six Brookwood Secure Center Youth Pick Up Diplomas On Their Journey To Success

These are two of six OCFS residents and their families who celebrated on graduation day, August 15. Staff from Brookwood Secure Center and OCFS’s home office gathered on campus to mark the occasion. Four of the youth graduated with their TASC (Test Assessing Secondary Education) diplomas; the others earned high school diplomas. The Rev. Dr. Michael Gerald delivered a rousing speech on the power of belief, and these young men each took the next step on the path toward changing their lives. Since OCFS began a partnership with Columbia County Community College, 10 OCFS youth have earned associates degrees. Congratulations to the youth, their families, and the education staff who proudly work with them.


OCFS at the Great New York State Fair

OCFS enjoyed another successful run of the Great New York State Fair in 2019, sharing helpful information about our services, and putting smiles on kids' faces with a simple pinwheel--the symbol of the joyful, care-free life all children deserve. Staff who volunteered to work at the agency’s booth in the Science & Industry Building provided fair visitors with a wealth of materials and information to guide New Yorkers in accessing programs and services.

The fair promotes New York’s agriculture, food, recreation, entertainment, and services. At OCFS’s booth, that means talking with visitors about child abuse prevention, foster care, adoption, child care and other services that contribute to the safety, permanency and well-being of New York’s families.

Hundreds of children walked away from the OCFS booth sporting sunglasses and spinning pinwheels. Kids also assembled 2,300 birdhouses with New York State Parks staff, using kits produced by youth at OCFS residential centers.













A video presentation enhanced the OCFS display and highlighted safe sleep practices; the Energy Warriors competition for youth in our care learning about solar-power and building trades; and stories from New Yorkers who share their experiences in foster care to show how foster parents can make a profound difference.


Summerfest at Brookwood




Last month’s Summerfest at Brookwood Secure Center was a celebration of progress toward positive outcomes. It rewarded youth who have been studying and accomplished their individual goals.

The event included a cookout, games and music to celebrate academic achievement. two students earned their high school diploma, four earned their equivalency degree and 19 Brookwood students passed at least one NYSED Regents exam in June. The participating youth met their daily goals, attended every day of summer classes and have demonstrated overall positive behavior.

Multicultural Day Celebrates Diversity at OCFS

The 2018 OCFS Multicultural Day celebrated the diversity of the agency’s staff and of those the agency serves. The OCFS Diversity Committee organizes the event as an opportunity to join colleagues and coworkers in a celebration of the diverse cultures represented by OCFS employees. It starts with cuisine from various nations and includes performances by OCFS youth and staff and displays of folk art. By all accounts, it was the biggest Multicultural Day ever held at OCFS, thanks to the efforts of the committee, the Office of Management and Support, the Bureau of Class and Movement, and all who attended and pitched in.

Kinship Care Annual Luncheon September 18


On September 18, OCFS Commissioner Poole will join colleagues in the child welfare field at the New York State Kinship Navigator’s 2019 awards luncheon in Albany. The event recognizes families who care for their kin and make a critical difference in their lives.

The Kinship Navigator team is one of OCFS’s valued partners and is a bridge between kinship programs and regional permanency resource centers, whose services support families who have a newly-adopted child or have become guardians of a relative’s child.