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Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor
Sheila J. Poole, Commissioner
November 2019 — Vol. 4, No. 11

Message From the Commissioner

During this month of giving thanks, I would like to thank all the families in New York State who open their homes and their hearts to welcome a child in foster care. This is also National Adoption Month, when we highlight those youth in foster care who have been freed for adoption and await a loving and stable home.

Through several initiatives, OCFS works with counties to decrease the time children and youth who are freed for adoption spend in foster care and place them in permanent homes.

OCFS has a grant from the Dave Thomas Foundation to hire family recruiters for children who have been in foster care for more than two years. The goal is to keep these children and youth from aging out of foster care without a permanent family.

Additionally, through Lean projects, OCFS has helped several counties decrease the time it takes for a family to adopt a child from foster care. By closely examining their own internal processes, these highly committed local districts have identified numerous ways to remove obstacles, streamline their work and closely collaborate with their local family courts.

OCFS also works with counties to set adoption targets each year, sharing data and helping with analysis so they can focus on areas that are most effective for achieving their goals.

So, as we bow our heads to give thanks this month, let us be especially grateful for the family and friends that surround us and let us renew our commitment and energy to finding families for those who are still waiting.

Articles

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul Joins OCFS to Give "Backpacks of Care" to Domestic Violence Shelters

Domestic violence occurs when a person tries to exert control and gain power over someone else in an intimate relationship. And it's not just about physical abuse – it's also emotional abuse, shaming, humiliation and degradation. Fearing for their lives, some people are forced from their homes with no belongings.

Commissioner Poole addresses the media at a press conference to increase Domestic Violence Prevention and Awareness

To ease the transition to an emergency shelter, OCFS staff donated items such as towels and washcloths, t-shirts, sweatpants, notebooks, deodorant, sheets, diapers, baby wipes, socks, refillable water bottles, soap and shampoo, and toothbrushes, along with backpacks. Between home office and our seven regional offices, OCFS staff filled and donated 133 backpacks statewide which were distributed to domestic violence shelters in the regions where they were collected

Lt. Governor Kathy J. Hochul joined Commissioner Poole, Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence Executive Director Kelli Owens and local dignitaries at an October 28 press conference at Unity House in Troy to mark DV Awareness Month and to distribute the backpacks donated at the home and Albany Regional offices to four DV shelters in the Capital Region: Unity House of Troy, Community Action of Greene County, Equinox, and the YWCA of Schenectady. She spoke of the vital nature of the work we do and how important it is for those fleeing from domestic violence, who often have nothing but the clothes on their back, to have daily necessities waiting for them at a shelter.

She also addressed the question of why victims stay with their perpetrators. She said the question should be "Why are abusers allowed to continue their behavior?" – putting the focus back on perpetrators, where it belongs.

The Lieutenant Governor shared that her mother had for years been a driving force for change regarding DV after growing up in an abusive home. Her mother became a life-long advocate and even opened and ran DV shelters. Hochul reinforced her and Governor Cuomo's support of DV programs and services.

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul congratulated the Domestic Violence Prevention Bureau staff who led the Backpacks of Care drive for DV survivors who seek refuge at an emergency shelter. Back row: Pamela Jobin, Deirdre Sherman, John Chimento, Bethani Whiting, Candace Calabrese; Front row: Lt. Gov. Hochul, Commissioner Poole, Patty Ryan

In addition to the backpack donations, OCFS observed DV Awareness Month with staff tabling, discussing and distributing DV information, and observing October 24 as "Wear Purple Day" to raise awareness and prevent domestic violence. And, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo issued a proclamation declaring October Domestic Violence Awareness Month in New York State.

The New York State Domestic Violence Prevention Act was enacted in 1987 to support services for victims of domestic violence and their children. This law requires counties to provide shelter and services to victims of domestic violence and establishes mainstream funding mechanisms for these programs.

Be an Ally

As an ally, you can provide information and resources to those in need. Please:

  • share the state's 24/7, free and confidential Domestic and Sexual Violence Hotline number (800-942-6906) and the National Domestic Violence Hotline number (800-799-7233);
  • believe a friend or loved one and listen without judgment;
  • encourage workplaces to adopt a policy to improve protections for victims; and
  • support local domestic violence programs.

Legislative Update: Governor Cuomo Signs Several Bills Into Law

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed several bills into law this month that affect OCFS and the people we serve. The new laws are:

Fictive Kin (A.8059/S6405): The law allows "fictive kin" who presently may be deemed to be a relative foster parent for KinGAP purposes to petition the court to have a child placed with them as a relative foster parent under the Family Court Act.

Services for Relative and Non-Relative Kinship Caregivers (A.569/S.2714): This law expands upon the current statutory requirements for what written information local social services districts must provide to relative caregivers in relation to whether they decide to be kinship foster parents or care for the child outside of the foster care system.

Training for Direct Care Workers in Adverse Childhood Experiences (A.4268/S.2659): This law mandates that direct care workers in residential domestic violence programs have training in in adverse childhood experiences.

Expanded Duty for OCFS in RHY (A3619-A/S.1481-A): This law expands the training requirements for employees of approved runaway and homeless programs concerning lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender runaway and homeless youth.

Tax Checkoff for Hoyt Trust Fund (A.2456/S.2503): This law creates a check off box on personal income tax return forms for the purpose of making a voluntary gift to the William B. Hoyt Memorial Children and Family trust fund for child abuse prevention.

Office of New Americans Executive Director Highlights Hispanic Heritage Month

ONA Executive Director Laura Gonzalez-Murphy addressing OCFS' Hispanic Heritage Celebration audience at home office

Laura Gonzalez-Murphy, Executive Director of the NYS Office of New Americans, shared her perspective on the current climate for Hispanic Americans and New Yorkers during the OCFS Hispanic Heritage Month celebration at home office on October 3. She also highlighted the services available through ONA.

Ms. Gonzalez-Murphy shared how much the OCFS and other Hispanic Heritage celebrations mean to her and told of how she felt unwelcome and as though she didn't belong when she first arrived in the country. She said these celebrations truly show how far we have come in embracing diversity.

Appointed by Governor Cuomo as director of the ONA in 2015, Gonzalez-Murphy is also the director of immigration policy and research at the NYS Department of State. She recalled managing tumultuous events, including the implementation of highly restrictive national policies affecting immigrants, and detailed her efforts to develop supportive programs to assist immigrants.

Event attendees also had the pleasure of experiencing a staff and youth fashion show and learning the cultural significance of the items on display.

White Cane Day Marks Independence for Blind and Visually Impaired

White Cane Safety Day is a national observance that has been celebrated on October 15 since 1964. On White Cane Day, we celebrate the achievements of people who are blind or visually impaired and recognize the important symbol of blindness and tool of independence, the white cane. The cane gives the ability to achieve a full life, as it allows safe and free movement from place to place - whether it's at work, at school or around neighborhoods.

On October 6, 1964, a joint resolution of the U.S. Congress was signed into law. This resolution authorized the president of the United States to proclaim October 15 of each year as "White Cane Safety Day." President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the first White Cane Safety Day proclamation within hours of the passage of the joint resolution, which included the idea that drivers approaching an intersection or crosswalk must yield the right of way to a pedestrian crossing the road with a guide dog or using a metallic or white cane, or a white cane with a red tip.

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo declared October 15, 2019, White Cane Awareness Day in New York. During the celebration, OCFS Commissioner Sheila J. Poole read from the Governor's proclamation. OCFS also recognized blind and visually impaired state residents whose success impacts the communities in which we live and work.

Resource Fair Shifts the OCFS Narrative

On October 17, 2019, OCFS' Albany Regional Office partnered with the New York State Department of Labor and Hudson Valley Community College to host the second annual Region IV Youth Resource Fair. The fair raised awareness among youth, young adults, and caregivers about supportive community programs and how to access them.

This year's 32 vendors provided information to 152 fair participants regarding educational advancement, employment and career development, financial literacy, health and wellness, LGBTQ issues, mentoring, life skills, and youth leadership. Participants represented nine local districts, voluntary agencies, and school districts.

Staff heard countless stories from attendees about their experiences with OCFS. One youth spoke about numerous placements in DJJOY facilities, grateful for services received, saying "OCFS changed my life." The youth is currently studying chemical dependency at HVCC so they can make a difference for others, as OCFS did for them. Several other participants inquired about OCFS and the services we offer, including youth who are already in OCFS care. The event provided an opportunity to shift the narrative often associated with OCFS and the child welfare system. Thank you to everyone who participated in and supported this year's event!

HSCC Hits the Five Million Call Mark!

Call Center Managers Kyle Daggett and Bill Lather flank Dechanira Acosta, the call center veteran who answered our five millionth call.

Halloween marked quite a milestone: The Human Services Call Center handled its five millionth call on October 31, 2019. What an accomplishment! Call Center representative Dechanira Acosta had the honors. The four millionth call was December 14 of last year, so the call center took one million calls in just 10 ½ months. That's about 100,000 calls each month!

A four-time recipient of the Times Union Top Workplaces Award, the HSCC began taking calls in 2013 and now assists 5,000 callers per day, covering 40+ programs across 10 New York State agencies. With a strong focus on customer service, the HSCC provides prompt service and consistent answers to New Yorkers via telephone, web chat and email. Thank you to every single call center representative. Without you, we literally could not serve our consumers. We appreciate your patience, professionalism, active listening and service.