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Kathy Hochul, Governor
Suzanne Miles-Gustave, Esq., Acting Commissioner
December 2019 — Vol. 4, No. 12

Message from the Commissioner

December is a special month for all of us, regardless of what holidays we celebrate or what traditions we embrace. It is a time of reflection on the past year and a time to prepare for the new year that is just around the corner. The short days, long nights and snowy weather make for a cozy time to be indoors with family and friends enjoying all that the season brings.

For those of us at OCFS, the past year has been marked with milestones and achievements – many of which seemed daunting at this time last year. We opened our beautiful new Human Services Training Center, implemented the second phase of the Raise the Age law, rolled out comprehensive background check regulations for child care, developed an online aid for localities working toward Family First Prevention Services Act implementation, helped more of the youth in our care earn college degrees and vocational certificates, celebrated the five millionth call at the Human Services Call Center and helped school children, domestic violence survivors, and young families through the generosity of OCFS employees. And those are just a few of the highlights of the past year.

The new year will bring us many new challenges, but it will also bring us many opportunities to better serve the children and families of New York State.

As we close out 2019, I want each and every one of you to know how very much I appreciate your determined efforts to fulfill our vital mission for the people we serve. I hope you will have some time to wind down, refresh and re-energize this month, before we tackle all that 2020 will bring. I am grateful that you are part of the OCFS team and confident in our collective ability to bring positive change to the lives of some of New York’s most vulnerable citizens. I wish you all the best through the season and into the new year.

Sheila J. Poole


$20 Million in Child Care Funding Awarded to Expand Subsidized Child Care in 17 Localities and add 2,500 New Slots Statewide

This week, New York State announced $20 million in federal funding to expand the Child Care Assistance program in New York State. Seventeen localities have been awarded funding to reduce or eliminate wait lists for subsidized child care or to fund innovative child care programming that will expand available child care slots. The funding is for child care services provided from now through September of 2021.

"No family should have to choose between working or having quality child care and no employer should lose workforce productivity due to a lack of affordable child care," the Governor said. "Investing in child care subsidies helps low-income families access regulated child care so they can go to their jobs knowing that their children are well cared for. Child care is as essential to our state's economy as it is to parents' peace of mind."

The Child Care Availability Task Force was created to examine innovative approaches to affordability and access to child care.

"I know how important affordable, reliable child care is for a woman who is trying to advance in the workplace but needs to know her children are in a safe, educational and nurturing environment," Lieutenant Governor and Co-Chair of the NYS Child Care Availability Task Force Kathy Hochul said. "Expanding the number of subsidized child care slots will increase employment opportunities for low-income families throughout the state."

OCFS Commissioner and Co-Chair of the NYS Child Care Availability Task Force Sheila J. Poole said, "Quality, affordable child care should never be a barrier for families participating in the workforce. This funding will further our goal of increasing available subsidized child care in high-need communities in all regions of our state."

The localities receiving the awards and the amounts are as follows:

County or Local Social Service District Award Amount
Administration for Children's Services - New York City $5,000,000
Broome $1,000,000
Erie $2,000,000
Essex $500,000
Franklin $500,000
Monroe $2,000,000
Montgomery $500,000
Nassau $2,000,000
Niagara $700,000
Oneida $1,000,000
Onondaga $1,000,000
Ontario $500,000
Orange $750,000
Rockland $1,000,000
Saratoga $1,000,000
Schoharie $50,000
Seneca $500,000
Statewide Total $20,000,000

Lower Manhattan District Office Employee Wins Award for Contributions to Visually Impaired

Pictured above are Paul and (L) the presenter, Joan Dulitz of the NYS Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired, and (R) Pamela Fallon, Teacher of the Visually Impaired of the NYC Department of Education, who is holding the letter Paul received from AER.

Paul Geraci, a vocational rehabilitation counselor/children’s consultant, in OCFS’s Lower Manhattan district office, recently received the prestigious Nat Seaman Recognition Award, presented by the New York State Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER).


This award is given to a deserving individual who has made outstanding contributions and utilizes best practices working with individuals who are visually impaired in New York State.

Paul was nominated because of his tireless efforts and professionalism for educating children through the New York State Commission for the Blind. He received many supporting letters from colleagues and other professionals who shared wonderful statements about the contributions he brings to the field of visual impairment.

OCFS Youth Advisory Board Making Their Mark

Commissioner Sheila J. Poole met recently with the OCFS Youth Advisory Board (YAB), which gives youth in care a voice to make a difference for other youths 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 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.

Members also attended the Chafee Alliance National Conference in Washington DC in August 2019 and the Youth Thrive Conference in New Orleans in November 2019. Members learned about independent living programs throughout other states and explored ways to incorporate youth voice into practice and policy.

The YAB has just completed two documents that are soon to be released for youth in care that serve as helpful tips sheets for youth, providing them with information on the Foster Care Bill of Rights and the responsibilities of the attorney for the youth.

Earlier this year, Westchester County kicked off the “No More Trash Bags Campaign” as result of awareness from the YAB at the Permanency Summit in 2018. One of the members spoke about what it felt like to put her belongings in a trash bag when she was being placed in a foster home. This emotional disclosure inspired Westchester County to provide canvas bags to youth who are entering foster care.

OCFS Marks Transgender Day of Remembrance

On November 20, OCFS marked Transgender Day of Remembrance, a national annual observance that honors the memory of the people whose lives were lost in acts of anti-transgender violence.

As a day to draw attention to the continued violence endured by people who are transgender, OCFS invited guest speakers and advocates who spoke very personally about their experiences, taught attendees “trans lingo” and read the names of those who lost their lives from anti-transgender violence over the past year.

Empire Fellow Nathaniel Gray (see photo) organized and led the discussion, which was sponsored by the OCFS Diversity Committee and the Youth Development and Partnerships for Success Division.

Permanency Summit: Transformative Practices in Family-Centered and Community-Based Care

Commissioner Sheila J. Poole addresses the crowd at last week’s Permanency Summit in Albany

The message to the annual Permanency Summit attendees: take the initiative to help families. That’s what OCFS Commissioner Sheila J. Poole told those gathered on December 4 at the Albany Capital Center for the 2019 Permanency Summit.

The summit acknowledged the importance of strong families and communities, and that preventing entry into foster care is the ideal permanency option. The two-day event gathered child advocates from around the state to share ideas and discuss progress being made in Albany and in regional offices. It focused on:

  • Constituent perspectives in supporting caregivers of high needs youth
  • Kinship options for judges and the family court
  • Blending funding streams to create robust community-based/preventative services programs
  • Aligning system change with other public funding systems

The commissioner spoke during the town hall discussion about the “challenging” work they are doing and said there is greater flexibility for each region than ever before. She added that OCFS holds itself accountable and “don’t be shy” to reach out.

Summit sessions included:

  • Assessing Your County’s Prevention Services Array
  • Best Practices in Community-based Prevention Services
  • Perspectives from Parent Advocates on What Works and Doesn’t with Prevention Programs
  • Expanding Multidisciplinary Legal Representation for Families of Origin
  • Effective Strategies in Supporting Teens’ Transitions back into Community and Family
  • Engaging the Faith-Based Community and Volunteers to Support Primary Prevention
  • Constituent Perspectives: How to Support Caregivers of High-Needs Youth
  • Effective Strategies to Ensure Timely Reunification
  • How to Align System Changes: Family First, Medicaid, Raise the Age, etc.
  • Kinship Options 101 for Judges and Family Court
  • Commissioner’s Town Hall

The meeting concluded with a standing ovation for a Hudson Valley couple who fostered 90 children over the years.

Westchester Director Awarded Membership with the Minority Professional Leadership Development Program

Thalia Wright

In her effort to reach out, respond to kids’ needs and be a friendly and familiar face, Thalia Wright is taking on a new challenge. The Westchester Regional Office Director for Child Welfare and Community Services has been accepted to the Minority Professional Leadership Development (MPLD) program.

The 12-month fellowship is designed for emerging leaders to work in direct service in the child welfare field. It’s a structured program that includes hands-on experience, exposure to national experts and mentorship opportunities.

Wright feels that with so many children of color – especially African American/Black, Hispanic and Native American – overrepresented in foster care, there need to be more ethnically, culturally and racially diverse leaders. Those leadership roles will help to build more trust in the child welfare system.

The fellowship, which is free, begins and ends in Washington, DC. However, most work will be online. Fellows will devote an average of 24 hours to the program each month, which culminates with the presentation of research projects and a graduation ceremony in Washington.

For Wright, it’s about transformational leadership to mirror our diversity, plus responding to needs and overcoming barriers faced by minority families. She hopes to do that through practice, mentoring and coaching. She says she’s “extremely excited about the opportunity.”

Have You Signed up For OCFS NY Alert?

Twelve inches of snow overnight? A major water main break? Sometimes emergencies happen. And when they do, you want to be in the know.

Please make sure that you’ve signed up for OCFS’s NY-Alert Emergency Messaging System, which allows us to contact employees at any time if there’s an emergency, safety risk or unexpected incident (such as a building closure). You can choose the method by which you’d like to be contacted.

OCFS NY-Alert is part of our ongoing commitment to providing a safe environment for staff as well as keeping employees informed during an emergency disruption.

Visit: hs.ocfs.ny.gov/ocfs-ny-alert

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