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Kathy Hochul, Governor
Suzanne Miles-Gustave, Esq., Acting Commissioner
January 2020 — Vol. 5, No. 1

Commissioner's Message

I wish you all a happy new year filled with success and fulfillment. The year 2020 is like a blank notebook in which we can map out our goals and projects for the coming year on fresh pages. It is also a time to set resolutions — hopefully some that we can keep.

Home office staff have been posting their resolutions about how to better serve children and families on bulletin boards in the building lobbies. I hope regional, facility, call center, training center and all staff throughout the state will do the same exercise by taking a moment to think about what we can do to better meet the needs of children and families.

Staff have vowed to listen more, to be kinder, to work harder to find permanency for children available for adoption, to volunteer in the community, to help a child turn into a successful adult, to name a few of the resolutions. Martin Luther King Jr. Day — the National Day of Service — falls on the 20th of this month. Perhaps that date will provide an opportunity to fulfill a pledge of service. It is a “day on” when we do not report to the office but engage in an activity that moves us closer to Dr. King’s vision of a “Beloved Community” bound together by respect and understanding.

Dr. King saw himself as a servant of humanity, much like we are public servants of the children and families of New York State. “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny,” he said. “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Like Dr. King, let us also embrace the value of service to others, so together we can make our state a more equitable place for all, especially vulnerable children, older New Yorkers, children in foster care, families seeking safe and regulated child care, and youth who are residing in our facilities. Our service has the potential to transform tumultuous lives into more stable ones where success is achievable and affects us all.

Let’s make our renewed commitment to our agency’s mission and work in January to set the course and tone for the next year of our service to the children, adults, families and communities we serve in our great state.

Sheila J. Poole


New York State Council on Children and Families Wins $40M Grant for Early Childhood System

The New York State Council on Children and Families was awarded a $40.2 million federal grant to coordinate and strengthen the early childhood system for New York State in late December.

The three-year “Preschool Development Grant Birth Through Five” from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families will provide $13.4 million in each of the next three years.

“This grant will bolster our early childhood programs and bring a full complement of services to children,” said the Governor.

The grant will expand access to high-quality early care and education programs by sharing best practices and engaging parents as leaders. It aligns child care, pre-kindergarten, Head Start, preschool special education, home visiting and early intervention and enables families to access equitable and comprehensive care.

“A high-quality, enriching and nurturing learning environment in the early years promotes children’s development and success later in life, building a strong future for our state,” said OCFS Commissioner Sheila J. Poole. “Every parent deserves to go to work with the peace of mind that their children are safe, well-cared-for and on the path to learning-readiness and success.”

Over the next three years, the NYS Council, Early Childhood Advisory Council, OCFS, New York State Education Department, New York State Office of Mental Health and other child-serving stakeholders will continue to partner with parents and providers for more efficient, high-quality programs.

Many of this grant’s partners are members of the Governor’s Early Childhood Advisory Council and the Governor’s Child Care Availability Task Force. The work will complement the Task Force’s goals of decreasing child care deserts and working with families to assess and meet their early child care and education needs.

OCFS to Launch Parent Advisory Board

New York has until 2021 to implement the provisions of the Family First Prevention Service Act, a major federal child welfare reform that incentivizes keeping families together after abuse or neglect claims, and disincentivizes placements in group homes and congregate care.

OCFS is developing a Parent Advisory Board (PAB) consisting of birth, foster (kin and non-relative) and adoptive parents, and kinship caregivers to gain input by those most affected by the changes. The PAB will give voice to:

  • Parents/caregivers who are involved in the child welfare system
  • Foster parents (kin and non-relative) who are supporting and caring for a child in foster care
  • Adoptive parents who have adopted a child who was in foster care
  • Kinship caregivers who are caring for a relative’s child

OCFS seeks parental feedback on experiences with the child welfare system and recommendations for improving the system and will facilitate implementation of state and federal initiatives to improve safety, permanency and well-being for children and families.

The PAB will consist of 15 members or fewer, and all members must currently be or previously have been involved with the child welfare system as parents, kin/foster parents or adoptive parents, or caring for a relative’s child. Members will represent each region of the state and reflect the constellation of families involved in child welfare. PAB members are asked to serve a three-year commitment and will be compensated for their time and travel.

Parents interested in serving on the board must apply by January 24.

Get an application.

Buffalo Regional Office Presents on “Child Care Action Day”

Buffalo Regional Office on Child Care Action Day presenters - named in caption
Pictured (l-r): Licensors Andrea Weichmann-Duggan and Candice Thompson of Buffalo Regional Office Criminal Background Clearance team, Regional Manager Pat Harper and Comprehensive Background Clearance Team Supervisor Dennis Huff.

As the days ticked down to the end of the 2019, there was plenty to do, and for Pat Harper, Buffalo regional office manager, that included a presentation for the local “Child Care Action Day” on December 14.

Attendees included the media and approximately three dozen child care providers, including members of the Child Care Availability Task Force, established as part of the Governor’s 2018 Women’s Agenda. The task force focuses on developing innovative solutions for improved access to quality, affordable child care in New York.

Harper and her OCFS team — Supervisor Dennis Huff and Licensors Candice Thompson and Andrea Weichmann-Duggan — tackled issues and questions head-on.

“We came to provide clarity,” Harper said. “We are committed to supporting child care programs with information and guidance in complying with state regulations.”

In the coming months, the Buffalo office has more presentations scheduled. Among the topics:

  • Tips on how to have a successful licensing visit. The session promises to provide strategies to help child care providers be prepared for inspections. It will include explanation of a licensor’s role. If a provider feels that there is an error, they need to follow the chain of command — licensor, supervisor, regional manager — to seek resolution.
  • Overview of the federally mandated comprehensive background clearance requirements and the new state regulations. Providers have a voice in formulating background clearance requirements and regulations during a public comment period. While the current public comment period has ended, OCFS may modify the regulations in response to the comments. If that happens, those revisions will also be available for public comment before they become final.

Legislative Update

  • The Governor vetoed the Child Care Cost Estimation bill (A580/S245-A; Veto #197 of 2019): This bill would have required OCFS, in conjunction with the market rate setting process, to conduct a new study and analysis on the actual cost to child care providers of providing care and to issue a report every two years. The Governor vetoed the bill because it failed to identify a source for the funding that would be needed for its implementation.
  • The Governor vetoed the youth re-entry into foster care bill (A7941/S6472; Veto #203 of 2019): This bill would have expanded eligibility to re-enter foster care as a young adult for youth between the ages of 18 and 21 who left foster care after turning 16, and for youth who were formerly placed in secure or limited-secure juvenile justice placement, if the child is homeless or at risk of homelessness. In his veto message, the Governor supported the goal of providing appropriate services to young adults at risk of homelessness but noted that the bill could be read to require placement of persons formerly placed in secure or limited-secure juvenile justice facilities back into such settings, which would be inappropriate and unconstitutional. Additionally, the Governor noted that the bill would have provided a right to residential foster care services without considering other services that may be more effective to address the person’s needs and would enact a significant unfunded mandate on localities without providing specific funds to support the additional costs.
  • The Governor signed the so-called “Roommate bill” into law. (A4258/S4339; Chapter #624 of 2019): This bill clarifies that the preventive services housing subsidy can be provided to a family or child regardless of whether they live with roommates.

Crafty DJJOY Kids an Annual Hit

Freezing temperatures and an overturned tractor trailer on the highway leading to the Office of Children and Family Services couldn’t stop a traditional show of handiwork and hard work.

It was the annual holiday craft showcase from DJJOY students on December 11 where it was “see and sell” just before the holidays. Throughout the semester, DJJOY teachers explained and reviewed safety and fundamentals for tools, and then the students make their projects. Items included things made from 3D printers, converted shelving wood, great family recipes and a hot decal press.

“It’s an effort to remember their family through recipes,” said Andrew Bucci, a vocational teacher who oversaw the project of a creative cookbook with some 40 recipes. The book included everything from chicken wings to grilled cheese to cranberry pie. They made a few to test them out and then published their book.

The students made beautiful end tables from maple and walnut, oak and cherry, which were sold by silent auction.

Another station offered personalized ready-to-order wares – long-sleeve t-shirts, sweatshirts, hooded-sweatshirts and mugs – at half the price of a retail giant. They created designs digitally, and in about 30 seconds, you had a gift, some with a dog or cat wishing you a “Hairy Holiday.”

“Graphic design all in a nutshell, plus using it for music or other entertainment aspects,” said Nikki Jo Rotolo, a recreation specialist.

Youth from the Red Hook Residential Center made cutting boards. Brookwood residents took old pine shelves and palettes, planed them down and used the wood to create card holders, large candy canes and candle décor.

Also featured were plant boxes, Bonsai trees, magnets, garden stepping stones, and cookies and pretzels from The Cookie Shack at “MacCormick Mac-Shack.” It was a good way to find a gift and support students learning a craft.

2019 Holidays at Goshen Secure Center

Local churches singing holiday songs alongside YMCA volunteers.

What is a holiday season without lovely decorations around the building and a bit of home cooking? Goshen Secure’s wonderful kitchen staff did it again with a celebratory luncheon that included some holiday favorites with all the trimmings and great desserts that staff brought in. Staff and residents sat together to partake and celebrate the holiday season.

Goshen Secure staff with presents
Goshen Secure staff Marilyn Jackson, Pastor Scharlise Dorsey, A.D. Stash and A.D. Johnson display holiday gifts for residents.

And what is the holiday without some music and song? Choir singers from various local churches along with local YMCA volunteers have sung seasonal songs at the center for the past three years. This year, everyone sang along, and the volunteer group reminded the residents that they are not forgotten.

Residents playing recreational games Residents playing recreational games
Residents playing recreational games.

Pastor Scharlise Dorsey from a local church brought holiday gifts for each resident, which included a wall calendar, lip balm, candy and more.

During the weeks of the holidays, recreation staff created a program to keep residents busy with a healthy dose of competition. The activities included basketball and tennis games and tournaments, a “longest toss” football competition, a bench press contest, an air hockey and ping pong competition, an Xbox tournament, a chess club competition and a movie night.

And the center didn’t forget New Year’s Eve. A special menu was served, and on January 2, the basketball team “12 Rock” played the Goshen Lions, one of the enhancement programs.

New York State Permanency Summit Focuses on Connecting Prevention and Permanency

Conference attendees
Photo courtesy of the Redlich Horwitz Foundation

More than 180 leaders from 16 state counties attended the annual New York State Permanency Summit held in Albany in December. This year’s theme was “Transformative Practices in Family-Centered and Community Care: Connecting Prevention and Permanency Practice.”

In collaboration with the Office of Children and Family Services, the event was sponsored by Casey Family Programs and the Redlich Horwitz Foundation. Attendees included representatives from local social services departments, Family Court, community preventive agencies, caregivers and advocates.

The keynote address by Dr. Roy Wade, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, focused on how the intersection between childhood poverty and adverse childhood experiences impact the child welfare system.

The summit highlighted services and strategies to prevent unnecessary entries into foster care. Informative workshops included:

  • How to Assess Your County’s Prevention Services Array
  • Constituent Perspectives: What Works and Doesn’t in Prevention Programs
  • Kinship Option 101 for Judges and Family Court
  • Engaging the Faith-Based Community and Volunteers to Support Primary Prevention
  • Best Practices in Prevention: Partnering with Families in Community Change Initiatives
  • Leading Through Change: 10 Hacks to Accelerate Progress and Overcome Resistance
  • Court Improvement Project’s Permanency Mediation and the 5 Ws
  • Constituent Perspectives: Supporting Caregivers of High-Needs Youth

Attendees also had an opportunity to experience hands-on sessions that provided concrete strategies to meet a county’s goals to reduce placements in congregate care settings placements and increase the number of youth in certified kinship care. And following a town hall with OCFS Commissioner Sheila Poole and Deputy Commissioner Lisa Ghartey Ogundimu, counties attended sessions where they shared their progress with one another and collaborated on methods to overcome implementation barriers.

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