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Kathy Hochul, Governor
Dr. DaMia Harris-Madden, Acting Commissioner
February 2020 — Vol. 5, No. 2

Commissioner's Message

February has arrived, the Governor’s Executive Budget proposal is out, our state budget hearing is behind us and the groundhog predicts an early spring...

February is off and running. This month marks Black History Month, appropriately themed “African Americans and the Vote” in this presidential election year. This month also marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote, and the 150th anniversary of the 15th amendment that granted black men the right to vote.

The “African Americans and the Vote” theme reminds us of the importance of civic engagement. As government workers, we are already engaged in our communities and state. But our commitment should go beyond the duties of our employment. It is crucial that we all vote. No matter your politics, as a citizen, your voice needs to be heard. You bring a unique perspective, and your thoughts and opinions are relevant in public discourse, from a local neighborhood meeting to a national issue. Volunteering is another vitally important form of civic engagement, whether it be in mentoring, providing respite for foster families, walking dogs at an animal shelter or picking up trash to keep community streets clean.

Perhaps a less obvious form of civic engagement involves the upcoming census. We must make sure every New Yorker is counted. New York State has lost congressional seats in the latest census counts due to undercounts, and we do not want this to happen again. Each seat we lose diminishes our influence over important federal policy decisions. An undercount could also cost us billions in federal funding.

As both public servants and engaged members of our communities, I encourage us all to find ways to get involved. Vote. Reassure all New Yorkers that it is safe to be counted in the census. Find ways to spread your good work and strong voice in your community and beyond. As human service workers, we bring a special perspective. Make sure your voice is heard.

Sheila J. Poole


DJJOY Commissioner Honored for Leadership and Dedication

Congratulations came pouring in when we posted this picture of Ines Nieves, deputy commissioner of the Division of Juvenile Justice and Opportunities for Youth (DJJOY), on our OCFS social media accounts.

During a winter conference, Ines was presented with a beautiful clock as a thank you for her time, leadership and dedication to the Council of Juvenile Justice Administrators (CJJA). Joining her (center) are Lisa Bjergaard, CJJA’s president, and Michael P. Dempsey, CJJA’s executive director.

CJJA is a national non-profit formed in 1994 to improve local juvenile correctional services, programs and practices. It’s a think-tank and clearing house so leaders can hear ideas, review reforms and propose new concepts – all with the goal of helping youth within the system develop and succeed. Together, they can share and tackle big problems.

“We get a voice out there,” Nieves said from her office in Rensselaer. “For example, we look at therapeutic models and trauma-based models.

“Recently, we’ve been looking at placement of LGBTQ kids plus policies and how they are treated.” CJJA represents the youth correctional CEOs in 50 states, Puerto Rico and major metropolitan counties.

“It’s great to get together because this is a hard business,” Nieves said. “We are constantly making decisions about young people’s lives.”

The honor was bestowed upon Ines’ last conference with the group as an OCFS employee. She will be greatly missed when she retires from OCFS at the end of April.

Michelle Obama’s Brother Inspires at Goshen Secure
Discusses work ethic, purposeful education and accountable action.

Craig Robinson, vice president for player and organizational development for the New York Knicks – and Michelle Obama’s brother – recently visited Goshen Secure Center as a guest speaker. A former college basketball player, coach and broadcaster, Robinson shared experiential anecdotes before fielding questions from the audience.

Engaging the residents throughout with a message of self-actualization, Robinson focused on the mantra that “everything we do is important.” He implored the residents to pursue their passion through a dogged work ethic, purposeful education and accountable action. At the end of his visit, Robinson mentioned to residents that he might return to attend a Goshen Lions basketball game.

Born and raised in the greater Chicago area, Robinson was a star forward for the Princeton University Tigers and a successful bond trader and investment banker on Wall Street before returning to the game he loves as a coach for Northwestern University, Brown University and Oregon State University. In the season before joining the Knicks, Robinson was the vice president for player and organizational development for the Milwaukee Bucks.

OCFS Offers Presentations to Counties, Staff at NYPWA Conference
“Pride” Shines Through

While you might think of a Scotsman on horseback when you hear the term “Braveheart,” it actually refers to a lion, according to Jessica Grimm, director of Braveheart Services at The Children’s Village in New York City, during her welcome address at the 151st New York Public Welfare Association (NYPWA) conference January 21-24.

She asked those gathered: “How many of you in this room have experienced a night outside homeless?” She knew the answer.

The Children’s Village works to help society’s most vulnerable children. Grimm explained how the Braveheart lion logo is empowering for her kids. The logo’s left eye has the silhouette of New York State, the right eye an adult holding the hand of child.

“All of you in this room have the ability to rise up and help,” she continued.

A group of lions is called a “pride” and that’s indeed how her kids feel when they are together.

“So, like a group of lions,” Grimm said, “we are a group of young people who use our voices together, and we know that there’s power in collective healing.”

OCFS Commissioner Sheila Poole also presented at the workshop, noting that the recently released state budget projection “continues to provide a stable base of funding for all program areas including child care, child welfare and youth justice.”

“The proposed budget includes continuation of the Family First transition fund that brought a pool of funding to districts in last year’s enacted budget to help all of us prepare for the law next year,” she said. “We have a newly proposed $5 million pilot project to help us in New York test out new models of using survivor-based supports for victims of domestic violence, and we’re really excited about that.”

OCFS staff were part of eight breakout sessions including “Implementation of Child Care and Development Block Grants,” “PINS Reform,” “New Child Welfare Legislation” and “Strategies to Improve Case Worker Recruitment, Selection and Retention.”

Overall, NYPWA offered up ideas, suggestions, tools and text to deal with new issues in 2020 and beyond.

88 Employees Statewide Honored for Milestone Years

Long-term employees were honored throughout the state. Above is a group shot from the home office.

Maria Sorriento played “eenie meenie miney mo” when deciding to take the plunge with New York State. That was four decades ago.

Maria Sorriento honored for 40 years.

But she was a quick study and now marks 40 years in government, currently as administrative assistant to Derek Holtzclaw, OCFS’ deputy commissioner for the Division of Administration and Finance.

“Either take a job with the state or go to college,” she said. “I knew nothing about state government.”

“I’ve worked with a lot of wonderful people over the years. I’m always learning something,” Sorriento said and joked, “I’ve never paid for parking.”

Nadeen Briggs honored for 35 years.

Honored on January 16 during the “Length of Service Ceremony,” Sorriento was one of three OCFS employees to mark 40 years, including Christopher Covas and Ronald Domenech. They were only surpassed by Shirley Pickman, who notched 45 years. She worked for the Commission for the Blind as a senior vocational rehabilitation counselor, retiring at the end of 2019.

Similar events were held statewide, including in Westchester where Nadeen Briggs celebrated 35 years of service with OCFS. She received a certificate and flowers to thank her for her years of dedication.

“We are extremely lucky to have her, and can I say, 35 years...WOW!” added Thalia Wright, regional director.

In Buffalo, they honored DCCS licensor Tanya Miles for 25 years of state service. She received a certificate of recognition, a bouquet of flowers and treats during a staff meeting.

Congratulations to all staff who celebrated milestone years:

Shirley K. Pickman
Christopher M. Covas, Ronald Domenech and Maria Sorriento
James Briggs, Nadeen Briggs, Darryl H. Miller, Geri E. Mitchell, Joanne Russotti, Reuven Simons, Annie M. Stephens and Eric M. Townsend
Ingrid Blair, Gregory K. Blue, Christopher M. Bruno, Sandra M. Bryson, Darrin T. Culver, Donald P. Horn, Rhonda Jangro, Josephine M. Kamya, Wendy L. Kendziora, Beverly A. King, Michael L. Knauer, Lisa R. Latterell, Patrick J. McCormick, Kevin P. Mee, Eliezer Morales, James A. Ogden, Lezley L. Taylor, Daniel M. Tiska, Joe Waite, Diane C. Warner, Richard D. Wheeler and James I. Wynn, Jr.
Venita L. Barnett, Shubert A. Broomfield, Jeffrey R. Calkins, Daniel E. Comins, Jay W. Cook, Mary B. Conlin-Tailleur, Barbara J. Coonradt, Elvis Coward, Howard C. Crawford, Jr., Devin D. Cusher, Brian S. Daniels, Jason A. Dunham, Joseph Edmond, David A. Eyres, Regina A. Fields, Robert L. Foulks, Barbara G. Gregorek, Deborah Herrington, Stacy B. Hilliard, Derek J. Holtzclaw, Ivan L. Johnson, Lawrence D. Johnson, Jr., Kwan M. Jordan, Scot Lamphier, Barham Lashley, Greg A. Maisch, Michael J. McCullough, Thomas A. McGhee, Jr., Luis Mercado, Robert C. Meyer, Greg M. Microni, Tanya D. Miles, Janice M. Miller, Theresa A. Mogavero, Joseph E. Mullen, Matthew G. Murray, Adam A. Nartowicz, Carl W. Nussbaum, Galen R. Pell, James C. Price, Melinda Rivera, Thomas L. Royal, Joanne E. Ruppel, Carolyn E. Russell, Shannon J. Shultis, Ronald L. Simmons, Michael A. Slade, Frank A. Tamburro, Joseph E. Tomassone, Vera F. Vieira, Lieta Y. Washington, Jay Weinstein, Kevin Williams and John J. Wilson

Human Trafficking Awareness Month Sheds Light on Vulnerable

Madeline Hehir, director of OCFS’ health and well-being with Youth Development and Partnerships for Success

January was Human Trafficking Awareness Month, and the Office of Children and Family Services raised awareness through social media and face-to-face meetings, including a recent “Safe Harbour” breakfast in Chemung County.

Trafficking is the trade of humans for the purpose of forced labor, sexual slavery or commercial sexual exploitation. It does not discriminate and can impact every community, race, socio-economic strata, education level and age?

OCFS provides funding, technical assistance, tools and training that, in turn, support counties, foster care agencies, runaway and homeless youth programs, probation departments and other state agencies to comprehensively address child trafficking.

Madeline Hehir, director of OCFS’ health and well-being with Youth Development and Partnerships for Success, presented at the breakfast. She explained how New York State enacted the Safe Harbour for Exploited Children Act in 2008 in a few parts of the state and that now, a decade later, all 62 state counties participate, with 29 fully funded.

With state backing, local “critical teams” are built to map out and analyze trafficking, develop a plan, identify victims and offer services. Additionally, they can develop public awareness campaigns, offer support and collect data.

New York is one of the top five states where human trafficking occurs, according to The National Human Trafficking Resource Center. Some of those most at-risk are youth and young adults who are homeless, runaways or unstably housed. Often, traffickers identify and leverage victims’ vulnerabilities to create dependence.

Besides Hehir, the guest speaker in Chemung County was author Savannah Sanders, a leading advocate in the effort to stop human trafficking who has been involved in anti-trafficking training since 2010.

Sanders said, “Realizing their best and most amazing potential in getting to know their authentic selves through validation, support, love and lots and lots of trauma…there’s no way you can get rid of trauma just by talking about it. It has to be deeper than that.”

She explained that you must work through it with survivors. “Sometimes safety is meeting someone at a McDonald’s.”

If you suspect an adult or child is being victimized, report it to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 888-373-7888 or by texting 233733. If you suspect criminal activity, notify law enforcement.

For more information, visit ocfs.ny.gov/programs/human-trafficking/ and ocfs.ny.gov/programs/youth/rhy/.

Executive Budget Update

This year's Executive Budget proposal was released on January 21. It includes funding for several OCFS priorities and new initiatives. The budget:

  • Maintains OCFS funding just above last year’s levels to support our core child welfare, child care and juvenile justice programs, while investing in new initiatives to better serve New York’s children and families.
  • Adds $50 million to support Raise the Age implementation, for a total of $250 million in the coming fiscal year.
  • Expands the Empire State Child Tax Credit to provide $157 million in relief to 400,000 families who have children under the age of four and who earn up to $50,000 a year.
  • Maintains its commitment of nearly $832 million for child care subsidies – the highest level of investment in state history serving more than 100,000 low-income families with 170,000 children.
  • Expands access to quality after school programming by adding $10 million for a fourth round of Empire After School Program grants.
  • Adds $5 million for a new funding pilot program to explore innovative models and provide greater flexibility in meeting the needs of families affected by domestic violence.
  • Continues $3 million in funding for the Family First Prevention Services Act transition fund. It also provides authorization to spend up to $75 million new, one-time federal funds we received through our aggressive lobbying efforts in Washington. This new funding includes up to $50 million for the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) in New York City.