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Kathy Hochul, Governor
Dr. DaMia Harris-Madden, Acting Commissioner
March 2020 — Vol. 5, No. 3

Commissioner's Message

March is National Social Work Month, and at OCFS, we celebrate and are so grateful for our social workers whose talents and commitment benefit our mission in every corner of the agency.

This year’s theme is Social Workers: Generations Strong. As we enter a new decade, it is important to reflect upon, and honor the powerful, positive impact the social work profession has had on our society for generations and educate the public about the invaluable work that social workers do.

Social work is a profession that allows people to make a profound, positive impact on the lives of millions of people every day. So where do social workers make a difference here at OCFS? In our Division of Child Welfare and Community Services, for instance, social workers are an integral part of the support system for many children we work with. Their role to unify social relationships by building on quality and security is essential in helping families maintain children safely in their homes and helping those youth placed outside of their homes to achieve permanency.

In our Division of Youth Development and Partnerships for Success, social workers provide leadership for key statewide reform efforts on youth justice, runaway and homeless youth, trafficked youth, older youth in foster care and juvenile detention. They write legislation/regulations; synthesize social science and practice knowledge to improve outcomes for youth, young adults, families and communities; and work to identify and address racial, ethnic, gender, gender identity and sexual orientation inequities.

In OCFS’ Division of Juvenile Justice and Opportunities for Youth, social workers provide direct care to youth during individual and group treatment services, they work closely with other professional staff to guide treatment-focused interventions for youth, and they conduct outreach to families of the youth in our care. Social workers also oversee and supervise special treatment units to serve youth with mental health and substance abuse issues. In the community, our social workers work to coordinate treatment services for youth and families in their home communities.

Social workers help shape our society for the better, and we’re thankful for their role in providing services to empower our youth and families.

You will also find social workers throughout our communities – at social service agencies, in schools, in centers for veterans, in mental health and health care facilities, in corporations and in local, state and federal government to name a few. And social workers have been doing their laudable work for generations. For example, social reformer Jane Addams, former Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, and civil rights leaders Dorothy Height and Whitney Young helped Americans secure voting rights, Social Security, unemployment insurance and other programs.

Thinking about social workers reminds us that at OCFS, our staff experience some of the most challenging situations and do so with empathy and grace. Let’s not forget that social workers themselves can face traumatizing and upsetting circumstances that may cause them to need the kind of support that they lend to others.

All month, and every day, I encourage you to remember what demanding jobs many social workers have. Put yourselves in their shoes. Be kind, supportive and sympathetic. At some point in life, you may need to rely on a social worker. Let’s spread the word about the profession and the impact social workers have on New York State and beyond. And let’s be sure to take a moment to recognize our OCFS colleagues who serve in this role.

Sheila J. Poole


OCFS Responds to Coronavirus With Comprehensive Guidance

Numerous efforts and activities are underway at OCFS in response to the coronavirus. State agencies have been working around the clock to address the many issues that require attention. Senior OCFS leadership meets twice daily for internal briefings and to discuss necessary actions to prepare and respond to this event. Commissioner Sheila J. Poole also joins a daily Governor’s Office briefing. These intense efforts both here and at the highest levels of the Governor’s administration will continue.

Deputy commissioners have done extensive outreach to local districts and agencies to answer questions and assess needs. OCFS’ Office of Management Services has ensured that we have supplies on hand and will continue sanitation efforts throughout all of our offices and fleet. We’ve sent out several announcements and guidance documents to provide access to important information.

The spread of coronavirus has many concerned about our own health and the health of our families, those whom we serve and our communities. OCFS assures you that we will continue to provide ongoing communication and guidance as it becomes available. Please see these links for more information:

$40.2 Million Grant Awarded for Preschool Development, Birth Through Age 5

Grant award announcement group photo. Those pictured listed in caption.
OCFS Commissioner Sheila J. Poole and Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul announce a $40 million grant to the Council on Children and Families, along with New York State Regent Wade Norwood; Renee Rider, executive director of the Council; Angelica Degado-Perez, CEO of Ibero-American Early Childhood Services, a licensed day care center in Rochester; and Congressman Joe Morelle

On February 21, OCFS Commissioner Sheila J. Poole and Renee L. Rider, executive director of the Council on Children and Families (Council), alongside Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul and Congressman Joe Morelle in Rochester announced $40.2 million in funding for early childhood services to coordinate and strengthen New York’s early childhood system. The three-year Preschool Development Birth Through Five grant was awarded to the Council.

Since his time as New York State Assembly Majority Leader, Rep. Morelle has advocated for improving early childhood education.

“These grant funds will help us build on existing statewide early care and education initiatives that have been successful in improving outcomes for our youngest New Yorkers and their families,” said Rider. “I am excited about the opportunities going forward, especially related to bringing the education and health care sectors together to ensure our children are developmentally on track to be successful in school and beyond.”

“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 Commissioner 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.”

Rochester was chosen for the pilot program due to its city school district being one of the lowest performing in both New York state and the nation. The work done under the grant will address the need to align childcare, education, pre-kindergarten, Head Start, Early Head Start, early intervention and others. The event was held at Ibero Early Childhood Services, a licensed day care center.

Celebrating Black History Month Across the State With Drumming, Dance, Artwork, Historical Presentations and More

2020 is a Landmark Year

OCFS offices around the state marked Black History Month in a variety of ways – from art to performance to discussing the black vote.

In Brooklyn, the Statewide Family Partnership Committee (SFPC) and Brooklyn Community Multi-Service Office created an art and print display in the Shirley Chisholm State Office Building. Chisholm was the first black woman elected to Congress and the first woman to run for President of the United States.

Some of the artwork was created by Alice Tapia, OCFS family support liaison and SFPC co-chair; Vernel Glanville, SFPC family support liaison and acting chairperson; TY-Quaisia Rippey, SFPC associate youth member; and committee family members.

In Goshen, youth took part in a very moving program that travelled from the Underground Railroad to the recently deceased Kobe Bryant. It included music, poetry, guest speakers and a luncheon.

Felicia Reid, director of OCFS’ Office of the Ombudsman, held the attention of a standing-room-only crowd on February 14 in Home Office. Her engaging, interactive and informative slide presentation brought attendees on a ride full of pride, and sorrow, as she offered insights on the history of the black vote and the civil rights movement.

The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the 15th Amendment (the right to vote for Black men), the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment (the right to vote for some women) and the 55th anniversary of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (prohibits racial and language discrimination in voting). Felicia’s presentation included discussing Bloody Sunday and Martin Luther King, Jr., the issue of gerrymandering to block the black vote and Shirley Chisholm.

Youth in the care of OCFS shared their multi-media projects ranging from African drumming to dancing to presentations about famous black people in history.

Reid also hosted a “Coffee Culture and Conversation” Black History Month event on February 25 about youth perspectives and futures. The topic was A History of Interference: African Americans and the Vote.

New Associate Commissioner for Implementation and Accountability in the Division of Child Welfare and Community Services

On February 20, OCFS welcomed Gail Geohagen-Pratt as the new associate commissioner for implementation and accountability in the Division of Child Welfare and Community Services.

Gail will lead the implementation of New York’s Family First Prevention Services Act state plan. She will also be responsible for implementing the division’s strategic plan to improve safety and permanency outcomes for youth and the implementation of a quality assurance model to improve service delivery and child welfare outcomes statewide.

Gail brings more than 20 years of experience in child welfare. She held several positions in the Albany County Department for Children, Youth and Families, including deputy commissioner and, most recently, commissioner. Gail holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the State University of New York at Albany.

Child Care Task Force Meets at HSTC

OCFS hosted a meeting of the Child Care Availability Task Force at the Human Services Training (HSTC) Center on February 25.

Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul was a welcome surprise as she impressed the group with her commitment to the Task Force’s goals. Established in late 2018 as part New York State's Women's Agenda, the group of experts is focused on developing innovative solutions for improved access to quality, affordable child care in New York.

Among the topics discussed was the announcement of a nearly $247,000 grant for Healthy Kids in Poughkeepsie to expand its apprenticeship program and provide additional early learning services for young people in the area. Roberta Reardon, commissioner of the Department of Labor, and her task force co-chairs, Hochul and OCFS Commissioner Sheila J. Poole, made the announcement.

A full report on recommendations is due at year’s end.

Following the meeting, Beth McCarthy, director of the HSTC, led a guided tour of the state-of-the-art facility. Hochul was impressed and said the space would be first-rate to hold events in the future.

Blind Cheerleader Defies the Odds

image of Bianca McEvoy
Bianca McEvoy (Photo: CBSN New York)

Bianca McEvoy is a legally blind cheerleader who thrives on jumping, tumbling and being tossed in the air to the very top of a pyramid of peers.

A participant in the OCFS’ Commission for the Blind Long Island district office, Bianca does not let her blindness hold her back. In fact, the Oyster Bay High School cheerleading team recently went to the national championships and placed in the top 10 in their division.

Bianca’s condition was caused by albinism, which is a lack of pigment in the eyes, skin and hair. She says she relies on other senses – what she can hear and feel – to nail tumbling routines, while also relying on the pattern of her hands and feet hitting the mat.

Check out these links below to see some incredible footage of Bianca in action.

It’s Time to Stand Up and Be Counted

If you haven’t already heard, 2020 is a census year, and there’s a big push to make sure that everyone in New York State is counted. According to Jim Malatras, co-chair of NYS Complete Count Commission, every element of your daily life is affected by the census.

In just the past four years, New York has sent more in taxes and fees to the federal government – $116 billion – than it has received in programs, funds and grants due to its decreased population count in 2010. New York was the #1 donor state since 2015. The money is spent on schools, hospitals, roads, public works and other vital programs.

This year’s census theme is “Every New Yorker Counts,” and New York is putting its money where its mouth is – spending $70 million in 2020 compared to just $2 million in 2010 to get the word out.

“Forty-five percent of kids younger than five are at risk of not being counted,” said OCFS Commissioner Sheila J. Poole, who recently attended a pre-count conference with other state leaders. Other hard-to-count groups include households without internet, populations below the poverty line, households aged 65 or older, renter-occupied households, black and Hispanic communities, Native Americans, immigrant communities and limited-English speakers.

  • The idea is that the Census counts every person living in the U.S. once, only once, and in the right place.
  • The results of the Census are used to reapportion the House of Representatives, determining how many seats each state gets. After 2010, New York lost two seats.
  • After each decade’s Census, state officials redraw the boundaries of the congressional and state legislative districts in their states to account for population shifts.
  • The distribution of more than $675 billion in federal funds, grants and support to states, counties and communities are based on Census data.

Census materials will be mailed or delivered to every household in America on March 12, 2020. People can respond online, by mail or over the phone, and can use the language they’re most comfortable writing or speaking in. Follow up to non-responses will begin in May, and the results will be delivered to the president in December. All identifying information is confidential and protected by federal law.

Donations Needed for Child Abuse Prevention Month

We hope you have added some blue to your wardrobe because in just a few short weeks, we will be marking Child Abuse Prevention Month in April (and blue is the official color for the cause).

As part of this, you will see donation boxes at the home office and the regional offices for children’s centers in the family courts. The statewide effort will collect things like washable markers, crayons, books, Paw Patrol and PJ Masks toys, kinetic sand, board games, musical instruments, play dough, and glue sticks and other crafts for artwork for the children’s centers. We’re planning to present the donations on Monday, April 20.

The OCFS committee has events planned throughout the month of April, including:

  • Friday, April 3: National Wear Blue Day
  • Tuesday, April 7: Pinwheel planting. For more than a decade, the pinwheel has been the symbol for preventing child abuse. Pinwheels are all about whimsy and childlike notions, and they serve as a reminder of great childhoods.

Please remember Child Abuse Prevention all through April. Follow OCFS on Twitter and Facebook and the related hashtag: #GreatChildhoodsNY.

2020 Capital District Physician’s Health Plan (CDPHP) Workforce Team Challenge is May 21

Get your running or walking shoes on.

The CDPHP® Workforce Team Challenge is a 3.5-mile road race open to teams of employees from corporations, businesses, government agencies, educational institutions, not-for-profit corporations and financial institutions. OCFS will again be hosting a team to compete at this event. Runners, joggers and walkers are invited to participate.

The event is used as a platform to provide health and fitness opportunities in the workplace while promoting goodwill and camaraderie among employees.

Race proceeds benefit the non-profit Hudson-Mohawk Road Runners Club and the organizations selected annually as the charities of choice.

OCFS will facilitate a 10-week “Couch to Workforce Running Plan” program beginning March 16, 2020, and will also facilitate a seven-week “Couch to Workforce Walking Plan” beginning April 6, 2020. Both plans are to help to get you in shape for the race on May 21, 2020.

An OCFS team t-shirt will be created for race participants as well as to those who don’t participate but would like a team t-shirt. Each year, OCFS features a different division on the t-shirt, and this year the Commission for the Blind is featured. There will also be a t-shirt contest held at the event, so this is a great way to promote our agency!

If you would like to register for the race as part of the OCFS team, the cost is $25 plus the cost of the t-shirt. For additional information on the pre-event training programs, purchasing a t-shirt or registering for the race, please contact: Sonoma Pelton at (518) 408-6074 or Sonoma.Pelton@ocfs.ny.gov, or Alana Streifert at (518) 474-9606 or Alana.Streifert@ocfs.ny.gov.