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

Commissioner's Message

This June brings a new season and a new chapter in our recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic as we begin our slow and calculated return to work under the “new normal.” While we are in no way out of the woods and must proceed with caution, as of June 8, all regions of the state will be reopened, allowing us to carefully begin our return to the workplace. I want to thank the OCFS Forward team for all its planning and work in making this happen, and I look forward to seeing you all again.

This month brings various noteworthy occasions to OCFS, including Juneteenth, which recognizes slavery’s abolition in 1865, and LGBTQ Pride Month, both of which we will observe with wonderful virtual events. And we can’t forget Father’s Day – thank you to all OCFS fathers, adoptive fathers, father figures and foster fathers for your time and dedication towards the children around you.

Remarkable OCFS staff

On June 20, the longest day of the year arrives with the summer solstice. While every day may seem long these days, this is indeed the longest day and shortest night, as we begin the decrease of daylight to the winter solstice.

We all continue to fight the good fight, day in and day out, and I’m so grateful to our remarkable OCFS staff. Despite these past months with most of us working from home, we’ve been issuing guidance, maintaining the quality of our programs and ensuring the safety of all children and families we assist. And I especially thank those essential staff who have continued to serve the children and families who rely on us and the volunteers who served outside of their normal responsibilities to help those in need.

Our divisions have also been busy with some noteworthy activities:

  • The Commission for the Blind worked diligently to establish a college-level program to train the next generation of vision rehabilitation specialists. SUNY Empire State College recently approved the program and will provide free faculty consultation to help refine the draft curriculum and launch the educational program within months.
  • Brookwood Secure Center has new therapeutic recreation groups, including yoga and interpersonal effectiveness groups. The combined effort between recreation and the support teams has been successful to gain youth buy-in and further advance the NY Model Treatment Modalities.
  • On the child care front, OCFS hosted webcasts in May titled “United in Hope: Caring for Children and Child Care Providers” where providers received messages of hope and support from regulators in all regions of the state. The webcast ended with a Provider Appreciation Day video that was created to recognize and honor the role provider’s play in the lives of our children. Almost 1,400 providers participated across the sessions.
  • And some exciting and uplifting news for our Child Welfare division, as an internally created video to thank child welfare workers received federal attention recently. The federal Children’s Bureau associate commissioner emailed to congratulate OCFS on the video, which was circulated throughout the Administration for Children and Families as an example of how to encourage our front line workers during these challenging times. Congrats to the Child Welfare team! You can watch the video at: https://youtu.be/QM0UL1UPH1k.

Our summer is off to a great start. Stay healthy and well, wear the mask, and stay New York Tough!

Sheila J. Poole


A Special Message from Commissioner Sheila J. Poole on Social Justice and our Work at OCFS

As I reflect on the state’s and nation’s response to the senseless killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, I too, feel rage and frustration, and I realize that these unspeakable tragedies have a deep impact on many staff, the youth and families we serve, and the communities in which we live and work.

The protests and outrage expressed are not the result of one incident or event but rather a cumulative eruption of hundreds of years of injustice, racism and violence that runs deeper than most of us would care to acknowledge, or perhaps, are capable of fully grasping. The killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, Rodney King, Sean Bell, Eric Garner, Amadou Diallo and just this past week, George Floyd are simply horrific.

Whatever small gains we thought may have been made in social justice and institutional racism seem incredibly fragile, and it is fair to say, are now called into question entirely.

It is not surprising that this outrage is occurring during a pandemic that has further magnified the inequalities in our society – disproportionately impacting minority communities with illness and death, educational disparities, unemployment, poverty and violence. These communities were already in pain. And now this.

Our work at OCFS is fundamentally rooted in communities that are hurting right now. Our agency has sought to embrace these complexities and our mission is to support and uphold the well-being of children and families. We are given pause to contemplate what this means and what our contribution should be as citizens and employees of an agency deeply interwoven in this current context. Our work in youth justice and child welfare remind us daily that we have a very long road ahead. What we have seen and heard in recent weeks following the unspeakable deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd and the flagrant racism witnessed in the recent Central Park incident has forced us to confront just how long that road ahead is.

We are intimately involved in the lives and livelihoods of families who disproportionately come from communities of color, and we must view our work through a lens of social, racial and economic justice. The families we serve have already traveled through a system infected by inequality, discrimination and conditions that contribute to the uprising we are now witnessing. Let us make sure that we listen and that we hear their voices.

As stewards of the most important human services work in the state, it is my hope that amongst ourselves and our respective teams, we will find a way to respectfully, yet honestly, evaluate our commitment to advancing whatever efforts are possible to ensure that we are doing our part to repair harm, affirm practices of equity and inclusion, and to uphold our agency’s values on behalf of those we serve.

Sheila J. Poole

Census is Still Open - We Need You!

Don't Miss Your Chance to be Counted!

New York State Response Rate Lower than National Average.

Don’t miss your chance. New York needs all of you!

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, as of mid-May, New York’s census response rate of 54% was lower than the national rate of 60% -- and lower than New York’s response rate of 65% in 2010.

Answering the census will help us in the future as we rebuild our systems of child care, health care, child welfare and youth development.

The census data showing how many people reside in New York will dictate how much federal funding comes from funding streams that affect our daily work, such as:

  • Title XX – Social Services Block Grant,
  • Head Start,
  • Maternal and Children Health Block Grant,
  • nutrition assistance programs and school meals,
  • community health center funding and
  • numerous traffic infrastructure funding streams.
Responding is easy

It’s never been easier to respond to the census – online, over the phone or by mail – all without having to meet someone in person. You can submit your response at 2020Census.gov in English and 12 other languages or by calling for assistance (see below).

The New York State Council on Children and Families created Shape Your Future, Start Here with a fact sheet for each county with child well-being data and census funding amounts.

Stay home, stay safe and complete the census!

Census Hotlines

Customer service representatives are available every day from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m., Eastern time, on the following phone lines:

English: 844-330-2020
Spanish: 844-468-202

Non-English and non-Spanish language hours of operation: Customer service representatives are available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., Eastern time, on the following phone lines:

Chinese (Mandarin): 844-391-2020
Chinese (Cantonese): 844-398-2020
Vietnamese: 844-461-2020
Korean: 844-392-2020
Russian: 844-417-2020
Arabic: 844-416-2020
Tagalog: 844-478-2020
Polish: 844-479-2020
French: 844-494-2020
Haitian Creole: 844-477-2020
Portuguese: 844-474-2020
Japanese: 844-460-2020

For information on servicesfor people who are deaf or hard of hearing, call the TDD number at 844-467-2020.

Tribute Comes Flying into OCFS

Child Welfare Division Receives Federal Praise on Video Created In-House

Hats off to our Child Welfare division on receiving federal praise recently for its video thanking child welfare workers!

The associate commissioner of the federal Children’s Bureau emailed OCFS to gratulate us on the video, which was circulated throughout the Administration for Children and Families as an example of how to encourage our front-line workers during these challenging times. Local departments of social services, voluntary agencies and stakeholders have also expressed their appreciation for the recognition of how hard child welfare staff work every day.

The video has almost 5,000 views: https://youtu.be/QM0UL1UPH1k

NY Air National Guard Flies Over OCFS to Honor Essential Workers

In mid-May, essential workers statewide received quite a tribute – a flyover from the New York Air National Guard, including right over OCFS Home Office.

[Photo credit: NY Air National Guard]

The 109th Airlift Wing out of Scotia flew over 12 communities to salute medical professionals, first responders and essential workers. The plane went over the Mohawk Valley, to Lake George and over the Capital Region.

The plane dipped down to 500 feet as it passed over area hospitals, and the mission was part of the U.S. Air Force's nationwide salute during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Col. Michele Kilgore, the commander of the 109th Airlift Wing, said, "This flyover is a way for 109th Airlift Wing and the New York Air National Guard to say ‘thanks’ to the essential workers, medical personnel and first responders who are there for all New Yorkers during this time."

The Air Force noted that these flights serve as training for pilots and aircrews and do not cost any additional dollars.

Working Remotely? No Problem: Pride Month and Juneteenth Being Celebrated Virtually

In mid-March, when our lives were upended by the pandemic, OCFS was actively engaged in planning a series of initiatives aimed at infusing diversity, equity and inclusion principles into the agency’s culture.

One of the Diversity Committee’s 2020 goals was to better involve the regional offices in celebrating events that have previously been organized at Home Office. And voila! We’ve created virtual events that everyone can watch together from anywhere.

You won’t want to miss our dynamic speakers, including:

Nathaniel Gray, the recipient of a first-of-its-kind Empire State Fellowship designed to improve policy and practice working with the LGBTQ community. Nathaniel is dedicated to addressing the disproportionate rates of homelessness and suicide in queer youth through inclusive and affirming policy design.

Serena Joyce White-Lake, assistant counsel in OCFS' Employment Unit. Serena is passionate about working to increase racial equity and diversity and to remedy disparities caused by implicit and explicit bias.

We kicked off this new effort with a webinar on LGBTQ cultural awareness in late May and early June. Please join us virtually to celebrate Juneteenth and Pride Month. (See recent emails for sign up.)

Event: Juneteenth Celebration webinar

Date: June 15
Time: 11 a.m., 60 minutes
Presenter: Serena Joyce White Lake

Juneteenth symbolizes for African Americans what the Fourth of July symbolizes for all Americans – freedom – and is a time for rejoicing, reflection, self-improvement and future planning. Join the discussion of the history and importance of this day, along with Marva Richards, associate director of AMC STEP at Albany Medical College, who will also speak about health disparities affecting black and brown communities.

Event: LGBTQ Pride Month

Date: June 30
Time: 1 p.m., 30 minutes
Presenters: Nathaniel Gray and representatives from LGBTQ-focused nonprofits

June is LGBTQ Pride Month and to celebrate, we’ll discuss the transgender women of color who helped establish the very first New York City Pride March in June 1970. Also learn how the COVID crisis is specifically affecting the queer community. Nathaniel will lead a panel discussion with queer people of color (QPOC) in New York State on the impact of intersectionality on individuals identifying as LGBTQ and non-White.

OCFS' Child Care Webcast Praises Providers and Receives Glowing Feedback

an edible message
OCFS’ Child Care division employees created a sign of appreciation out of snacks for essential, front-line workers.

United in Hope – Caring for Children and Child Care Providers, a webcast that our Child Care division created, was shown May 7 and May 12 with an important message during the COVID-19 pandemic for child care providers.

OCFS Deputy Commissioner Janice Molnar said, “These are times like no other. The Governor rightly included child care providers and staff among the state’s essential workers. You are the stabilizing presence in the lives of so many families.”

Among other topics, the webcast discussed cleaning, sanitizing, child drop off, levels of stress and communication. The video stressed that we are in this together, and we will emerge stronger. Check out the webcast here: youtu.be/aEhm26KCMBI (starts at 1:25:26).

Below are examples of positive feedback that continues to roll in:

  • "Everything presented was heartwarming and informative." – Stefanie Gearity, training coordinator, Child Care Council of Suffolk, Inc.
  • "You all are a great team. It was very comforting to know that there are others in our field who are facing the same challenges. The videos and guest speakers were all very compassionate about where we all are today. There is always hope, and yes, we will come out of this together. thank you. Stay Safe." – Peekaboo Daycare
  • "You all did an amazing job. It was just what was needed for all child care workers during COVID." – Sandy Sheridan, Chautauqua Opportunities
  • "It was great to see so many familiar faces and hear such inspirational stories. Very well done!" – Anonymous
  • "As always, thanks for all you do for the children and families in NYS." – Erin Broderick, capacity building director, New York State Network for Youth Success.

Human Services Call Center Offers Stellar Statewide Support During COVID-19 Response

During the pandemic, the Human Services Call Center staff dialed in new priorities. They became dedicated to outbound dialing, according to Kathryn Shelton, associate commissioner for child welfare and community service. In two months, staff made more than 200,000 calls to schedule COVID-19 tests. They also contacted 70,000 health care volunteers to match them with hospitals in need.

“After I read the NY Forward guide on the Governor’s website, it really struck me how much of a role the HSCC played in the efforts to fight the pandemic,” Shelton said.

HSCC staff also host the Office of Mental Health’s Line for Emotional Support, built during the pandemic and which has fielded more than 15,000 calls in the last two months.

“I’d like to acknowledge and congratulate the HSCC staff for their contributions during a very difficult time in our history,” Shelton added.

A Salute to Fathers

Father’s Day is Sunday, June 21. An OCFS Diversity Committee member offers some reflections and a message for the day.

Father’s Day is coming up, and this is a great time to celebrate the importance of fathers in their children’s lives.

Fathers should contribute financially and provide stability to the family. However, to cultivate healthy children, they must also provide emotional, spiritual and mental support and be physically present. Ideally, they should grow and learn along with their children.

Children who have actively involved father figures in their lives, whether inside or outside the home, show greater achievement – especially when there is also a healthy camaraderie with the second parent and support from other close family members.

Fathers who engage in quality time with their children also decrease the odds of the cycle of fatherless homes continuing into the next generation. Fathers offer their own unique imprints to their children’s lives. These impressions are lasting and can produce positive results not only through childhood, but through adulthood as well.

This is a great time to find ways to assist the children and families we serve by encouraging fathers to participate in the lives of their children, no matter how near or far, as circumstances permit. On this day, we honor all fathers and want to show them that we appreciate and support them.

Dads – we see you, we need you, we support you, and we salute you! Happy Father’s Day!

Every Day is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is June 15, 2020, but for OCFS and the county Adult Protective Services staff on the front lines, every day is elder abuse awareness day.

We are keenly aware of the abuse and neglect, as well as financial exploitation, of older persons, and OCFS is committed to their protection and well-being. The unprecedented crisis of COVID-19 has elevated the concerns about this vulnerable population and OCFS responded swiftly, providing personal protective equipment and guidance to the field to make sure the safety, health and well-being of older individuals remains paramount, while balancing the health and safety of staff.

Division of Child Welfare & Community Services Deputy Commissioner Lisa Ghartey-Ogundimu notes, “I ask that, no matter what division or area of expertise you work in, please take a moment on June 15th to not only observe the importance of this day, but to act as a conduit in spreading awareness to others about elder abuse, neglect and exploitation.”

OCFS Experts Tapped for Youth Justice Forum

June began with a very hopeful and healthy message during a free virtual forum called “Are the Kids Alright?” hosted by the New York State Youth Justice Institute. More than 4,000 people registered, and Dr. Nina Aledort, OCFS associate commissioner for Youth Development and Partnerships for Success, moderated a session that brought together new perspectives about COVID-19 and about the recent protests and riots in the wake of the George Floyd’s murder.

Aledort’s session was “COVID-19 and Justice Systems 1: Youth Support, Safety and Accountability Innovations.” She said that while we acknowledge that the pandemic has impacted youth justice, we now compound that with the civil rights moment and unrest, stressing the urgency for this conversation. Speakers included Amore Alvarenga, New York City Law Department Family Court Division; Dina Thompson, Erie County Restorative Justice Coalition; and Hon. Steven Teske, Juvenile Court of Clayton County, GA.

“Our justice systems are rife with inequities of all kinds,” said Teske. “I noticed this when I first took the bench in 1999.”

A virtual bulletin board took the topics being discussed and made them clear and topical, amplifying the messaging.

“How do we address the underlying behavior first, before we criminalize the repeated behaviors?” asked Thompson, speaking about restorative responses. The restorative practice gives people a voice and reintegrates people into society from the justice system, she added.

All agreed on one main thesis: How to speak with each other (not to each or for each) where community voice is valued.

UAlbany President Havidán Rodríguez attended the Friday session and is part of the team working on a project – at the Governor’s request – that focuses on the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on minority communities in New York State. OCFS Research Scientist Rebecca Colman was a panelist about Research and Funding. She joined experts from diverse fields who examined these issues while centering on historically marginalized populations.