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Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor
Sheila J. Poole, Commissioner
August 2020 — Vol. 5, No. 7

Commissioner's Message

I hope you all are enjoying the hot summer weather and some down time, even though many of us have had to dramatically alter our vacation plans this year.

While it is disappointing that the pandemic has canceled some of the things we normally enjoy at this time of year – such as our staff appreciation ice cream social, our annual international day and the New York State Fair – I want to let you know that I am very proud of the work that this agency continues to accomplish. I admire the creativity you have shown in overcoming obstacles to serve the children and families of New York State. Some highlights:

  • The Division of Child Care Services continues to support child care providers and provide critical guidance to those who have remained open, as well as those in the process of reopening. Staff have held weekly stakeholder calls, hosted and co-hosted webinars, provided training on the DOH interim guidance and offered technical support with the NY Forward Child Care Expansion Incentive Grants and the federal Paycheck Protection Program.
  • The Commission for the Blind has stayed in touch with stakeholders via a series of open forums to gather feedback and inform policy on delivering critical services remotely.
  • Child Welfare and Community Services is about to release major new policy directives that will make a remarkable difference in the lives of families and promote equity. It has also launched the Parent Advisory Board (PAB) with the support of Casey Family Programs. These kinship caregivers and birth, foster and adoptive parents will provide valuable input and are dedicated to improving the outcomes of New York’s child welfare practice.
  • Youth Development and Partnerships for Success has assisted counties with support for young adults in or aging out of foster care so they do not fall through the cracks. They’ve also been encouraging counties to take advantage of the Fostering Youth to Independence federal housing vouchers when possible.
  • Division of Juvenile Justice and Opportunities for Youth has kept families in touch with facilitated virtual visitation and has developed new safety protocols as facilities reopen to in-person visits.
  • The Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion has launched a newsletter and created a suggestion box and a dedicated email address for your comments and suggestions, DEI@ocfs.ny.gov. The office has also hosted highly engaging webinars that are drawing hundreds of participants. And please be sure to check out the new Diversity webpage, which is full of resources and webinar information, at ocfs.state.nyenet/admin/ohr/diversity/

This is just a short list of what our dedicated staff continue to accomplish. I want you all to know how very much you are appreciated and ask all agency supervisors to be creative in showing support for this excellent work. Along that vein, we have created a mailbox where all staff are invited to send ideas on how we can show our appreciation for the outstanding work being done at OCFS and to recognize those who go above and beyond. Please send ideas to appreciation@ocfs.ny.gov.

Sincerely,
Sheila J. Poole
Commissioner

Articles

$65 Million NY Forward Child Care Expansion Incentive Helps to Bring Child Care Providers Back Online

Federal CARES Act Funding Supports New Health and Safety Protocols

OCFS has received more than 5,000 applications for funding to reopen and reimagine child care programs across the state. The funding announced by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo in June provides $65 million in federal Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding for the New York Forward Child Care Expansion Incentive program. OCFS is administering the grants, which will support up to 43,000 child care slots statewide.

The available funding includes:

  • $20 million to help child care programs reopen and expand capacity by providing materials to allow proper social distancing, and for supplies and activities associated with reopening or expansion. This may include partitions, short-term rental of space, etc.
  • $45 million in childcare Reopening and Expansion Incentive funds to pay for 50 percent of the cost of any newly opened classroom (maximum grant amount of $6,000) as an incentive to open the classroom.

OCFS staff are working diligently to process the applications to help expedite receipt of the funding. With the possibility of diminished time in school, child care providers will be needed more than ever to support parents who work, whether from home or on the job site.

What Will Jumpstart the Economy?

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul Call for More Child Care Funding

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul recently published an opinion piece on the vital need for support for child care for all New Yorkers and to highlight the investments New York State has made and continues to make to support the children of New York and those who care for them. In this uncertain time, she feels child care is an essential service that is pivotal to the state’s economic recovery.

An excerpt from the piece: “All businesses need to be fully engaged to solve the child care crisis. Otherwise, productivity and retention rates decline, and the ability for New York’s economy to make a strong comeback is jeopardized. The benefits of accessible, affordable, quality child care are indisputable. It can be an equalizer for the healthy development of children in marginalized communities. It benefits the economy by allowing more women to work outside the home. And it increases the financial security of families.”

Read the Lieutenant Governor’s opinion piece.

The Lieutenant Governor also traveled the state with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (right) to highlight child care industry challenges during the pandemic. They advocated for federal relief in the form of a $50 billion Child Care Stabilization fund to help providers safely stay in operation or reopen.

They also stressed the importance of the CDC providing health and safety guidance for child care providers to implement before reopening their programs.

Rahsaan and Rob and Oprah…Yes, That Oprah

DJJOY Leader is Part of National Forum

OCFS employee Rahsaan DeLain was selected as one of just 100 men across the nation to participate in a televised forum on fatherhood hosted by Oprah Winfrey. (See above for a shot of how the set looked. Rahsaan was one of the men featured in the background.)

Rahsaan is an assistant facility director at Industry Residential Center in Rush, Monroe County, and the father of four fantastic kids. He has been with OCFS for a decade and oversees staff support teams that are tasked with identifying youth- and family-driven goals, while building resources and skills.

One in One Hundred

In June, Rahsaan was contacted by a producer at OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network, who saw pictures of Rahsaan and husband Rob’s family on social media. OWN invited Rahsaan to be part of a show gathering 100 Black fathers virtually.

Understandably, Rahsaan was somewhat skeptical. “It’s Oprah. I’m just little ol’ me,” he joked. Rahsaan did his research to make sure it was not a scam, and in about a week, pictures were sent and consent forms were signed for what would be “OWN Spotlight: Oprah and 100 Black Fathers.” It aired June 30 and then streamed on the web.

“She did a good job catch[ing] a broad spectrum of fathers,” said Rahsaan.

The 100 men were all on screen in a Zoom-type layout. The fathers ran the spectrum – single, married, military, law enforcement, gay, straight, those who have children who are transgender and those who had kids killed by police.

“Black fathers play an important role in the lives of their children…we matter, and we’re visible, and we’re doing the best we can,” Rahsaan said.

Rahsaan said, “It was a great experience overall, and [I was] very happy and surprised to be a part of it…It’s really facilitated a lot of conversations.”

The show featured several anecdotes, including a discussion of “the talk”—when parents talk to their Black children about anti-Black racism, racial profiling and surviving police encounters. Rahsaan and many others nodded when this topic arose. On the show, activist and filmmaker Tyler Perry said, “It’s so unfair that we have to do this.”

“That was probably the most hurtful and important piece that a lot of people have pulled from the show,” said Rahsaan. “The fact that it’s not right that you have to talk to your children about safety and what being Black means…that was the moment I was a little emotional.

In my professional role, I know that the staff do the best they can to work with dozens of kids, families and partners in the community,” he said. The kids they work with are “at the end of the road” and staff identify risk factors, intervene and offer support to influence a youth and family’s success.

On being a father, Rahsaan said, “It’s one of the most challenging jobs and also one of the most rewarding.” Together, Rahsaan and Rob (left) juggle the responsibilities of raising four young children. Son Keenan and daughter Kenzie are both four years old. Son Kahree will be two this fall, and daughter Kamryn is 16 months old.

“I always wanted to be a parent, so it made sense that once I fell in love and had everything in place that those things happened for me,” continued Rahsaan, 38, who is also working toward his Ph.D. in counseling and counselor education at Syracuse University. “It’s tough, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Rob is the principal at an alternative school in the Buffalo area.

Following Up

A week or so after the show aired, Rahsaan was still “on cloud nine” that he had participated. As half of an interracial, gay couple with African American and bi-racial children, he hopes it sparks more conversation.

“We face certain challenges that are difficult and should be difficult, and my family should be celebrated for who we are,” he said. “At the same time, it’s been tough.”

Rahsaan recalls that when he and Rob traveled to adopt, they were met with comments and looks at the hospital in Birmingham, Alabama. “People live that every day,” he said.

Overall, Rahsaan hopes that Oprah’s show brings more awareness of issues affecting Black children and parents. “It’s an important time for everyone to look at themselves,” he said.

He says there are plenty of other challenges these days. All four kids are home and Rob has been, too, while Rahsaan goes to work.

“I don’t know what I’d do without him,” Rahsaan said about Rob. “He took on a lot being home.”

Rahsaan and Rob have come up with new and creative ideas to entertain the children, and they have all learned new things about each other.

As for parenting and his DJJOY role: “I think they are both equally challenging and equally as rewarding. I got into this work because I wanted to have even a little impact on children and families, particularly those in the system.”

And that he has.

Blind Removals and Kin-First Firewall Updates

OCFS is on the cusp of bringing to fruition two landmark policy directives aimed squarely at meeting the agency goal of racial and social equity in the child welfare system. First announced last January as part of Governor Cuomo’s State of the State address, OCFS will soon implement the practice of blind removals, which requires counties to review cases without demographic or racial identifiers when considering removing a child from their home, and the kin-first firewall, which requires CPS workers to exhaust all relative or fictive kin placement possibilities before placing a child in foster care.

The Division of Child Welfare and Community Services has been working with the Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Development on an administrative directive that will soon be sent to local social services districts statewide. Blind removals and kin-first firewall are also aligned with the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) goals of keeping children safely at home and, when that is not possible, placing children with relatives.

Blind removal process

National data identifies Black, Hispanic/Latinx, Native American and Alaska Native children as being disproportionately reported as abused or neglected, placed in out-of-home care and kept in care longer than other children. Children in these groups are also less likely to find a permanent family connection than children from other racial/ethnic groups. The blind removal process hides all demographic information from decision makers to prevent the explicit or implicit bias of child welfare professionals and the child welfare system from impacting a removal decision.

The initiative will be expanded statewide and have far-reaching positive outcomes beyond New York’s borders. Our state will be in the vanguard of a national strategy to reduce racial disparity and build a more equitable and just child welfare system.

Kin-first firewall

Kinship caregivers are relatives or close friends who take care of a child who must be removed from their home. Kinship caregivers are valuable resources in child welfare. When appropriate, safe and in the child’s best interests, kin placements are best for children who must be removed from their homes because they maintain family connections. Research demonstrates that kinship placements support children’s well-being in out-of-home care. When children are removed from home, their lives are disrupted in many ways, including the threat of leaving their school, friends and community. Kinship care often mitigates those disruptions and resulting trauma. Children in kinship placements are more likely to remain in their neighborhoods and maintain connection with their birth parents and siblings.

The kin-first firewall will now require a higher level of review to verify that all viable relatives and significant adults in a child’s life have been explored for placement before a non-kinship placement is made.

Please Stand Up And Be Counted – New York State Needs You to Complete the Census

You Will Help Determine How Much New York Receives in Funding

There is still time to stand up and be counted. Or to sit down (at your keyboard), if you prefer. Either way, the census is still being taken. But New York State is lagging.

The state ranks in the bottom third of the nation for the 2020 census response. At around 57%, we trail the national average of 62%.

Results from the population count will determine how much money the federal government sends to New York for education, health care, mass transit and housing, among other things. Plus, it determines how many representatives New York has in Congress. In 2010, our state lost two seats based on our lower census count.

In a recent story with Spectrum News, Jeff Wice, an adjunct professor and senior fellow at New York Law School who is working with "NY Counts 2020," said redistricting could be delayed. “There’s an unfortunate perfect storm of things happening that challenge an accurate census count in New York,” he noted.

Wice pointed to several factors: the pandemic, the long-standing issue of people with limited English proficiency who are unable to read the census material, mistrust in government and recent police killings. Additionally, the state budget has been negatively affected by the pandemic, and New York has been unable to spend funds allotted to promote the census or perform the “boots on the ground” outreach that was planned.

Census Tips

The Census Bureau will never ask for your Social Security number, money or donations, anything on behalf of a political party, or bank or credit card account numbers. If someone claiming to be from the Census Bureau asks for these things, it is a scam, and you should not cooperate. For additional ideas to stay safe and to report fraud, please go to www.2020census.gov/en/avoiding-fraud.html.

Some commonly asked questions with answers:

Does the 2020 Census ask about citizenship status?
No.
Are non-citizens counted in the census?
Yes.
Can answers be shared with law enforcement or used against me?
No.

So please, complete the census today at my2020census.gov.

NYSCB Counselor Training Goes Virtual

The end of the year came early for the New York State Commission for the Blind (NYSCB). The program’s fiscal year changed and now ends June 30 instead of September 30. Therefore, NYSCB’s annual counselor training and end-of-year summary, normally held in October after the close of the federal fiscal year, will be held August 4-5 and features three separate trainings. The event is being held virtually because of COVID-19. Commissioner Sheila Poole and NYSCB Associate Commissioner Brian Daniels (right) will offer comments and updates.

Despite COVID, the NYSCB came very close to meeting goals that were established long before the advent of remote work and record-breaking unemployment. The NYSCB closed 344 cases in successful employment, including 68 after March 16 when staff began to work remotely. Staff did very well adjusting to the remote work.

Like many divisions, the NYSCB worked with community partners to establish remote programs and services while focusing primarily on health and safety. And some new or re-imagined programs across the state are giving students the ability to attend summer events remotely.

State Fair Canceled This Year

“This year we're going to have to cancel it, and that makes me personally very unhappy,” said Governor Cuomo during a July 6 press briefing. “But that's where we are.”

It is the first time since World War II the State Fair will not take place. It would have run from August 20 through September 7.

Each year, the fair brings more than 1.3 million people to the fairgrounds in Central New York and is an economic driver for the region. It also provides an opportunity for OCFS and other state agencies to promote programs and services to a broad audience of fairgoers.

The Governor’s decision came after the Fourth of July weekend when there were large gatherings and concern over spreading the coronavirus. The governor cautions that residents every day need to wear a mask, social distance and wash their hands.

“This is a really tough one,” he said.

Staff Appreciation Gets Creative Amid Pandemic

Take a look below at some creative examples of staff appreciation notes that the Division of Child Care Services has been sending virtually during the pandemic. Huge kudos to Rulyn Vogel in Child Care for designing these fantastic and uplifting messages sent out by DCCS Deputy Commissioner Janice Molnar.

Other divisions have held Zoom meetings to share accomplishments, family news and photos to keep in touch with colleagues working remotely. The Human Services Call Center has taken its kudos online for “virtual stand up,” although it appears that the stand up is now a seated affair at home computers.

We want to hear from you! Please submit staff appreciation ideas to appreciation@ocfs.ny.gov. Thank you.

Example of staff appreciation graphic with Superman
Another examlpe of a staff appreciation graphic with number 1 hand signs

New State-of-The-Art Human Services Call Center on Track For a September Opening

OCFS is consolidating its call center locations into one newly renovated building in Menands (above) that has state-of-the-art technology. The new location will open in September and relieve physical capacity limits and various maintenance issues that presented problems in the old buildings.

“I am so pleased to see a bright and brand-new home for these employees who embody the spirit of our OCFS mission,” said Kathryn Shelton, associate commissioner of health and human services call center cluster. “They really are the front door to services and support for children and families.

“The HSCC is changing the face of customer service for New Yorkers who need services from more than 100 different program areas across 10 state agencies,” she continued. “The work is challenging and rewarding. The new building provides the best layout, technology and location to continue our critical work.”

At the consolidated call center, employees will assist 1.5 million New Yorkers each year and will set the bar for other state contact centers. The consolidation will improve operations by leveraging existing staff and systems to provide shared services. The new set up will also allow OCFS to provide new or additional call center assistance when New York State agencies make requests, as has happened several times throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Additionally, co-locating allows the HSCC’s Quality Assurance (QA) Unit and its Business Analyst (BA) Unit to more easily assist with projects without incurring travel time and costs. OCFS and the Department of Labor will occupy separate parts of the building, which can house 600 employees. Staff shifts and schedules will be staggered, so that everyone will not be working at the same time.

Who is That Masked Co-Worker?

Every day we are reminded how important it is to wear a mask. It has been the subject of a video contest, it has become a newly released public service campaign, it can be a fashion statement, and it has even been a contentious argument among some.

But wearing a mask is mandatory in this “new normal” and is the law in New York. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization also recommend cloth masks for the general public.

Health experts say masks can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and that the more people wearing masks, the better. Scientists note that masks are effective in reducing the spread of respiratory droplets. An experiment using high-speed video found that hundreds of droplets ranging from 20 to 500 micrometers were generated when saying a simple phrase, but that nearly all these droplets were blocked when the mouth was covered by even a damp washcloth.

Does it matter if the mask is paper or cloth? Studies say the best mask is one you can wear comfortably and consistently. N95 respirators are only necessary in medical situations. The bottom line is that any mask that covers the nose and mouth will be beneficial. And remember the “Three Ws” – Wear a mask, Wash your hands, Watch your distance.

We asked for photo submissions of our OCFS co-workers and here are a few. Can you recognize them?