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Kathy Hochul, Governor
Suzanne Miles-Gustave, Esq., Acting Commissioner
October 2020 — Vol. 5, No. 9

Commissioner's Message

As we greet a new month and usher in the beautiful autumn season, I hope this message finds you well. During the past month, many students have returned to school and more staff are being welcomed back to the office under the “new normal,” while at the same time, we continue to enjoy the beauty of our state and all the fall treats and traditions. It is hard to believe that it has been seven months since COVID impacted our lives, and I want to again express my deep gratitude to the OCFS workforce.

Our OCFS October traditions continue with several opportunities for self-empowerment. Like the social justice agenda propelled by George Floyd’s death, October is celebrated by embracing the diverse fabric of our community’s experiences, including Coming Out Day, the Day of the Girl, the continuation of Hispanic Heritage Month, White Cane Day and Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

This year’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month theme is “Survivor Voices, Survivor Choices,” recognizing that hearing the voices, faces and stories of domestic violence (DV) survivors is essential to creating meaningful social understanding about the broad-reaching impacts of DV.

The pandemic forced many DV victims to remain indoors with their abusers, who may have lashed out more than usual due to the stresses of job loss or other economic hardship, the threat of COVID-19 and the tensions brought on by the abrupt and stressful changes we’ve had to endure. In response to concerns about increasing DV during the pandemic, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa convened a COVID-19 Domestic Violence Task Force to reimagine New York's services for DV survivors. Key recommendations included:

  • Increasing providers’ ability to engage in mobile advocacy by supporting programs to purchase mobile devices and upgrade technology.
  • Providing more flexible funding to DV programs to help them meet a variety of client needs (see below).
  • Recognizing the need for affordable housing beyond shelters for survivors seeking a safe place to live.

We at OCFS know all too well the long-lasting effects and trauma experienced by children who are exposed to DV and community violence. OCFS and our sister agencies quickly pivoted to new outreach strategies and messaging.

In response to the task force’s recommendations, OCFS provided $2 million in federal CARES Act funds to DV programs, which allows them to meet a range of survivor needs, including housing costs, safety measures and allocations for essential needs that might present barriers to safety and housing stability, such as debt or car repair expenses. This allows some victims to bypass a shelter and more quickly stabilize their housing situation.

In addition, we will implement the Safe & Together™ Model, a field-tested approach to helping child welfare and its partners make good decisions for children affected by domestic violence perpetrators. It will help improve identification, assessment, documentation, case-planning, decision making and cross-systems collaboration for families affected by DV.

I hope you will join me on October 22 as we wear purple to raise DV awareness and show our commitment to victims and survivors of domestic abuse.

DV crosses all social, economic and racial boundaries. If you or someone you know needs help, I urge you to call

  • your local domestic violence hotline,
  • the New York State Domestic Violence 24-Hour Hotline (English & Española/multi-language accessibility) at 1-800-942-6906, or
  • 711 for deaf or hard of hearing.

Many hotlines now offer text and chat features and can help you identify the signs of abuse, provide safety planning and highlight ways that you can be an ally and support someone who may be a victim.

May you all continue to be safe and healthy and help others around you to be the same!

Sheila J. Poole


Be Proud of Your Past and Embrace the Future!

National Hispanic Heritage Month is September 15-October 15

OCFS joins in celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month with our youth, families and colleagues. This year’s national theme is “Hispanics: Be Proud of Your Past and Embrace the Future.”

History of Hispanic Heritage Month

The dates of National Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15 to October 15, speak to the month’s own history. In 1968, California Congressman George E. Brown put forth a House resolution authorizing President Lyndon B. Johnson to proclaim what was then known as National Hispanic Heritage Week, which fell on the week that included September 15 and 16.

Those dates are significant, as they commemorate independence days in six Central American countries. Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Costa Rica celebrate their independence from Spain on the 15th, while Mexico celebrates its independence on the 16th.

Twenty years later, in 1988, the week was expanded to a month of celebration and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan.

Almost 20 percent of the total U.S. population is Hispanic, a jump from 1970 when Hispanics made up just five percent of the population.

Although we may be limited in the events and opportunities we can provide due to COVID-19 restrictions, OCFS will join in online celebrations.

Resources to Explore Hispanic Heritage Month
  • Smithsonian Museum: Nuestra América, 30 Inspiring Latinas/Latinos Who Have Shaped the United States. This is a fully illustrated teaching anthology from the Smithsonian Latino Center featuring the inspiring stories of 30 Latinx and celebrating Hispanic citizens’ contributions to the nation’s cultural, social and political character. Visit the Learning Lab in the Smithsonian collections, which are grouped into themes for easy viewing.
  • HipLatina: 11 powerful Latinx films you can stream right now.

"It is important for all of us to appreciate where we come from and how that history has really shaped us in ways that we might not understand."
— Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court Justice

New York State Announces $88.6 Million in CARES Funding to Assist Child Care Providers During Pandemic

In September, New York State announced $88.6 million in federal CARES Act funding to help child care providers through NY Forward grants as they adjust their programs amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

The funding is on top of $30 million made available in the spring and $48.3 million recently awarded to help child care providers reopen or restructure their physical plans to meet new social distancing requirements. OCFS is administering the grants in conjunction with child care resource and referral agencies statewide.

Here’s the breakdown of the $88.6 million in funding:

  • $20 million will support child care scholarships for children of essential workers.
  • $20 million will provide rental assistance for school-based child care programs that have been displaced by the pandemic.
  • $20 million will support grants for closed child care programs to reopen or restructure under new guidelines for social distancing.
  • $28.6 million will provide grants for child care providers to pay for half of the cost (up to $6,000) to open a new classroom and supplies.

Child care providers may apply for the funding though the OCFS Child Care site. Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis until December 31, 2020.

Congratulations to the Division of Child Care Services for their many hours of hard work on preparing the applications and pushing information out to the provider community!

Coming Out Day Celebrates LGBTQ+ Narratives

October 11th marks the 32nd anniversary of Coming Out Day, which began on the first anniversary of the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights and was inspired by the belief that the act of coming out is part of the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. Many people consider coming out as a single, grand act of disclosing LGBTQ+ identity to a parent or friend, but in reality, some LGBTQ+ people come out every day. A casual conversation about dating or other life experiences often involves coming out.

LGBTQ+ people first come out to themselves, which can be a difficult internal discovery. Then to discuss relationships, clothing or pronouns, for example, the LGBTQ+ person might start coming out to others. Many celebrities have taken to posting their coming out stories on Oct. 11th to increase the public visibility of LGBTQ+ people. Doing so models for other LGBTQ+ people who may be struggling with their identity that it is okay to come out (if they choose to) and normalizes LGBTQ+ narratives.

You can participate in Coming Out Day on social media by using the hashtag #ComingOutDay and posting your own coming out story or by reading the stories of so many others. If you would like to share your coming out story in the upcoming Diversity newsletter, please email LGBTQ@ocfs.ny.gov for details.

(Thank you to Nathaniel Gray, LGBTQ policy and practice fellow, for contributing this article.)

Industry Gets an Annual Rush to Remember

The recently held 171st anniversary of the division of Juvenile Justice and Opportunities for Youth’s Industry facility in Rush, N.Y., was unlike any they had seen before. But somehow, it was also just like all the rest.

So says Rev. Karyn Carter, who has been OCFS Regional Chaplain for two decades. “It’s the staff who are so committed to this event,” she said. “It’s the spirit.”

The facility dates back to the mid-1800s, and the reason people reside there is not usually celebrated. However, 11 years ago, a staff member recommended an event to honor the challenges, transformations and results the staff and the youth experience there.

What began as a gathering of local leaders and historians for a small barbeque has turned into a community event. This year, because of COVID-19, the event almost didn’t occur, but a socially distant picnic was put together in just three weeks to boost morale for the staff and the 60 residents.

“The only thing that was missing was the kids having family [there],” said Rev. Carter. Each youth normally invites up to five family members to the event.

The residents experience many opportunities in and around Industry, with offerings like a farm, a horticulture and aquaculture program and recreational opportunities. “For most, it’s the first time they’ve touched a horse or blown up a balloon,” said Rev. Carter.

The administrative team noted that “…Industry stands out as a facility that enriches the lives of all who touch this program. It is through our staff’s commitment to our youth that we are able to continue to do the work that we do.”

White Cane Awareness Day

Along with pumpkins and cider donuts, October also brings White Cane Awareness Day on Thursday, October 15.

For blind people, the white cane is an essential tool toward achieving independence, according to the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). In October 1964, Congress adopted a joint resolution that was signed into law by President. Lyndon B. Johnson designating October 15 as White Cane Safety Day. While the white cane keeps people who are visually impaired safe – drivers and pedestrians can easily see it – it is also a tool that blind people use to explore and navigate on their own.

The white cane is an extension of a blind person’s arms. It allows them to assess, anticipate and move quickly and more confidently. The white cane helps to avoid obstacles, and finds steps and curbs, sidewalk cracks or uneven places along and in the road. Additionally, it helps blind people find doorways and get into cars and buses.

This year, the Commission for the Blind will hold its White Cane Day Awareness Day via Zoom. Please see the office announcement for meeting details.

The Commission for the Blind will be marking the centennial celebration of the Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program. The VR program offers guidance and counseling to assist consumers who are legally blind to find or retain employment.

OCFS Staff to be Featured at National Sex Trafficking Conference

Madeline Hehir, MSW, director of OCFS’s Bureau of Health and Well-Being (right), will present this month in a special seminar, “Discussing Child Welfare’s Important Role in Addressing Sex Trafficking.”

The seminar is part of the national JuST LIVE! State Action. National Change. webinar series (“JuST” stands for juvenile sex trafficking), hosted by Shared Hope International with leaders providing knowledge and actionable responses to raise awareness and prevent and end commercial sexual exploitation.

In recent years, child welfare agencies across the country have initiated or strengthened strategies to address commercial sexual exploitation of children. However, the models vary. Hehir says the idea is to put a sharper focus on how welfare and trafficking can work hand-in-glove, which would allow more screening, investigations and case management. Then it’s followed up with proper placement and specialized services.

All states have laws against child sex trafficking, and most states have made significant progress in enacting laws to protect victims and hold perpetrators accountable. But there is still much work to be done to eliminate the root causes, including demand.

The seminar is Friday, October 9, 12–1:30 p.m., Eastern time, and you can register online.

Show Purple Pride during Domestic Violence Awareness Month

There are many colors associated with October. While the leaves are changing from green into vibrant red and gold, and we see orange and black for (socially distant) Halloween, there is a day that is reserved for purple.

Go Purple is October 22 to mark Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Wearing purple shows support for survivors and a commitment to ending domestic violence. Also referred to as ”intimate partner violence,” domestic violence is when a person does things to control someone else in an intimate relationship. A shift in power can happen so slowly over time that the other person may not even be able to pinpoint when it started. Physical abuse is one of many ways a partner might try to gain power and control in a relationship. Domestic violence can also involve abuse or violence against children, parents or the elderly. It takes a number of forms, including physical, verbal, emotional, economic, religious, reproductive and sexual abuse.

The New York State Domestic Violence Prevention Act was enacted in 1987 to support services for victims and their children. The law requires counties to provide shelter and services and establishes mainstream funding mechanisms for these programs.

OCFS created regulations to promote standards to establish and maintain residential and non-residential domestic violence programs and to establish local departments of social services’ responsibility for financial and contractual arrangements with providers of domestic violence residential services.

The New York State Domestic Violence Hotline is 800-942-6906. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 800-799-7233. For more information on domestic violence, visit opdv.ny.gov.

Kinship Care Month Celebrated

September was not only Baby Safety Month and Self-Care Awareness Month, it was also Kinship Care Month. For children who cannot remain safely in their home, there is the option of being placed with kin. Kin includes grandparents, relatives or other caregivers who have stepped forward to provide love and support and keep families stable while providing continuity and ties to cultural heritage.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation reports that across the nation, four percent of all kids – more than 2.65 million children — are in kinship care. In New York State, more than 427,000 children live with kin. New York is home to the Kinship Navigator, which provides information, referrals and assistance on the web (nysnavigator.org) and via a toll-free phone number (877-454-6463).

Partnerships with programs statewide offer education, legal, social services, mental health, justice and other opportunities.