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Kathy Hochul, Governor
Suzanne Miles-Gustave, Esq., Acting Commissioner
November 2020 — Vol. 5, No. 11

Commissioner's Message

November is a month to give thanks, and this year in particular, there are so many people to thank. First, I’d like to express my gratitude to our remarkable staff for your enduring commitment to the children and families in our state, despite – and perhaps even strengthened by – the pandemic. You are nothing short of extraordinary with your dedication to our good work, perseverance and problem-solving skills.

And as always, thank you to our essential workers, especially SCR staff, social workers, child care providers and facility staff. You remain solidly on the front lines, and your work is critical to those you serve and pivotal for moving New York’s economy forward.

November is National Adoption Month, when we highlight youth in foster care who are ready for adoption and awaiting loving and stable homes. Please watch for social media posts throughout the month highlighting these special children and help us spread the word. I am so grateful to all the families in New York State who open their homes and their hearts to welcome a child in foster care and those who are able to create a permanent adoptive home for a child.

National Runaway Prevention Month also falls in November, and this year’s theme is “Shine a Light.” Youth and young adults who are homeless or lack stable housing are always vulnerable – particularly those in the LGBTQ+ community who may have even fewer supports – and even more so now, given the potential spread of the coronavirus. This month OCFS is hosting a series of webinars to discuss issues impacting runaway and homeless youth, and also developing a partnership with 1-800-RUNAWAY to raise awareness not just of the issues, but also of resources available throughout the state.

2020 has been a demanding and challenging year. I hope you are able to find safe, creative ways to celebrate Thanksgiving with loved ones and recognize and give thanks for the continued joy and blessings in our lives.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sheila J. Poole

In Brief

Friendly Reminder

We're Hapy to see your face, please cover it. Wear a mask for safety.

Happy Thanksgiving!


CARES Funding Will Be Pivotal to Child Care Providers

Phases 1, 2 and 3 Will Distribute $163 Million

With two months until the end of phase three funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, OCFS’s Division of Child Care Services (DCSS) has already received 2,000 applications for the program.

“One of the things the pandemic made incredibly clear is how integral child care is for the economy to recover,” said Jamie Frank, DCCS associate commissioner.


The first phase of CARES funding came at the height of the pandemic to assist essential workers’ children. Coordinated by OCFS, the fund helped child care providers with emergency supplies, including hand sanitizer, masks, gloves and funding to purchase other supplies.


The second phase added more emergency recovery funding, said Tracey Turner, DCCS’s director of regional operations. An estimated 35 percent of child care providers were forced to close between March and July, so the $20 million for supplies and $45 million for operating grants helped providers who were already operating on the thinnest of margins to begin to scale back up to capacity.

“We want programs open, and operating grants help keep them open, even if not at full enrollment,” Frank said.


At $88.6 million, CARES3 offers the same as CARES2 plus short-term rental assistance of $20 million. Since two-thirds of child care school-age programs are physically located in schools, which have restrictions, many programs had to relocate. OCFS worked with regional managers and OCFS’s legal team for emergency relocation waivers, including temporarily, so kids could have care when needed. CARES3 also offers $20 million for essential worker scholarships.

“CARES funding is for reopening and restructuring to support remote learning,” said Turner. “Also, for extra laptop or tablet chargers or Chromebooks or anything the programs need. We are trying to meet the needs of our current climate.”

The application deadline is December 31 or until funding is depleted. The CARES3 application process is online for quick turnaround, and applications are available on the OCFS NY CARES page.

Congratulations to DCCS for undertaking this massive federal funds distribution, for working day and night to manage the mountain of CARES work and for providing support to our child care programs. Shout outs to Kathleen Meerwarth and the Bureau of Contract Management, and Brendan Schaefer and the Audit and Quality Control team as well.

MacCormick Creates Mural For Installation in Ithaca

MacCormick Secure Center was awarded a $200 grant from Ithaca Murals, an organization helping fund more than 20 cultural heritage and justice-related murals in the Ithaca area in a campaign called Justice Walls 2020.

On October 22, the participating residents and art teacher Michelle Harty unveiled the completed mural in MacCormick’s gym to staff and visitors. The mural will be placed in downtown Ithaca, where it will be juried by Ithaca area justice leaders and representatives of co-sponsoring organizations, with the winner announced in March 2021.

Michelle is also working on a second mural with students focused on getting out the vote thanks to another grant, which will most likely be placed near a polling site in Ithaca.

Congratulations to MacCormick for receiving the grants, kudos for the residents’ hard work, and best of luck in the competition!

New Acting Deputy Commissioner Visits Goshen Secure Center

In her fourth month as acting deputy commissioner of the Division of Juvenile Justice and Opportunities for Youth (DJJOY), Felicia Reid (see photo) recently visited Goshen Secure Center.

And they were ready! Felicia visited on “Thankful Wednesday,” which is Goshen’s weekly buffet style lunch for all staff to enjoy. The meal was provided by the talented kitchen staff to thank the employees for their dedication through the pandemic.

“I received such a warm ‘hello again’ from Goshen,” Felicia said. “I was glad to speak with several kids. The facility is the meaning of the word ‘engaged’ – youth and staff alike.”

After lunch, Felicia toured the building and met with many staff and residents to better understand the community. She also visited recreation areas, stopping to play ping pong and shoot baskets in the gym. The facility staff said they thoroughly enjoyed her visit.

“It was good to spend time speaking with administration about their perspectives, goals and challenges, as well as my own plans for DJJOY’s future,” noted Felicia. “Special shout outs to Mr. Chery, Mr. Stash and Ms. Johnson for the time they spent with me; Ms. Spigel for her work with the kids on the art show; Ms. Buckley and Mr. Whitby for all their effort in making lunch (and the cake!); and to Mr. Povolny and Mr. Pringle for letting me shoot a few air balls and bricks in the gym.”

State-of-The-Art Human Services Call Center Opened in October

In October, OCFS welcomed employees to its newly renovated building in Menands (above) with state-of-the-art technology. The new location relieved physical capacity limits and various maintenance issues in the old, unconsolidated buildings.

“The relocation was an amazing feat of collaboration and hard work,” explained Kathryn Shelton, associate commissioner of health and human services call center cluster. “I’d like to express my sincere gratitude to the staff who participated in the many months of planning to prepare for the move.

“I’m also grateful to the staff who worked so hard to help complete the physical move and setup,” she continued. “The staff at ITS, including the End User Support unit, OCFS Office of Management Services and the OCFS relocation ambassadors worked tirelessly to make the transition and opening of the new call center a seamless success.”

At the new 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.

Goshen Secure Center Summer Youth Program

For more than 15 years, Goshen Secure Center residents have participated in Orange County’s annual Summer Youth Program. This summer, more than 85 percent of Goshen’s youth worked around the building at a time when it was needed most: during the pandemic.

Under vocational instructor Vincent Carioscia’s leadership, youth participating in the Management Institute’s Custodial Certificate Program earned $11.80 per hour working anywhere from five to 30 hours per week and learned the importance of sanitation and how to properly disinfect a variety of surfaces. Other jobs included picking up trash, working in the kitchen and performing building maintenance. Staff are very proud of the residents’ work, and many continue to volunteer despite the program ending in September.

OCFS and State Education Department Collaborate to Navigate Educational Challenges During Pandemic

OCFS’s Division of Child Welfare and Community Services and the New York State Education Department scheduled joint webinars on October 26 and November 5 titled, Navigating K-12 Educational Challenges During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Working Together to Identify Resources and Supports to Strengthen Families Through this Crisis.

The first webinar was well-received by the nearly 280 attendees. Topics for discussion include

  • the importance of collaboration and shared goals between school personnel and child welfare workers,
  • the role of the New York Statewide Central Register for Child Abuse and Maltreatment (SCR) regarding educational neglect calls and
  • identifying strategies both systems can use together to support families and keep children safe during these unprecedented times of remote instruction.

The questions obtained from the Q&A portion of the presentation are collected and will assist in finalizing a joint guidance document that will be disseminated mid-November.

Fighting Juvenile Sex Trafficking

The fantastic illustration above was created in real time while Madeline Hehir, director of the OCFS Bureau of Health and Well-Being, presented in October at a week-long seminar hosted by Shared Hope International (SHI) on child welfare’s critical role in addressing sex trafficking. SHI’s Institute for Justice & Advocacy is offering a series of free child advocacy webinars starting November 18.

More information is available on the Shared Hope web site.

New York State’s Chief Diversity Officer Sends a Message: “Diversity is our greatest strength”

The OCFS Diversity Committee held a special virtual event to mark the 30 days of Hispanic Heritage Month (see the most recent Diversity newsletter for more details on the event). New York State’s Chief Diversity Officer Julissa Gutierrez – a self-described “proud Queens girl” – shared her story of public service.

During the Zoom session, she also urged everyone to vote. “We must provide ongoing and continuous outreach for Latinos,” she said, adding that “in New York, we know diversity is our greatest strength.”

Urban League Offers Industry Residents Support When They Are Ready to Leave the Facility

The Urban League of Rochester (ULR) recently provided insight and guidance to Industry Residential Center residents with an informative and engaging presentation to help them expand their support system when they are set to leave.

The speakers explained that the ULR supports the community and promotes equity through numerous programs in the area, including those about business development, developmental disabilities, family and children services, young fathers, home ownership, youth education and development, and workforce development.

Industry Facility Director Cory Jackson said that residents were particularly interested in “YouthBuild Rochester,” a program serving those aged 18-24 who have dropped out of high school. Participants earn their high school equivalency diploma and an industry-recognized certificate, increase literacy and skills, and strive for employment or enrollment in a post-secondary education program.

Next up is a visit from the Buffalo Urban League to provide a similar presentation to Erie County residents.

National Runaway Prevention Month

To recognize National Runaway Prevention Month, OCFS is hosting a weekly webinar series each Monday in November from 11 a.m.-noon. Topics will cover resources available from 1-800-RUNAWAY, data collection (for certified programs), equity work in runaway and homeless youth programs, youth perspectives on services and more. Webinars will be recorded and can be used for training hours for residential runaway and homeless youth program staff. General OCFS staff are also welcome to take the trainings. You can register for the events in your HSLC account, and then you’ll receive the WebEx link.

Share Your Favorite Holiday Recipes

As we head into the “celebration season,” we have an idea we’d like to stir up: share your favorite holiday recipes.

Many of us have been staying indoors, trying to come up with new, delicious offerings and concoctions to “wow” our family and friends. If you have a recipe for a special dip, appetizer, main dish or (best of all) dessert that you would like to share with your co-workers, we want to hear from you!

Send your recipe and a picture, if possible, to john.craig@ocfs.ny.gov in PIO. We’ll feature some of the best recipes in December.

Messages of a Cane-do Attitude

Messages of excitement, independence and activism were all part of a recent White Cane Awareness Day webinar celebration with the New York State Commission for the Blind (NYSCB), which included honoring three contributors and the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Commissioner Sheila J. Poole welcomed participants and recognized the accomplishments and commitment of the NYSCB and activists. She remarked that the NYSCB opened up a supply chain and had “an incredibly amazing response to OCFS during the height of the pandemic to increase PPE [personal protective equipment].”

The commissioner also honored three people for their contributions: Edward Welsh, president and CEO for the Central Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Utica; Christopher Burke, executive director of the Northeastern Association of the Blind at Albany, Inc.; and Carrie Laney, executive director of the NYS Preferred Source Program in Albany.

The celebration also featured artist Connie Avery (left), who found her vision with paint, tile and photographs; counselor Aaron Baier, who is an advocate and leader for the blind; and activists Cliff Perez and Meghan Parker, who discussed the 1990 ADA passage and how it (and they) have evolved. They all marked the human impact of NYSCB’s work.

OCFS Endorses “See Us, Support Us”

Even as the weather and the leaves change, many messages and programs that OCFS supports remain the same. “See Us, Support Us” is one.

During October, The Osborne Association’s “See Us, Support Us” program offered tips for teachers and other school staff who support students with incarcerated parents. The association recommends using humanizing language to reduce stigma and shame for children and having open-ended conversations that focus on the child’s needs.

Other tips include considering how a student might react to movies, television shows, viral videos and books about the justice system that may be shown in class or that are part of homework. The association also recommends that teachers and staff ask about the kids’ feelings and what they need, rather than asking why the parent is incarcerated. In other words, listen and be non-judgmental and present.

All great recommendations that OCFS stands solidly behind!