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Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor
Sheila J. Poole, Commissioner
January 2021 — Vol. 6, No. 1

Commissioner's Message

I wish you all a new year filled with success, fulfillment, good health, happiness, peace and joy in 2021. Although our New Year’s celebrations were most likely different from previous years, the beginning of a new year remains an open book whose pages have yet to be written.

We hope the first chapter includes an end to the pandemic with the promise of a vaccine and disciplined behavior. The new year brings us new federal leadership, which includes for the first time a woman of color as vice president and a Native American woman as head of the department of the interior. These historic firsts will help pave the road to the racial and social justice our nation demands and will elevate a Native American to a cabinet secretary position at an agency that played a central role in the nation’s long-running abuse of native people – a watershed moment in the United States’ history.

An additional chapter is OCFS’ own ambitious social and racial justice agenda for 2021. We will continue our work against individual, structural and systemic racism and begin to heal the disproportionate damage Black, Brown and poor communities have suffered through the pandemic. We will engage with a renewed vigor to address issues of diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace, the community, the juvenile justice system, in child care and in the child welfare system. We will seek to level the playing field for all, so that opportunities exist for every child and family we touch through our work. We will continue our support for young people aging out of foster care by continuing to provide the support they need to enter adulthood in a stable and successful way.

And let us all begin this new year with a resolve to do our part in individual and collective ways to make this state and nation a better place for everyone. As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on January 18, we are reminded of his quote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

It is my hope for all of you that 2021 will bring hope, peace and a renewed sense of optimism for what is possible as we strive to make a meaningful difference in the lives of the children and families we serve that can resonate for generations to come. I am grateful to have this fresh start with a talented team of individuals to move this work forward. There are challenges ahead, but we have already proven that no challenge is too great for us when we use our collective passion and commitment for a greater good.

Happy new year.

Sincerely,
Sheila J. Poole
Commissioner

Articles

DCCS Creates Must-See TV for Parents Whose Kids Use Technology

The Division of Child Care Services (DCCS) has a new e-Learning course for child care providers titled “Media Use and Safety with Children.” The video is available to all OCFS staff and is especially timely for those who gifted their children with tech this holiday season.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many changes, including the way we and our children communicate. The need for social distancing has increased our reliance on technology, and youth are “socializing” and being educated in a new, virtual world.

The Child Care team created this fully narrated training for anyone who has or is caring for a child who uses technology. The training is rich with ideas and strategies and includes information on keeping children and families safe while helping them engage in good decision-making in a cyber-dominant world. It also provides suggestions for alternatives to technology use to encourage children to turn off their screens and be more present in the world around them.

The “Media Use and Safety with Children” video runs approximately 75 minutes and is available here until March 9, 2021: www.pdp.albany.edu/preview/media-safety/

Human Trafficking is Happening All Around Us

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month

Any child can be targeted by a trafficker. OCFS’ Division of Youth Development and Partnerships for Success (YDAPS) works to educate youth-serving agencies and county social services staff to recognize the signs and prevent trafficking.

OCFS’ Madeline Hehir recently participated in a virtual meeting with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) to take the message nationwide.

“If you look for it, you will find it,” Madeline said about trafficking during the session, the last of a five-part virtual series that is available at missingkids.org.

NCMEC reports that, of the nearly 26,300 runaways reported to them in 2019, one in six were likely victims of child sex trafficking. Traffickers recruit, transport, hold and offer children and teens for sex acts in exchange for money, drugs or a place to stay. The average age of child sex trafficking victims is 15.

“It’s not the creep near a playground in a trench coat,” said Madeline during the seminar. “It’s not a white van snatching a kid off the sidewalk. It’s really folks who take time to build relationships with young people…and build trust and then flip the script once that trust is developed. One of the best tools that traffickers use is empathetic listening.”

To prevent your child from being a victim, Madeline suggests talking with them from a very young age. “You can start when your kids are barely verbal by talking about things like consent and healthy relationships, and you don’t need to use scary words like human trafficking when you are talking with a child. What you can do is model behavior that respects their body and their space and their voice, so it could be as simple as if you are tickling a kid and they say stop, you stop.

YDAPS will be offering additional workshops to recognize Human Trafficking Month including Screening Youth for Trafficking, The Trafficking Confirmation Process, Safe Harbour 2021 Data Collection (for Safe Harbour partners only) and Human Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children 101 (a pilot offering). Stay tuned for more details.

The Duffel Bags Are Here!

During the OCFS Permanency Summit last summer, attendees heard from youth with child welfare experience who explained the trauma of being removed from their own home and placed into foster care and then moving from foster home to foster home.

They detailed how that trauma was compounded by having to transport their belongings in garbage bags and how the symbolism of their belongings being in a garbage bag negatively affected their self-worth and exacerbated an already stressful time in their lives.

OCFS Commissioner Poole raised the concern to agency leadership, who began to brainstorm solutions. Conversations turned to action, an internal team organized for the project, and now OCFS is shipping more than 2,000 federally funded duffel bags to counties around New York State for use by foster youth of various ages. “Our youth deserve dignity when they’re being removed from their homes,” said Lisa Ghartey Ogundimu, deputy commissioner for the Division of Child Welfare and Community Services. “They should have a bag of their own to gather their possessions and certainly not a trash bag during this traumatic time in their lives.”

The top photo shows the Warren County foster care unit displaying some of the bags, and at right shows the Niagara County unit. (We’re relatively certain they are smiling behind their masks.)

More Than 900 Gather Virtually at the 2020 Adult Abuse Training Conference

Each year, adult services professionals from various disciplines gather for the Adult Abuse Training Institute conference, including Adult Protective Services (which OCFS oversees), criminal justice, health care, law enforcement, mental health, public health, aging and domestic violence. This year’s virtual conference drew 929 participants over three days for more than 20 workshops.

Attendees shared real life experiences with practitioners of the INSET model (Intensive and Sustained Engagement and Treatment), which focuses on peer support. Discussions focused on

  • various types of fraud impacting seniors,
  • the impact of sexual orientation and gender identity and abuse for LGBTQ+ elders,
  • the importance of developing and understanding a cross-cultural perspective in APS practice, and
  • the various ways COVID-19 has impacted both the workforce and APS clients.

Some participants ended the conference with a workshop focused on purposeful self-care tips, mindfulness exercises and health care promotion.

To report adult abuse, call (within New York State only): 1-844-697-3505 between 8:30 a.m. and 8 p.m., or contact the local county social services department’s Adult Protective Service bureau

Facility News
Industry’s Beloved Rev. Karyn Carter Retires

To all who have been part of the team at Industry Residential Center (IRC) in Rush, Monroe County, one thing is very clear: Industry’s chaplain, who recently retired, is beloved.

The Rev. Karyn Carter began her OCFS career in 2001 as a part-time chaplain at IRC. Her office was tucked in a corner room in the school building and crammed with resource materials for the children on many different faiths and religions. She always sought and shared that knowledge with the residents, staff and others from all sectors of the OCFS family.

Karyn became the full-time chaplain five years later and continued developing relationships with countless community and faith-based organizations by bringing more volunteers into the facility to assist with meeting the residents’ spiritual and programming needs.

She worked tirelessly to build bridges by encouraging and including various departments to actively plan, collaborate and participate in many celebrations and events at Industry and other OCFS facilities under her tutelage. In 2008, she created an events committee at IRC, bringing the facility community together, extending into established community partners along with the community multiservice offices (CMSOs).

Some of the most anticipated events were the volunteer appreciation dinners, IRC anniversaries and holiday celebrations, trips to Camp Good Days and Special Times, the Industry cemetery clean ups, Fun Day events, some dynamic performances from out-of-state choir groups and more. Many of the concepts and programs that she pioneered were incorporated into the programming at other facilities where she worked. She was particularly pleased with the reception, cooperation and support that she experienced as she traveled among OCFS facilities.

Youth and staff benefitted from her dedication and the many hours she spent discussing faith, spirituality and beliefs with them. On many occasions, she prayed and offered comforting words for staff and for their loved ones. It was not unusual to see her at hospitals, wakes, funerals or memorial services, supporting current and former co-workers, their family members and the youth.

Karyn is a beacon of light who will be missed by the Industry family, its stakeholders and communities throughout the state. Her ability to challenge all to think and see things from different points of view is unique and will be difficult to duplicate.

Former Industry facility director Velma Harris said, “Reverend Carter is a force whose impact will continue to be present for years to come.”

Red Hook Town Library Exemplifies the Season of Giving

With support from members of Red Hook Residential Center’s (RHRC) Community Advisory Board, RHRC was selected for the Great Give Back 2020, a community service initiative by public libraries throughout New York State.

Youth at RHRC were asked to compile a list of desirable literature titles, series and shared interests, which Red Hook Town Library used to solicit donations from community members. The support from the community was overwhelming, with more than 20 people donating 300+ books to the facility library.

RHRC was long overdue for a library refresh, and staff consider themselves fortunate to have such a generous community supporting them. Special thanks to RHRC Education Coordinator Jason Courrege, teacher Travis Lyon and Red Hook’s entire education team for making this happen.”

Red Hook Residents Experience Tele-visit Holiday Shopping

Partnering again with Red Hook Town Library, the youth at Red Hook Residential Center (RHRC) were able to send holiday gifts home to loved ones.

The library annually offers a free holiday gift shop for youth in the community. Community members donate gifts and money, and the library buys additional gifts with the funding and organizes the event. Youth are given a fixed amount of money to spend.

This year, the library offered the youth at RHRC a chance to shop for the holidays via “tele-visits.” Residents virtually selected gifts that were then sent home to loved ones. Since the holidays can be a difficult time forfamilies and youth in care, RHRC staff hoped that this initiative spread cheer and maintained positivity throughout the facility.

Columbia Girls Secure Residents Support Community Organizations in Need and, in Turn, Better Themselves

Ahead of the holiday season, the residents of Columbia Girls Secure Center were busy helping others.

  • They hosted a canned food drive for the local Hudson Elks Lodge.
  • They adopted a family and provided essential items to make the holiday season a little brighter for their neighbors in need.
  • They reached out to local nursing homes to provide baked goods and holiday cards to residents who may not be able to see their families during this year.

“Through engaging in these symbiotic relationships with those in need, the girls are themselves maturing and increasing their own sense of self-confidence and purpose,” said Dominic Bucci, Columbia’s assistant director of program. “The entire facility strives to empower these young women by helping them develop important social skills such as empathy and teamwork, all while providing much needed services to their local community.”

World Braille Day Recognized on January 4

The French educator and inventor of the system of reading and writing for the blind and visually impaired, Louis Braille, was born January 4, 1809. To this day, his system remains virtually unchanged.

An early childhood accident left Louis blind in both eyes, but he was able to overcome his disability while still a boy. He excelled in his education and earned a scholarship to France’s Royal Institute for Blind Youth. While there, he began developing a system of tactile code that could allow blind people to read and write quickly and efficiently.

Louis presented his work to his peers for the first time in 1824 when he was only 15 years old.

He was determined to find a way to bridge the gap in communication between the sighted and the blind. In his own words: "Access to communication in the widest sense is access to knowledge, and that is vitally important for us if we [the blind] are not to go on being despised or patronized by condescending sighted people. We do not need pity, nor do we need to be reminded we are vulnerable. We must be treated as equals – and communication is the way this can be brought about."

As an adult, Louis became an accomplished musician, playing the cello and organ, while serving as a professor at the Royal Institute. The Braille system went unused by most educators for many years after his death in 1852. It wasn’t until 1916 when the Braille system was officially adopted by schools for the blind in the United States and universally in 1932.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Day of Service is a Day “On”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Day is Monday, January 18. Known as a “Day of Service,” the day seeks to inspire people to serve their community or a volunteer group.

The day commemorates and reminds us of Dr. King’s dreams and goals; to reflect on his legacy in everyday life; to learn about social, political and economic factors that contributed to the civil rights movement; to embrace his philosophy of nonviolence; and to appreciate and respect the contributions and rights of others without regard to our similarities or differences.

This year’s holiday marks the 26th anniversary of the day of service and is observed as “a day on, not a day off.”

In honor of MLK, OCFS is holding a statewide food drive until February 12, 2021. Staff coming into the office can donate food in the collection boxes. Those who wish to make a monetary donation electronically can do so at empirestateplaza.ny.gov/dr-king-statewide-food- drive.