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Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor
Sheila J. Poole, Commissioner
February 2021 — Vol. 6, No. 2

Commissioner's Message

February is Black History Month, a time to illuminate the lives and historic contributions of Black Americans and celebrate Black culture. This year’s celebration is bolstered by new energy for advancement of civil rights and racial equity, with a new federal administration that has already begun this work and state proposals to advance the justice agenda that is long overdue.

The focus of our virtual celebration will be “Honoring the Past, Celebrating the Present and Preparing for the Future.” The celebration on February 24 will be led by the Buffalo Regional Office diversity team. We will hear from a former colleague, Greg Owens, and celebrate Black culture with the help of youth from our facilities throughout the month. Watch the OCFS intranet page for trivia, cultural submissions, and, of course, recipes!

This is also the time of year when we are deeply engaged in advancing new policies and initiatives outlined in the State of the State address and the Executive Budget proposal. OCFS’s initiatives continue to build on our work to promote fairness, equity and justice for the youth and families we serve. We are energized by the possibilities before us and anxious to implement these transformational proposals that you’ll read more about in this newsletter.

There is also great optimism surrounding the beginning of the federal and state vaccination programs, which are a ray of light at the end of a very long and dark tunnel. While we still must remain vigilant in wearing masks and social distancing, this development brings our hope of return to normalcy ever closer.

I want to thank all of you who worked so hard to develop the innovative proposals that have been brought forth in this year’s Executive Budget proposal. The thoughtfulness and thoroughness demonstrate your deep commitment to our shared mission of promoting the well-being of New York’s children, families and vulnerable adults. I look forward to moving these proposals across the finish line with you and to seeing them come to fruition to the benefit of all New Yorkers.

Sincerely,
Sheila J. Poole
Commissioner

Articles

Governor Proposes Child Welfare Reform, Child Care Support and Facility Closures in 2021 Executive Budget

Governor Andrew Cuomo recently delivered his State of the State address and Executive Budget proposal amid uncertainty about federal aid for state and local governments and a need to restart and rebuild New York’s economy. Even so, the proposal advances new policies and initiatives to better serve New York’s children and families.

Proposed child welfare initiatives seek to promote the well-being of all children and promote racial, social and economic justice. The governor called for:

  • Eliminating prone restraints in all child welfare and residential juvenile justice settings.
  • Creating a “blind step-up” procedure to determine whether a child needs to be placed into congregate care; decision makers would review only relevant facts, without any race, socio-economic or sexual orientation/gender identity information.
  • Requiring implicit bias training for all child welfare staff.
  • Requiring statewide implementation of the Family Assessment Response program over three-years.
  • Making legislative changes to ensure timely assessments and court approvals for children being placed in foster care in qualified residential treatment programs.
  • Investing $40 million to institute a cap on parent subsidy copays for child care.
  • Investing $6 million in grants to create new child care programs in underserved areas.
  • Expanding the employer-provided child care credit.
  • Establishing permanent child care sector workgroups within the Regional Economic Development Councils.
  • Standardizing and modernizing the child care subsidy system to eliminate waste, duplication and confusing rules for families.
  • Eliminating redundant background checks that increase administrative burdens and costs for providers.

Additionally, the Governor’s budget includes a proposal to close Goshen Secure Center, Brentwood Residential Center, Columbia Secure Center and Red Hook Residential Center. While this proposal will mean displacement of youth and staff from their current locations, it is also an important milestone in our efforts to reduce the number of youth in placement, which has decreased by 73 percent since 2010. Efforts are already underway to assist affected staff in locating new opportunities within DJJOY, OCFS or elsewhere in New York State.

OCFS Anti-trafficking Videos Available as Part of January’s Human Trafficking Month Initiatives

As part of January’s Human Trafficking Month, nine new OCFS-produced videos created for the Making Connections: Navigating Social Media Safely with Youth conference are now featured on our YouTube channel. All staff are encouraged to view the videos to learn more about trafficking and which populations we serve are most at risk of being victimized.

Additionally, many staff members wore blue to raise awareness on Monday, January 11, national Human Trafficking Awareness Day. And last month, regional offices organized initiatives including webinars, social media campaigns, billboard messaging and newspaper ads.

OCFS’s division of Youth Development and Partnerships for Success also held webinars as part of Human Trafficking Month, which will be posted for viewing in the HSLC. The videos are:

  • Notification Processes Pertaining to Youth Survivors of Trafficking – an overview of the different processes for identified survivors of youth trafficking, including screening and confirmation.
  • Screening for Youth Trafficking – an overview of the required OCFS trafficking screening tools.
  • 2021 Safe Harbour Data Collection – a guide to completing Safe Harbour data collection, including a review of 2021 updates

Division of Child Welfare and Community Services Looks Boldly to the Future

OCFS’s division of Child Welfare and Community Services (CWCS) is ready to answer the national call to transform the child welfare system into a child and family well-being system while continuing to advance our racial and social justice agenda, focusing on two priorities that will significantly improve the lives of children and families: primary prevention and promoting economic stability.

“For too long, the child welfare system has worked from an individual deficit approach as the reason for families’ circumstances,” said Lisa Ghartey Ogundimu, CWCS’ deputy commissioner. “The time is now to recognize and address macro-level barriers to well-being – poverty, systemic racism and inequality – and relentlessly seek meaningful interventions to create conditions for children, families and communities to thrive free from harm in a more just and equitable system.”

Identifying community resources and developing diverse partnerships across various sectors will expand pathways for districts and agencies to support children and families. Stay tuned for the CWCS winter newsletter, which delves into these issues more in-depth.

Black History Month Will Honor the Past, Celebrate the Present and Prepare for the Future

February is Black History Month. Each year, OCFS celebrates the achievements of African Americans.

This year’s celebration will go online from OCFS’s Buffalo Regional Office. The Western New York office Black History Committee, in partnership with the OCFS Diversity Committee, is creating a statewide virtual celebration of Black History Month on February 24, 12-1 p.m., with the theme, “Honoring the Past, Celebrating the Present and Preparing for the Future.”

In the weeks leading up to the event, keep your eyes posted on the intranet for weekly Black history trivia and facts. The celebration will include a fun, interactive game to test people’s knowledge of Black history.

It will also include:

  • a message from Commissioner Sheila J. Poole,
  • a keynote address by our former OCFS colleague Greg Owens, deputy commissioner/director of the Office of Youth Justice with the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services,
  • a showcase of contributions from staff and youth in OCFS facilities, including poetry, art and a culinary representation of food that is culturally and historically significant.

FACILITY NEWS: Powerful Mural Created by Youth at MacCormick Installed in City of Ithaca

The Press Bay Alley section of downtown Ithaca houses a new piece of artwork – a striking mural that residents at MacCormick Secure Center completed for the 2020 Justice Walls Mural Project.

“Bravo to MacCormick youth!” said OCFS Commissioner Sheila J. Poole. “The mural has such impact and conveys meaning to all who see it.”

MacCormick was one of 20 mural designs selected for a $200 grant from Ithaca Murals, an organization helping fund more than 20 cultural heritage and justice-related murals in the Ithaca area.

The mural will be juried by Ithaca area justice leaders and representatives of co-sponsoring organizations, with the winner announced in March 2021. Several community members have already visited the mural and snapped photos.

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

Goshen Youth Celebrate MLK Day With Poetry and Writings

To celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, Goshen students participated in a poetry/writing contest about the civil rights leader.

Each student researched Dr. King’s life during their English and history classes and extracted excerpts from his teachings to include in their writing (see below).

Goshen staff had two main goals for the project: that the youth engaging in this activity were further educated on the works of Dr. King and the impact he made on American society and that, through their research and various classes, the students were empowered with the idea that they, too, can accomplish great things.

I have a dream

Like Dr. King I have a dream
That police would stop killing
black people and my race
wouldn’t have to protest. Like Dr. King
I have a dream that black queens
will stop using drugs and selling
themselves. Like Dr. King, I have a dream
that the system will
stop handing out life sentencing
to the black race. Like Dr. King
I have a dream that young black
men will put down guns and
stop killing each other. Like Dr. King
I have a dream that felons
should have the right to vote
for who they believe should be
president.

Reforms to Persons in Need of Supervision Rules See Success in First Year

Youth who have been deemed persons in need of supervision (PINS) by the courts have not committed a crime, but their behavior is disruptive – not following the rules at home, ditching school or running away – and some families can feel overwhelmed.

Although New York State ended the use of secure detention and state placement for PINS many years ago, youth could still be sent to non-secure detention and placed in foster care for truancy, running away or “incorrigibility,” said OCFS Deputy Commissioner Dr. Nina Aledort. “Youth detained or placed on a PINS were disproportionately Black or Latinx, and often stayed in placement until they aged out of care and into a precarious adulthood.”

As part of ongoing juvenile justice reform, New York changed PINS laws in 2019 to end the use of detention entirely and eliminated truancy as a reason to place a youth in foster care. Additionally, Raise the Age ended all state funds that supported placement of youth for PINS, and the criteria for funding for community-based responses in Supervision and Treatment Services for Juveniles Program (STSJP) was expanded for counties.

“This change helped stakeholders look carefully at the reasons why youth have been brought before a judge for non-criminal behavior,” Nina said. “It provided an opportunity to reframe youth who run away from being out of control to potentially being victims of sex trafficking and reinforced the need to seek and exhaust all community-based options before placing a youth.”

Under the new law, youth placed in foster care settings due to PINS “has plummeted,” Nina said, adding that this could be due in part to COVID and in part to a new way of thinking and responding to youth and families.

“The changes in the law put some speedbumps in the process that allow time to think that youth may be hurting and scared rather than difficult and self-destructive. That changes the response, and we see a positive shift.”

Commission for the Blind’s Iris Popkin Marks 50 Years in 2021’s Longevity Class

Iris Popkin, who recently marked 50 years as an OCFS employee, became a vocational rehabilitation counselor in 1971 with the then-named Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped under the New York State Department of Social Services – and she never looked back.

“When I first started, I never thought I’d be here this long,” Iris said. “I like it. I feel like I am being productive and helping people.”

Iris carries a caseload of about 100 people at any time, and she says the best phone calls are the ones out of the blue. People she’s helped call just to chat and thank her again. She remembers one teenager who “…could have gone either way and turned herself around.”

Iris was one of 74 OCFS employees honored with Length of Service Awards in January. Assistant commissioners used words like dedication, drive and determination to describe those who have been with the agency for 25 years or more. (See the full list below of people celebrating a five-year milestone.)

“Don’t visit the Office of the Comptroller’s retirement website for at least another decade,” joked Commissioner Sheila J. Poole at the virtual ceremony. The commissioner is “hopeful for happier, sunnier days ahead” and added, “It makes me so happy to see your faces…it feels like we are together as a family.”

Iris shows no signs of stopping on her golden anniversary and is pleased with the agency’s evolution. When she began, there were very few female supervisors, and now, she said, it has “opened up tremendously” in terms of gender and race.

“I feel like a dinosaur,” she joked, recalling when all cases were done on paper before the transition to computers. And she says she’ll keep working “…as long as I am able. I’m healthy and productive.”

Length of Service Awards
50 Years
  • Iris Popkin (Commission for the Blind)
40 Years
  • John Armao (Administration)
  • Barbara Campbell (Commission for the Blind)
  • Mark Ciovacco (DJJOY)
  • William Finamore (Child Care)
  • Barbara Kellerman (Commission for the Blind)
  • Susan Lederer (Commission for the Blind)
  • Nancy Levy (Commission for the Blind)
  • Janet Sapio-Mayta (Children & Families)
35 Years
  • Derwin Bannerman (DJJOY)
  • Maureen Banuls (Administration)
  • Tammy Eriksen (Child Care)
  • Craig Galarneau (Commission for the Blind)
  • John Johnson (DJJOY)
  • Linda Prokorym (Child Welfare & Community Serv)
  • Cynthia Rivera (Child Welfare & Community Serv)
  • Anita Sapio (DJJOY)
30 Years
  • Francesco Bianco Jr. (DJJOY)
  • Larry Carpenter (Child Care)
  • David Colombo (DJJOY)
  • Miguel Colon (DJJOY)
  • Addison Cunningham (DJJOY)
  • Mark Davis (DJJOY)
  • Deborah Fischer (Child Care)
  • Maith Fleming (Administration)
  • Frances Franco-Montero (Child Care)
  • Angela Gordon (Administration)
  • Scott Handy (DJJOY)
  • Mary Hendee (DJJOY)
  • Victoria Hunt (DJJOY)
  • Eric Jensen (DJJOY)
  • Deresse Kesela (Child Care)
  • Karen Kocienski (Child Welfare & Community Serv)
  • Beth McCarthy (Administration)
  • Michael Miller (Child Welfare & Community Serv)
  • Harold Milton (DJJOY)
  • Billy Moss (DJJOY)
  • Emy Murphy (Administration)
  • Mary Muzio (Administration)
  • Penni Orlando (Child Care)
  • Eddie Parker Jr. (DJJOY)
  • Denise Pitcher (DJJOY)
  • Sandra Robertson (Child Welfare & Community Serv)
  • Vanessa Smythe (DJJOY)
  • Jean Tatko-Gile (Administration)
  • Beth Warner (Child Welfare & Community Serv)
25 Years
  • Thomas Callan (DJJOY)
  • Vincent Carioscia (DJJOY)
  • Lorraine Clark (DJJOY)
  • Keith Collins (DJJOY)
  • Steven Connolly (Legal)
  • Stephanie Donato (Administration)
  • Christopher Dunlavey (DJJOY)
  • Eric Elliott (DJJOY)
  • Shelly Fiebich (Child Welfare & Community Serv)
  • Briggie Griffin-Glover (DJJOY)
  • Michele Harris (DJJOY)
  • Jim Hart Jr, (Child Care)
  • Christina Hernandez (DJJOY)
  • Cheryl Hunter (Commission for the Blind)
  • Kathy Jones (YDAPS)
  • Willie Kirkland (DJJOY)
  • Belinda Lopez (Legal)
  • Scott McCain (DJJOY)
  • Bill McMorris (DJJOY)
  • Nancie Saphara (DJJOY)
  • Shane Spaker (DJJOY)
  • Clayton Spruill (DJJOY)
  • Sonia Tate (YDAPS)
  • Jorge Thorpe (DJJOY)
  • John Udochi (Legal)
  • Dawn Vanderwater (DJJOY)
  • Eric Warner (DJJOY)
  • Eric Williams Sr. (DJJOY)

Two New Fellows Join OCFS Divisions of Child Care and Strategic Planning and Policy Development

Welcome to two new OCFS fellows from the Center for Women in Government and Civil Society at the University at Albany.

Rachel Craig is working toward her master’s in public health. She has joined OCFS’ Division of Child Care Services (DCCS), specializes in social behavior and community health and is pursuing a maternal and child health graduate certificate. She has worked as a health educator and has taught sexuality and general health education to various community audiences in addition to being a research project assistant for the Maternal and Child Health program at U Albany.

Catherine Kramer is a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Social Welfare at U Albany and has also joined OCFS as a fellow on Women and Public Policy. Catherine has worked with children, youth and families as a clinical social worker and has pursued organizational and community designs and practices that ensure healthy development and opportunity for all young people. She works within the Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Development to support the work of both the Bureau of Policy Analysis and the Bureau of Research Evaluation and Performance Analytics.

A Valentine’s Day…Tree?

It’s not every day that you see a Valentine’s Day tree, but that is indeed what sits on a file cabinet in OCFS’ Division of Child Care Services (DCCS).

Always spirited and uplifting with decorations throughout the year, the division took a new twist on the heart holiday.

The tree brings a smile to those who spot it, and the note at the bottom says, “DECORATE ME,” which reflects DCCS’ consistent approach toward unity, fun and collaboration. During a pandemic, this style is especially inspiring!

What will DCCS think of next? Maybe we’ll see a tree with shamrocks and leprechauns in March.