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Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor
Sheila J. Poole, Commissioner
March 2021 — Vol. 5, No. 1

Deputy Commissioner's Message

A Message from Deputy Commissioner Lisa Ghartey Ogundimu

Looking Back, Forging Ahead: Advancing Child and Family Well-being Together

Unprecedented – the word has become as commonplace as masks and virtual meetings. And yet, 2020 has been anything but commonplace.

We have experienced collective trauma as COVID-19 upended the way we live, work and even honor lost loved ones. It also highlighted societal inequities that we must eradicate in bold and creative ways that support vulnerable children and families whose finances, housing, child care, health and employment were tenuous before the pandemic.

Transform to a Child and Family Well-being System

In January, an Administration for Children and Families (ACF) memorandum called upon all leaders to emerge from COVID-19 transformed and to create “dramatically improved human services delivery systems....” The Division of Child Welfare and Community Services seeks to transform our current system into a child and family well-being system, embarking on new strategies, strengthening partnerships and promoting its racial and social justice agenda, which has multiple priorities to significantly improve and strengthen the lives of children and families and focuses on primary prevention and economic supports.

Communities Know Their Needs the Best

We strive for a system that involves youth and families in policy and practice, strengthens cross- system partnerships and recognizes that communities know what their needs and strengths are. Child abuse and maltreatment must be addressed as a public health issue, engaging the entire community in prevention and ensuring that parents have the supports and services they need. A recent study found that strengthening economic security for low-income families can lead to reduced rates of reported maltreatment. This is significant because, as we know, most reports made to the New York Statewide Central Register for Child Abuse and Maltreatment (SCR) are not for physical, emotional or sexual abuse, but for neglect. We also know childhood poverty disproportionately impacts children of color.

Identify Concrete Supports

In addition to economic supports and federal funding flexibilities, practice changes such as Signs of Safety and Family Assessment Response (FAR) will vastly improve family engagement. Workers will be better able to identify concrete supports – such as housing, rent, utilities, food and clothing – that families need to keep children safe and healthy. Through Blind Removals and a Kin-First Firewall, we can reduce disproportionate minority representation in child welfare and keep children safely home. New foster parent training models will keep older youth out of congregate care and place them in foster boarding homes when relatives cannot be located. These practices align with the intent of the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) and well-position New York State for implementation on September 29, 2021.

These are bold and necessary strategies to change the status quo. We must be open to change and grow together in this transformation.

In Brief

March is Women's History Month

Articles

Celebrating Child Welfare 2020 Highlights

Despite the many challenges of 2020, CWCS and our local districts, voluntary and state agency partners stayed the course and achieved many milestones in our vital work. Here are some examples.

Race Equity/Social Justice

OCFS embarked on a robust race equity/social justice agenda to

  • reduce implicit bias across the child welfare continuum through Blind Removal/Kin-First Firewall,
  • create a “warm line” for parents/caregivers and current or former youth in care seeking assistance or in crisis,
  • improve family engagement through Family Assessment Response (FAR) and Signs of Safety, and
  • ban the use of prone restraints in all child welfare-licensed programs (see next article on the 2021 State of the State)
Call Centers

While maintaining its support of the most critical inbound calls, the OCFS Human Services Call Center supported New York State’s COVID-19 response efforts by

  • scheduling thousands of appointments for diagnostic tests
  • building the New York State Office of Mental Health’s Emotional Support Helpline
  • making more than 100,000 calls to health care volunteers

The Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment (SCR) continued its mission-critical work, operating 24/7 throughout the pandemic, working on-site to provide critical health and safety service to mandated reporters and the public for the protection of children.

Foster Care
  • The OCFS Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children team received a “Best of OCFS” recognition.
  • The “My Bag” program was launched in consultation with the Youth Advisory Board to provide children/youth removed from their homes or changing foster placements with an age-appropriate duffel bag. As a result, 4,291 bags were distributed through local districts and partners throughout the state.
Child Welfare
  • OCFS launched a Parent Advisory Board and created a Statewide Child Fatality Review Team.
  • CWCS conducted two webinars with the New York State Education Department regarding educational challenges during COVID-19, focusing on the importance of communication and collaboration between education and child welfare systems to keep children safe and their families supported.
  • The team received federal recognition for a We Are Child Welfare and We Are Essential video it created to celebrate child welfare workers during COVID-19.
  • OCFS continued monthly Statewide Implementation Team meetings to assist New York State in Family First Prevention Services Act implementation.
Bureau of Adult Services
  • The Bureau of Adult Services hosted a three-day virtual version of the Annual Adult Abuse Training Institute (AATI) with more than 900 attendees.

State of the State Includes Four Child Welfare Initiatives

Governor Cuomo has established a longstanding track record of social justice initiatives, race equity and improving outcomes for children and families involved in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. This year’s Executive Budget Proposal continues this trend with four new initiatives introduced in the State of the State address:

  • Eliminating the use of prone restraints in all child welfare and residential juvenile justice settings. To further promote safety system-wide, OCFS is banning prone (face-down) restraints, given the potential for injuries and deaths. The safety and well-being of the youth in our care are our primary goals. Banning the use of a physical intervention with the associated risks is our responsibility.
  • Creating a “blind step-up” procedure to determine if a child needs to be elevated into congregate care. This would require decision-makers to review only relevant facts, without information that may reveal the race or socio-economic background of the child. This requires review of a decision to move a child into a higher level of care based solely on the facts to eliminate the possibility of implicit bias impacting the decision-making process.
  • Requiring implicit bias training for all child welfare staff This statewide initiative will have far-reaching positive outcomes and will place New York State in the vanguard of a national strategy that can reduce racial disparity and build a more equitable and just child welfare system.
  • Requiring statewide implementation of the Family Assessment Response (FAR) program over three years. FAR is one of two child protective responses used in New York State. It emphasizes partnership with the family to identify solutions and supports that best meet their needs. As opposed to a traditional investigation, the CPS FAR track may be used when there are no severe safety concerns for the children.

New York State Prevention Summit is March 10-11, 2021

Mark your calendars for March 10-11 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for the virtual New York State Prevention Summit: Working Together to Enhance Child and Family Well-being. The virtual platform will allow local departments of social services, voluntary agencies and community-based organizations to gather and learn about best practices for collaboration, strengthening families through prevention services, using data to identify community needs and resources, developing strategies for transforming residential care and promoting economic mobility.

Registration for the event is closed, but you may email registration@yriny.org to inquire if you can still attend with the subject line, “Please register me for the NYS Prevention Summit.”

OCFS Partners With Local Departments of Social Services and Voluntary Agencies to Increase Access to Vaccinations

Local departments of social services (LDSSs) and voluntary agencies (VAs) have been invaluable partners in OCFS’s efforts to share information and logistics regarding COVID-19 vaccinations for local child protective services, adult protective services and congregate care staff and residents. OCFS shared the New York State Department of Health’s guidance in January regarding prioritization of vaccines. In a statewide webinar with LDSSs and VAs, OCFS answered questions from the field to clarify the guidance, which now includes vaccine eligibility for youth aged 16 or older. Thanks to a partnership with the state Office of Mental Health, the number of sites available for congregate programs to access vaccinations has increased to include OMH-operated sites.

The federal government recently announced that New York State will receive 164,000 Johnson and Johnson vaccines, in addition to the increased vaccination allotments from Pfizer and Moderna that the state has received in recent weeks. President Joe Biden has said that there will be enough vaccines available to vaccinate all adults who wish to receive it by the end of May. OCFS is grateful for all the efforts of local departments of social services and voluntary agencies in helping youth and staff to access vaccines.

Navigating K-12 Educational Challenges During the COVID-19 Pandemic: New York State Office of Children and Family Services and the NYS Education Department Release Joint Guidance

OCFS’s Division of Child Welfare and Community Services and the State Education Department recently issued joint guidance on processes both school and child welfare personnel should undertake in response to concerns about educational neglect in remote, in-person or hybrid learning settings.

The guidance document follows up on two related webinars held in October and November 2020 and was disseminated on February 10, 2021. It’s available on the Educational Stability Provisions for Students in Foster Care page on the OCFS website. It is under the heading, November 5, 2020 Joint Webinar OCFS/SED, along with the webinar’s presentation PowerPoint.

The Family First Prevention Services Act Workbook is Here!

As New York State continues to implement the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA), OCFS is pleased to announce a new resource: Implementing the Family First Prevention Services Act Workbook. The workbook is a guide to prepare local departments of social services and voluntary agencies for FFPSA implementation by gathering and assessing relevant data, identifying bright spots and challenges, and aligning practices, procedures and policies within the provisions of the law. Links to data and other information are provided throughout the document, which includes a resource section at the end.

OCFS greatly appreciates the input of our districts, agencies and advocate partners in helping to develop the contents of this guidance document. The workbook can be found at on the Family First page of the OCFS website under the heading Family First Readiness Resources for LDSSs/VAs.

OCFS Collaborates With Sister Agencies on Adoption and Substance Abuse Disorders

With courts having to close due to COVID-19, OCFS, the Office of Court Administration (OCA) and the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) are collaborating to address the backlog of adoption cases and KinGAP finalizations. ACS provided a list of children, and staff from the Court Improvement Project will review the cases with the court clerks and court adoption attorneys to expedite them. The workgroup will also identify barriers other than court closings that may have affected the calendaring of these cases.

Additionally, the OCA, in partnership with OCFS, the state Office of Addiction Services and Supports and the state Department of Health, is implementing an Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) grant awarded to OCA aimed at assisting families in the child welfare system who are experiencing substance abuse disorders. Key concepts from a previous OJJDP grant, namely embedding family treatment court concepts into any family court, will be expanded to more rural counties. Data will be used to identify which counties and family courts will start this initiative.

Buffalo Regional Office Hosts OCFS Black History Month Celebration

Kudos to the Buffalo Regional Office for another successful Black History Month celebration. Though the pandemic prevented the usual in-person event, the virtual celebration allowed for even greater participation.

The event’s theme was “Honoring the Past, Celebrating the Present and Preparing for the Future.” It began with a powerful slide show of pictures of Dr. Martin Luther King, coupled with a video of the Black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” The lyrics share a prayer of thanksgiving for faithfulness and freedom.

Former OCFS Director of Strategic Partnerships and Collaborations and current Division of Criminal Justice Services Deputy Commissioner, Office of Youth Justice Greg Owens provided a thought-provoking and moving presentation, asking participants to remain vigilant as we see the racial inequities that remain in our systems and identify policies and practices that contribute to these inequities and structural racism.

Greg asked attendees to consider the impact, rather than the intent, of race equity work. He reminded them that, while current events and continued disparity rates of children and families of color are a stark reminder that much more needs to be done to resolve the racial inequities that pervade our nation, there is still reason to celebrate. He shared a moving poem by Lucille Clifton titled, “Won’t You Celebrate With Me,” which triumphantly declares, “Come celebrate with me that every day something has tried to kill me and has failed.”

The event ended with a special guest speaker – former OCFS Commissioner John Johnson – who offered a powerful history lesson that lifted previous black leaders who paved the way for future black leaders. He encouraged everyone to move forward with the courage to be an icon because the leaders that came before us paved the way.