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Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor
Sheila J. Poole, Commissioner
April 2021 — Vol. 6, No. 4

Commissioner's Message

Greetings and happy spring to all of you. This is a time of new beginnings as the earth wakes from its winter slumber with trees budding and flowers appearing. Similarly, as COVID-19 infections decrease and the number of people being vaccinated increases, we are experiencing a new beginning, with more people returning to the office and engaging in sports, cultural and recreational activities that have been paused for the past year.

We can now see the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, and we can begin the healing process after a traumatic year. The pandemic has been especially difficult for children, with online learning and isolation from peers. Children experiencing abuse may have been quarantined in their homes out of sight of mandated reporters.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, which is at the very core of our mission – keeping children and families safe. This is our focus every month of the year and the reason we invest hundreds of millions of dollars in prevention. This year, more than ever, we must redouble our efforts to ensure that the programs we oversee are able to identify families who are at risk and engage them with the supports they need to make their own new beginning.

I hope you will join us on April 1, “Wear Blue Day,” and don something blue to raise awareness of child abuse prevention efforts. Please also join us and wear blue on April 20, when OCFS holds its agency-wide Child Abuse Prevention Month event. We will also, of course, plant pinwheel gardens, a simple way to remind ourselves and our communities that every child deserves a happy and carefree childhood.

Thank you for all you do to promote the safety, permanency and well-being of our fellow New Yorkers. I especially want to thank our Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment staff, who are on the front lines of the war against child abuse every day, and all of our child welfare professionals who have dedicated their careers to making New York a safer place for all children. As we continue our critical work during National Child Abuse Prevention Month, let’s encourage others to keep an eye out for the well-being of all children – they deserve our very best.

Sincerely,
Sheila J. Poole
Commissioner

Articles

Prevention Summit’s Packed Agenda Focuses on Enhancing Child and Family Well- Being

“Be Your Own Electrician”

John Thompson, a principal education specialist at the SUNY Albany Research Foundation, opened OCFS’s Prevention Summit offering some thoughts by David Byrne, former lead singer of the Talking Heads. Byrne pondered how the brain is wired and whether we could become our own electrician and rewire it to think innovatively. He feels we can change, and we can move mountains.

Commissioner Poole’s welcome remarks echoed this idea for more than 200 attendees as she asked people to pause and remember that it was one year ago that we experienced the beginning of a profound period of darkness.

“I hope with kicking off today’s summit that you’re all beginning to feel a hopeful sense of renewal,” said the commissioner. “Take a moment to acknowledge yourself for your heroic moments, every person on this call – we all did what we needed to do to. We didn’t pause our other work while moving through the pandemic.”

Staff were innovative. “Think about what we did in 2020 and imagine what we can do in 2021 and beyond. I’m very excited about the possibilities,” she noted.

Lisa Ghartey Ogundimu, deputy commissioner of OCFS’s Division of Child Welfare and Community Services, noted she once heard the phrase “don’t waste a crisis,” meaning learn as much from a crisis as you can, and emerge transformed.

“We need your help – be bold and creative. Maybe we stop and ask our families – what is it that you need, how are you hurting, and how can I help you?”

Presenter Dr. Bart Klika, featured at left and chief research officer of Prevent Child Abuse America, outlined steps to address child, family and community needs, and create equitable systems of care and support for children and families to thrive.

The impressive list of speakers included Clare Anderson, senior policy fellow, Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago; Keith Little, president and CEO of SCO Family of Services; and Elizabeth Wolkomir, assistant commissioner of New York City Administration for Children’s Services. Topics included community-based practice models, the foster care transition to Medicaid managed care, group attachment-based interventions, community planning resources and banning prone restraints.

New Child Care and Development Fund Plan Coming Soon

OCFS administers the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF), an $8.7 billion federal block grant that provides resources to state, territory and tribal grantees to enable low-income parents to work or pursue education and training so that they can better support their families. The program also provides funding to enhance the quality of child care for all children in New York State. In 2020, New York’s CCDF allocation was $456 million.

The CCDF plan is an agreement between the lead agency and the federal government about how CCDF programs will be administered. The three-year plan covers federal fiscal years 2022-2024 (October 1, 2021-September 30, 2024).

Division of Child Care Services Deputy Commissioner Janice Molnar said that the CCDF’s goals are to

  • promote parental choice;
  • help deliver high-quality, early child care;
  • raise standards for health and safety; and
  • increase the number of low-income children in high-quality child care settings -- making input from key stakeholders critical to the program’s success.

Public hearings for the CCDF, held virtually this year, are scheduled for May 3, 4 and 6. Day and night sessions will be offered so child care providers and working parents can attend. Input will be incorporated into the report to the federal Office of Child Care by July 1.

OCFS has already conducted additional meetings to discuss the plan and receive feedback, including on February 4 with the New York State Early Childhood Advisory Council and on March 13 with members of the Child Welfare and Community Services division Parent Advisory Board. OCFS will meet in early April with three of the tribal nations located in New York State.

Division of Youth Development and Partnerships for Success to be Featured on National StoryCorps

To mark the 20th anniversary of the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Trafficking in Persons (OTIP) and the Administration for Native Americans is working with StoryCorps, a national oral history project, to record and preserve the stories of the anti-trafficking community.

On April 16, a conversation about youth trafficking between Division of Youth Development and Partnerships for Success (YDAPS) Deputy Commissioner Nina Aledort and Madeline Hehir, YDAP’s Bureau of Health and Well-Being director, will be taped and featured on StoryCorps, which brings people together, two at a time, to record conversations about their lives. Recordings are then preserved at the Library of Congress.

“I was thrilled that OTIP asked me to participate to discuss a topic I feel so passionately about,” Madeline said. “It is an honor to support trafficking survivors and to share our experiences with others.”

From March through July, StoryCorps is collecting oral histories through conversations with those who have informed, shaped and contributed to the successes of the anti-trafficking field over the past two decades, along with stories from trafficking survivors.

“The conversation won’t be scripted,” said Nina, “but we plan to discuss how the work has grown and shifted over time, progress we’ve made, our challenges to understand which programs are helpful, how to build a community of practice, how young people have influenced our thinking, and changing the hearts and minds of many adults who often saw the survivors as complicit in their own abuse.”

Pinwheels and Blue Mark Child Abuse Prevention Month

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and OCFS will mark the month with staff wearing the color blue on April 1 and April 20; planting or spinning pinwheels, a sign of childhood whimsy; lighting various New York State landmarks in blue on April 14; and hosting a special event on April 20 at noon.

The virtual presentation, “Protective Factors: Proven Strategies to Reduce Child Abuse,” will feature Dr. Melissa T. Merrick, president and CEO of Prevent Child Abuse America (at right); Tim Hathaway, director of Prevent Child Abuse New York; Commissioner Poole; and Lisa Ghartey Ogundimu, deputy commissioner of the Child Welfare and Community Services division. Everyone is invited, and whether your computer camera is on or not, we urge you to wear blue for national “Wear Blue Day,” which OCFS is celebrating on April 20.

OCFS is also recognizing Child Abuse Prevention Month with

  • a governor’s proclamation officially noting the month,
  • a pre-recorded hold message at the Human Services Call Center in both English and Spanish, reminding us that COVID-19 has made parenting even more challenging,
  • pinwheel plantings in late March, and
  • multiple social media posts that will include the #GreatChildhoodsNY hashtag.

If you, or someone you know, needs support, please call 1-800 CHILDREN or 1-800-244-5373.

OCFS Celebrated Women’s History Month and Social Worker Appreciation Month

The month of March marked two important celebrations: Social Worker Appreciation Month and Women’s History Month, or as some call it, Women’s HerStory Month.

For Social Worker Appreciation Month, OCFS paid tribute to staff social workers by listing their names on the intranet. If you didn’t see your name and would like to be added, please contact the Public Information Office at info@ocfs.ny.gov.

The New York City Regional Office, in conjunction with the OCFS Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, hosted a celebration of Women’s HerStory and Social Worker Appreciation Month in late March. It included a virtual exhibition of women who have made positive contributions to our society and a keynote from Linda Lausell Bryant, Ph.D., M.S.W., B.A., master teacher and clinical associate professor at the NYU Silver School of Social Work (at right). She focused on the history of women and social workers helping to free people from barriers and equip them to make the changes needed to lead successful lives.

“Women matter,” Linda said. “We have value. We are brilliant, powerful and awesome.”

She also mentioned that while women make up more than half the population on Earth, having one month set aside to showcase them indicates progress is still needed.

“We need a more expansive perspective,” she said, adding that it’s a goal for women to have a place in society where they don’t need a month to celebrate them. However, at the same time, “I want us to appreciate the acknowledgment and the validation.”

Harriet Tubman Residential Center Celebrates Women’s HerStory Month With Cuisine and Theater

For Women’s HerStory Month in March, Harriet Tubman Residential Center residents performed a play, “Failure is Impossible,” by Rosemary H. Knower – a play that depicts the debate around women’s suffrage. The play was first performed in 1995 as part of the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the 19th amendment at the National Archives. The youth dressed in period wardrobe for the performance. Lisa Vitale, the director of the play and a teacher at Harriet Tubman, did a terrific job of getting the girls organized and motivated.

The center’s culinary program also continued its tradition of exploring culture through cuisine. With the help of the culinary students, the center’s chef selected period dishes from the Women’s Suffrage Cookbook, which was edited by Hattie A. Burr and published in 1886, to prepare for youth and staff at a March 25 celebration.

MacCormick Secure Center Residents Complete Another Stunning Mural

Continuing in its partnership with Ithaca Murals, MacCormick Secure Center will have a second mural, above, installed in downtown Ithaca.

Ithaca Murals is an organization helping fund more than 20 cultural heritage and justice-related murals in the Ithaca area in a campaign called Justice Walls. This will be MacCormick’s second installation as part of the project.

Installation and unveiling dates are being determined, so stay tuned to future issues of this newsletter to see the mural in its full glory outdoors.

Congratulations to MacCormick’s art teacher Michelle Harty and her very talented students!

Family Empowerment Week – OCFS Fields Questions

Family Empowerment Week, hosted in March by Families Together in New York State, included a series of town halls that were a chance for families and youth to share their perspectives with state commissioners and legislators.

Commissioner Poole attended a town hall on child welfare reform, along with Assembly Children and Families Chair Andrew Hevesi, and one on youth justice with Senator Jamal Bailey.

“There is room for everyone in the child welfare space,” Commissioner Poole said. “We are here to serve the public, and that’s how I view our work here at OCFS.”

The pandemic shutdowns caused everyone to scramble to keep kids learning, which was uncharted territory. Child care agencies paused or closed, and stay-at-home became the norm. The commissioner fielded questions on everything from access to computers to calls to the State Central Registry (SCR) hotline.

“We did a lot of work to make sure families were not swept aside,” she told attendees.

Assemblyman Hevesi weighed in on the budget and supported OCFS. “Quarrels are with the Division of Budget and Governor, not OCFS…there’s money there; we have to refocus it.”

Commissioner Poole noted that New York is working toward implementing the Family First Prevention Services Act, and with kinship and congregate care in motion, OCFS started sharing data by county. “We wound up setting a baseline threshold. In New York State, 42 percent of kids in care were placed in kinship care. That is a dramatic, positive increase.”

Child Welfare and Community Services’ Parent Advisory Board Tackles Policies and Protocols

The 17-member OCFS Parent Advisory Board (PAB) met March 13 to discuss topics including the proposed elimination of prone restraints, Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment (SCR) reform, the Family First Prevention Services Act, the Child Care and Development Fund Plan (CCDF) and designing a training course for parents who care for youth who identify as LGBTQ+ to increase affirmation and reduce bias and harassment.

The PAB – made up of birth, foster and adoptive parents and kin caregivers – addresses issues that families experience within the child welfare system across New York. The members provide input on proposed regulations, policies and protocols that affect New York State’s children and families and suggest ways to improve child welfare.

“We are glad that our parent-led board is proactive and an integral part in what we do through child welfare,” said Child Welfare and Community Services (CWCS) Deputy Commissioner Lisa Ghartey Ogundimu. “To dedicate as much time as they already have and will shows the significance of these topics.”

During the virtual meeting, members of the CWCS senior team provided updates on their work, including efforts toward eliminating prone (face-down) restraints by this summer in all child welfare and residential juvenile justice settings. They also discussed implicit bias training for OCFS staff statewide.

Deputy Commissioner for Child Care Janice Molnar outlined the CCDF’s goals and sought parent feedback on the plan. Please see the related article in this newsletter for details.

A huge thank you to the parents and OCFS staff who contributed to this productive meeting.

Division of Youth Development and Partnerships for Success Hosted Learning Exchange With LGBTQ+ Organizations and Foster Care Providers

The 17-member OCFS Parent Advisory Board (PAB) met March 13 to discuss topics including the proposed elimination of prone restraints, Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment (SCR) reform, the Family First Prevention Services Act, the Child Care and Development Fund Plan (CCDF) and designing a training course for parents who care for youth who identify as LGBTQ+ to increase affirmation and reduce bias and harassment.

The PAB – made up of birth, foster and adoptive parents and kin caregivers – addresses issues that families experience within the child welfare system across New York. The members provide input on proposed regulations, policies and protocols that affect New York State’s children and families and suggest ways to improve child welfare.

“We are glad that our parent-led board is proactive and an integral part in what we do through child welfare,” said Child Welfare and Community Services (CWCS) Deputy Commissioner Lisa Ghartey Ogundimu. “To dedicate as much time as they already have and will shows the significance of these topics.”

During the virtual meeting, members of the CWCS senior team provided updates on their work, including efforts toward eliminating prone (face-down) restraints by this summer in all child welfare and residential juvenile justice settings. They also discussed implicit bias training for OCFS staff statewide.

Deputy Commissioner for Child Care Janice Molnar outlined the CCDF’s goals and sought parent feedback on the plan. Please see the related article in this newsletter for details.

A huge thank you to the parents and OCFS staff who contributed to this productive meeting.