OCFS Agency Newsletter

Skip to Content

Accessible Navigation and Information

Use the following links to quickly navigate around the page. The number for each is also the shortcut key. You can jump to:

Kathy Hochul, Governor
Sheila J. Poole, Commissioner
June 2021 — Vol. 6, No. 6

Commissioner's Message

Greetings!

June has arrived, and with it comes many causes for celebration, including Juneteenth, Pride Month, Father’s Day and the longest day of the year – the summer solstice.

I want to send my thanks and appreciation to all OCFS fathers, adoptive fathers, grandfathers, father figures and foster fathers for your time and dedication to the children whose well-being you enhance with your investment in their lives. Children who feel close to their fathers benefit greatly from that relationship: they are less likely to experience depression or involvement in the justice system and they are more likely to earn good grades, go to college and find a stable job. So, let’s hear it for the fathers and father figures!

Our Juneteenth celebration marks the end of slavery in 1865 and will feature a discussion about restorative practice, which seeks to improve and repair the relationships between people and communities. We’ll hear from an expert in this area who will lead us in an informative presentation about this critical component of racial justice. I encourage all staff to register for the event and be part of this conversation to address the past and present traumas of racism, privilege and implicit bias.

OCFS is celebrating Pride Month with an event designed to promote understanding and inclusion and to help us educate ourselves so we can better serve LGBTQ+ youth. These youth suffer higher rates of depression, anxiety, homelessness and suicide than cisgender and heterosexual youth. Influential adults working with LGBTQ+ youth can help them feel supported, safe and valued, and can serve as allies. Allies support and celebrate LGBTQ+ pride and community.

This year, we will hear about the ballroom culture portrayed in shows like FX’s Pose and HBO Max’s Legendary, which portray Black and Brown transgender women taking in LGBTQ+ youth left homeless due to family rejection or abuse. These women served as a de facto social safety net to protect these vulnerable young people from street life.

I encourage you to participate in our Pride Month event to learn more. And please visit Wikipedia to learn more about Franklin Edward Kameny, who filed the first known civil rights claim based on sexual orientation in a U.S. court.

On June 15, we observe World Elder Abuse Day. The Bureau of Adult Services encourages all OCFS staff to think about ways we can get involved in preventing elder abuse.

Finally, the New York State Commission for the Blind is celebrating the 40th anniversary of Barbara Campbell in the New York City Regional office. On behalf of all OCFS employees, I commend Barbara on her 40 years of dedicated service to blind and vision-impaired New Yorkers.

It is a jam-packed June with lots of reasons to celebrate. I hope all of you can take advantage of the summer weather and the newly reopened entertainment options and enjoy some down time with loved ones. You deserve it!

Sincerely,
Sheila J. Poole
Commissioner

In Brief

OCFS Staff Continue to Support the State’s Response to COVID-19

It may surprise you to know that OCFS staff continue to participate in the state’s response to COVID-19 more than a year into the pandemic. We’ve racked up a long list of volunteers.

Moving into the vaccination phase of the pandemic, staff are supporting testing and vaccine sites, the State Liquor Authority’s nightly investigations, delivery of COVID supplies, logistics and deliveries, the COVID hotline and nurse line, contact tracing, volunteer coordination and management, regional operational centers, Department of Health community enforcement, emergency operation centers and agency screenings.

OCFS celebrates and thanks staff who step up and volunteer to support fellow New Yorkers.

Have You Checked Out the Business Service Center Help Center? It’s Packed With Handy Information

Have a question about purchase orders? Or about retiring during the COVID pandemic? Or about using LATS-NY to complete your timesheet?

In 2019, the Business Services Center launched the BSC Help Center, which has answers to many of your most frequently asked questions. If you cannot find an answer, you can submit your question and a BSC representative will quickly answer you. You can also set up an account to track your questions and provide feedback.

  1. Go to www.bsc.ogs.ny.gov
  2. Click on “Help Center”

For additional information about the BSC Help Center and assistance creating an account, watch this short YouTube video.

Articles

Division of Child Care Services Holds Hearings on State Plan and Will Host Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Session in June Forum

OCFS’s Division of Child Care Services (DCCS) is conducting outreach to stakeholders via virtual public hearings, which it held on four days in May to gather feedback on its draft Child Care and Development Fund state plan for federal fiscal years 2022-24. The plan is due by July 1.

More than 45 people from across the state testified and nearly 700 listened in. Testimony focused on the courage of child care providers who stayed open during the COVID-19 pandemic and the difficulty in recruiting and retaining qualified staff due to low salaries. A cross-cutting theme was the fragility of the child care system and the hope that new federal resources will help to address systemic weaknesses and to transform child care in New York State.

DCCS is also hosting a three-day statewide virtual regulatory forum June 15-17 that will include a half-day session on incorporating diversity, equity and inclusion principles in child care. The session’s focus on race equity and implicit bias will start with “Race Equity Learning Exchange: An Overview,” a presentation by Maith Fleming and Lisa Erb from the OCFS Bureau of Training and Development. DCCS’s Tina Cook from the Syracuse Regional Office, Shaka Bedgood from the Rochester office and Heather Robinson from home office will also present “Continuing the Conversation: Next Steps for DCCS.”

“The Division of Child Care has been taking a deep dive into diversity, equity and inclusion issues throughout all aspects of our work,” said DCCS Deputy Commissioner Janice Molnar. “While we are in the beginning stages, we are pleased to have this opportunity to continue this conversation and for our staff to update their colleagues on our progress.”

Albany Times Union Names Human Services Call Center Top Workplace for Six Years Running

"This year, it is an extraordinary recognition. Just 'keeping the lights on' would have been remarkable during the challenges of COVID-19."

— Kathryn Shelton, associate commissioner of the Human Services Call Center and Statewide Central Register

The Human Services Call Center (HSCC) has been awarded a Top Workplaces 2021 honor by Albany’s Times Union newspaper for the sixth consecutive year.

The list is based solely on employee feedback gathered through a third-party survey. The anonymous survey measures 15 unique drivers of engaged cultures that are critical to the success of any organization, including alignment, execution and connection, just to name a few.

“This acknowledgement as a Top Workplace is no small accomplishment,” said Kathryn Shelton, associate commissioner of the Human Services Call Center and Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment. “Each year we’ve achieved this, I’ve been proud to be a part of the HSCC. This year, however, it is an extraordinary recognition. The team has shown professionalism, flexibility and commitment to our callers despite the challenges of COVID-19. Just ‘keeping the lights on’ would have been remarkable during the challenges of COVID-19, as they faced impacts to work and personal lives as we navigated a worldwide pandemic. But they did so much more. The team came together to serve the public, and I thank them for fostering an organization that centers on support for staff and commitment to providing outstanding service to our callers.”

This is the sixth consecutive year the HSCC has captured this award. Congratulations and thank you to each and every employee who makes the HSCC a Top Workplace.

Bureau of Native American Services Educates State Employees on Tribal History

Over the past few weeks, OCFS’s Bureau of Native American Services, New York State Child Welfare Court Improvement Project and Native American Community Services of Erie & Niagara Counties worked to explain the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in a training series to New York State personnel, including court judges and clerks.

Heather La Forme, director of the bureau since 2015, explained that the program was developed to educate and inform about the importance and elements of ICWA.

Participants in the four-part training viewed “Unseen Tears,” a documentary that features boarding school survivors who talk openly about the tragic separation from their families, abuse and a systematic assault on their language and culture. Discussion ensued about the historical trauma imposed on indigenous people through residential boarding schools in western New York. A panel discussion followed on how best to work with the Tribal Nations in New York State and ICWA custody proceedings.

At OCFS, Heather, of the Onondaga Nation, Beaver Clan, oversees New York State’s compliance with the ICWA, training, educating and payment of treaties to the Tribal Nations. Heather’s grandmother is a survivor of a U.S. government-funded Native American residential boarding school.

“I guess you don’t know all you’re doing until you write it all down and look at it,” she said as she discussed the importance of driving home the message. “My position with the agency is fate. Here I am trying to make sure we preserve families and unify them.”

Currently, New York State has nine Tribal Nations; three remain traditional, meaning they have no elected government and follow the chief system. The Nations are focused on native children as the gatekeepers to the future of their culture and language for their communities, Heather noted.

Youth Advisory Board Educates State Child Welfare Stakeholders

The OCFS Youth Advisory Board (YAB) is actively fulfilling its mission of giving voice to youth in the foster care system to create positive change. YAB member Corral Mrozik recently presented to a statewide group of child welfare stakeholders on a webinar about New York’s dissemination of additional Chafee funds.

The Chafee Foster Care Independence Program was created by federal legislation to help youth in care establish permanent relationships with caring adults; develop basic life skills, including money management; get educational and vocational training; and plan for their future.

Right now, OCFS and other child welfare supporters are working to inform some former foster youth who aged out of foster care between April 1, 2020, and September 30, 2021, that they can re-enter the system if they want to.

Corral described the importance of trusting young adults with money, supporting their financial literacy and listening to youth voice. Division of Youth Development and Partnerships for Success (YDAPS) Deputy Commissioner Nina Aledort added that Corral “…suggested that each region form a youth advisory board and recruited new members to join our busy board.”

Two other YAB members, Katarina Dobreva and Grace Gold, have been working with OCFS staff to continue listening sessions with youth in foster care who identify as LGBTQ+. These sessions are providing critical spaces for young people to talk about their experiences, Nina said.

The pandemic also helped YAB leadership hold more meetings, virtually, and create some exciting and groundbreaking efforts, including the listening sessions and a conversation with Judge Edwina Mendelson, deputy chief administrative judge for Justice Initiatives. They plan to create more training for family court judges.

OCFS Observes World Elder Abuse Awareness Day June 15

June 15 is World Elder Abuse Day, established by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at the United Nations to “provide an opportunity for communities around the world to promote a better understanding of abuse and neglect of older persons by raising awareness of the cultural, social, economic and demographic processes affecting elder abuse and neglect.”

According to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), one in 10 Americans aged 60 and older has experienced some form of abuse. Elder financial abuse costs victims billions of dollars each year. In 2020, more than 40,000 referrals came into Adult Protective Services in New York State.

OCFS and the New York State Office for the Aging have enhanced statewide multi-disciplinary teams to address elder abuse. The Human Services Call Center continues to support extended hours of operation for the Adult Services Helpline with a dedicated number (1-844-697-3505) to help the public and professionals reach the appropriate local APS office to report elder abuse.

Additionally, NCEA suggests 12 things everyone can do to prevent elder abuse, including:

  • Prevent isolation – Call or visit older loved ones regularly.
  • Send a letter to local media suggesting they cover World Elder Abuse Awareness Day or Grandparents Day in September.
  • Encourage bank managers to train tellers on how to detect elder financial abuse.
  • Organize an “Aging with Dignity” essay or poster contest in a local school.

May Marks Mental Health Awareness Month

Originating in 1949, May marks Mental Health Awareness Month. At least 20% of Americans will be affected by mental illness in their lifetime. The ongoing stress of a global pandemic combined with all the changes in daily routines and the ongoing loss of life in the struggle for racial justice have left many people traumatized.

Please know that help is available for all New Yorkers struggling with COVID-related issues through NY Project Hope, which provides an emotional support helpline, educational materials and a vast array of referrals to help people manage and cope with changes. Talking with crisis counselors is free, confidential and anonymous.

You can call 1-844-863-9314 any day from 8 a.m.-10 p.m. to talk with trained crisis counselors, and/or visit NY Project Hope’s website to find coping tips, relaxation strategies and games for children and families. This New York Times article also provides some insight: There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing.

More resources for general mental health issues:

Goshen Gathers to Support Survivors in the Aftermath of a Volcano

If a global pandemic wasn’t bad enough, residents of the island of St. Vincent in the Grenadines also suffered La Soufrière, a massive volcanic eruption on the island this spring. After lying dormant since 1979, the volcano began erupting in late December. Then on April 9, a huge explosion sent lava flowing across the island for days.

More than 2,100 miles away, the staff at Goshen Secure Center rallied around colleagues whose families live on St. Vincent. The island was covered in ash and mud, and relatives were in disbelief. Most people on the island had to be evacuated or were told to stay inside. Goshen’s Gilan Leonard, a youth division aide (YDA), was born and raised on St. Vincent and asked the Goshen staff to help.

And he didn’t have to ask twice, said Facility Director Aykroyd Lake.

“Our Goshen family came together and donated non-perishables,” Gilan said. He personally delivered the water and toiletries to a company in Brooklyn, which then shipped them to St. Vincent.

Supplies collected for delivery to victims of St. Vincent volcanic eruption
From left to right: Youth Counselor Anthony Lucky, Assistant Director of Treatment Katherine Johnson, Director Aykroyd Lake, Assistant Director of Treatment Marc Chery, YDA II Gilan Leonard and Administrative Assistant 1 Keith Twitty.
Supplies loaded onto truck for delivery to victims of St. Vincent volcanic eruption
From left to right: YYDA II Todd Montanya and YDA II Gilan Leonard.

Columbia Girls Secure Center Bake Sale Feeds a Legacy of Learning

Sample plate of treats from the bake sale

As part of “ALS Awareness Month,” the residents of Columbia Girls Secure Center honored Jim LeCain, the founder of the Brookwood College Program (BCP) at Columbia, which is now called the James J. LeCain School of Liberal Arts at Brookwood. Jim died from complications of ALS in November 2019. More commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.

Jim founded the college program in 2010 and retired in 2017, establishing a legacy that has changed young lives in a powerful and lasting way. His innovative and vibrant program offers college courses for youth involved in the juvenile justice system. Combined, youth have earned more than 2,000 college credits, some earning associate degrees, and some have earned additional credits toward bachelor’s degrees. In 2016, Jim received the prestigious Howard A. Levine Award for Excellence in Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare for the college program.

Making labels for the bake sale

Throughout May, the students sold brownies and turnovers (above), to raise money for the ALS Association, which is dedicated to researching and finding a cure for ALS. Order forms were e-mailed to various facilities and departments and then goodies were delivered within a couple of weeks.

For the bake sale, students added their own personal artistic designs to the packaging (left). Their finished products looked and tasted delicious, according to Acting Facility Director Dominic Bucci. The icing on the cake? They raised $300 for the association.

OCFS Staff Featured on National StoryCorps Project About Human Trafficking

 

 

From March through July, StoryCorps, a national oral history project, is collecting 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. OCFS’s Division of Youth Development and Partnerships for Success (YDAPS) Deputy Commissioner Nina Aledort and Madeline Hehir, YDAPS’s Bureau of Health and Well-Being director, were recently featured.

Listen to their conversation on the StoryCorps website.

Staff Member Celebrates 40 Years with the Commission for the Blind

Barbara Campbell, a senior counselor with the New York State Commission for the Blind (NYSCB), recently marked her ruby anniversary of 40 years with OCFS.

“Barbara is one of the most widely respected of the many service providers in the state today,” said Brian Daniels, NYSCB’s associate commissioner. “Her reputation goes far beyond New York City where she lives and works. As Barbara enters her fifth decade in the field, we all know that there are scores of people she has positively touched with her experience, knowledge and the kindness she brings to work every day.”

As a child, Barbara developed retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a progressive eye disease leading to vision loss that is sometimes hereditary. Her type, however, is not hereditary, and she is the only blind person in her family.

She attended Syracuse University to become a special education teacher and did not intend to work specifically with visually impaired people but changed her major and attended graduate school at Columbia Teachers College for rehabilitation counseling. She did not originally intend to work specifically with visually impaired people.

Barbara took a job with Visions Services for the Blind, an agency with which NYSCB contracts, and helped legally blind individuals age 55 and older gain employment. While at Visions, she developed relationships with NYSCB staff.

Barbara joined NYSCB in 1980 as a vocational counselor, working in the Bronx and Harlem and was also a liaison for 18 years to the Lighthouse, Jewish Guild and Visions, all private agencies.

Around 2003, Barbara returned to working as a rehabilitation counselor and in 2010 became a NYSCB senior counselor, supervising four to five other rehabilitation counselors.

Many seek Barbara out for her excellent computer skills, including her knowledge of the Commission’s data collection system, and for assistance with screen readers for the blind. However, Barbara feels her greatest reward and satisfaction come when she talks with participants who are so appreciative of the Commission’s help and they tell her how much it has changed their lives. Many people over the years have thanked her for all she has given, which she finds very gratifying.

Congratulations and thank you to Barbara for 40 years of generous service to the Commission for the Blind!

Did You Know the Public Information Office Translated 340 Documents in One Year?

According to the recent New York State language access guidance, all state vital documents, which includes forms, guidance documents and outreach materials, will be translated into the 10 most common non-English languages, up from six a decade ago, to grant access to more services for New York’s multilingual population.

More than 2.5 million New Yorkers are limited English proficient (LEP), which means they do not speak English as their primary language and may have limited ability to read, write or understand English.

Mery Rosendorn, OCFS’s LEP coordinator in the Public Information Office (PIO), ensures that New York complies with the Governor’s Executive Order.

OCFS has offered LEP assistance since its inception in 1998, when an internal language access policy was created. Fast forward to today, and OCFS now provides telephone interpretation services in more than 170 languages. And, PIO now translates vital documents into Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Haitian Creole, Italian, Korean, Polish, Russian, Spanish and Yiddish. PIO has also translated materials into French and Urdu, many of which are posted on our website.

PIO completed 342 translations from October 2019-September 2020, 119 of which PIO translated in-house.

Sharrissa Hodge in PIO assists LEP callers with over-the-phone interpretation assistance. There are 54 language access liaisons throughout the agency who help implement the OCFS language access plan.

If you need help with translations, please see our intranet LEP guidance page.