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Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor
Sheila J. Poole, Commissioner
June 2021 — Vol. 5, No. 2

Deputy Commissioner's Message

It’s hard to believe we are halfway through 2021. And our wishes are being realized – COVID rates are declining, vaccination rates are increasing, and most COVID restrictions have been lifted in New York. We can again gather, diminishing the isolation and helplessness we felt a year ago, replaced with optimism and celebration.

Since our March newsletter, Child Welfare has had many reasons to celebrate. April was Child Abuse Prevention Month, and the Bureau of Program and Community Development, together with Prevent Child Abuse America and Prevent Child Abuse New York, held a webinar for local departments of social services, voluntary foster care agencies, community-based organizations and OCFS staff that focused on public health as a prevention strategy, identifying protective factors to keep children safe and families strong.

May was Foster Care Awareness Month, and we celebrated the incredible work of our foster parents. In June, we mark Elder Abuse Awareness Month and LGBTQ+ Pride. I recently circulated a communication to CWCS staff called “Good News You Can Use,” an opportunity for colleagues to share victories big and small as we continue with the work that we have been called to do.

And while we have much to celebrate, we have more work ahead. A year has passed since the murder of George Floyd, and although a guilty verdict was given, 30 minutes after the sentencing, Ma’Khia Bryant, a Black 16-year-old living in foster care in Ohio, was shot and killed by a white police officer. While only some details are known, we know that a traumatized child was shot dead over an argument about chores that escalated in her exasperation and isolation from her family.

Critical Work to Reduce Trauma

As child welfare professionals, we know the importance of being trauma-informed in all aspects of our work. New York State is moving to reduce the compounding trauma too many children experience in the child welfare system. We are

  • progressing toward banning prone restraints in our congregate care facilities;
  • implementing adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) legislation that calls on us to launch a statewide education program to inform parents, legal guardians and caregivers about ACEs and their implications, the importance of protective factors and the availability of supportive services;
  • providing information about ACES to parents in all child care settings, when a pediatric health care provider sees a child and in all public and private pre-school through grade 12 educational settings; and
  • stressing the importance of, and providing resources on, self-care in presentations to the field including the New York State Prevention Summit and Navigating Educational Challenges webinars.

Our county, agency staff and external stakeholders are key partners in helping us reduce trauma for the children and families we serve, and we thank you for your above-and-beyond efforts as you continue to do this important work while many of you face your own personal challenges of hurt and trauma.

Together, we are committed to creating a statewide, trauma-informed system for Family First implementation, one that works with children and families where they are – physically, emotionally, economically and developmentally.

In Brief

Find Family-Strengthening Programs in OCFS Compendium of Services

The OCFS Compendium of Services is an easy way to find OCFS-supported family-strengthening programs. The compendium is available at ocfs.ny.gov/directories/services.php and includes programs like Healthy Families New York, prevention, domestic violence, child advocacy centers, kinship and post-adoption services.

Coming Soon … Continuing Education Units!

OCFS is excited to announce that continuing education credits (CEUs) will be offered soon for OCFS-sponsored select trainings. CEUs are awarded by various education and training providers to signify successful completion of non-credit programs and courses intended to improve the knowledge and skills of working adults. Stay tuned for more information!

Articles

Healthy Families New York Hosts Programs to Connect Families to Needed Services and Resources

"I have to say that this facilitation and connection was so very meaningful…"

To cultivate referrals and help more families live their best lives, Healthy Families New York (HFNY) recently hosted an informational session and follow up meeting for OCFS regional offices and local departments of social services (LDSSs) directors.

HFNY’s initial meeting featured a program overview including the home visiting service, HFNY program locations and the research behind the program. The group reconvened as part of Healthy Families’ biannual statewide leadership meeting.

HFNY is included in the Families First clearinghouse of evidence-based programs, the use of which will be an important part of the state’s prevention plan and local districts’ support of vulnerable families.

Regional groups assembled for a guided discussion about the challenges families face, how to engage families and how to better collaborate and support them. HFNY encouraged providers to contact their LDSS to continue the conversation and develop a referral process to HFNY when appropriate.

Below is a message from one of the HFNY program managers in reaction to the session:

“I have to say that this facilitation and connection was so very meaningful…. We were able to complete an in-service presentation for LDSS staff and will be doing one for LDSS supervisors as well. We have shared our referral form and outreach materials. It has allowed us to clear up misconceptions about our programs and be an available resource for each other. They are scheduled to complete an in-service for us as well in June. The LDSS representatives on the call and I made a commitment to work collaboratively as much as we can. I appreciated this opportunity.”

HFNY also met with New York City’s prevention providers to discuss the program, where services were available in New York City and how to partner to support families. HFNY is planning a future meeting in New York City to discuss strengthening the referral process and possibly developing a referral form for preventive agencies.

A Note From OCFS: Bernadette Johnson recently retired from OCFS, and we thank her for her tireless dedication to the agency. She joined what is now the Bureau of Program and Community Development in 1999 under the leadership of the late Joy Griffith and became director where she was instrumental in expanding HFNY and continuing the program’s accreditation for many years. Through her leadership, the state has 43 programs serving more than 5,600 new and existing families. All the best to Bernadette!

New Criminal History Review Unit Facilitates Clearances

More than 108,000 Fingerprint Checks Will be Processed in 2021

For the first time, OCFS has one bureau dedicated to processing child abuse/maltreatment and criminal history clearances for all foster/adoptive parents, child care providers and mentors in New York State who need a timely response to be licensed, approved or employed.

OCFS’s new Statewide Clearance Unit (SCU) merges the Criminal History Review Unit and the Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment (SCR) Database Check Clearance unit. The SCU streamlines clearances with staff who are cross-trained, and requests can be tracked as they move through the process. The new unit will create efficiencies and improve clearance turnaround times as it processes more than 108,000 fingerprint checks and more than 300,000 SCR database checks in 2021.

Members of the Statewide Clearance Unit on their first day in the new office
Pictured above are members of the Statewide Clearance Unit on their first day in the new office. Left to right: Andrea Bobo, Nichole Demarco, Crissy Kirsch, Courtney Voorhees, Cindy Sears, Jamie Ritson and Joanne Hudy. Not pictured are Mike Zupan, Amanda Hume and Jen Demizo

More Than 4,000 Child Development Books and Brochures Distributed to Families

Bernie Pratt and Charlene Griffin
Bernie Pratt and Charlene Griffin packaging books.

OCFS’s Division of Child Welfare and Community Services (CWCS) has mailed 2,200 free books and 2,000 brochures to community-based parenting programs.

CWCS’s Karen Kissinger, Bernie Pratt, Charlene Griffin and Abby Hallock sent the materials to 54 community-based programs to share with families across the state to support child development. The materials are part of the CDC’s initiative, Learn the Signs. Act Early.

The books were Baby’s Busy Day:

The brochures were Track Your Child’s Developmental Milestones:

Statewide Child Fatality Review Team Discusses Suicide Statistics and Systemic Barriers

OCFS virtually hosted the fifth meeting of the Statewide Child Fatality Review Team (SCFRT) this spring to discuss topics including development of the court administration’s CFRT, suicide statistics and systemic barriers, and to review a child fatality case as a group.

  • SCFRT member Trista Borra from the New York State Unified Courts on Child Welfare Initiatives explained the development of the Office of Court Administration’s CFR Committee. SCRFT Coordinator Margaret Bissell encouraged her to contact the SCFRT for any potential collaboration opportunities.
  • The team heard from SCFRT member Cathy Dockum from the Suicide Prevention Center of New York who shared a presentation on suicide statistics and the troubling fact that suicide is the second leading cause of death nationwide among youth ages 10-24.
  • The team had a robust discussion on systemic barriers, which included the need for more child abuse pediatricians, implicit biases when working with families, the limited resources or access to resources in some communities and the lack of coordination between various professionals working with families.
  • Sara Vanstrydonck from the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office presented a child fatality case to the team and provided the circumstances leading to the child’s death, how local child protective services and medical officials were involved, and the aftermath that involved the child’s father being arrested and convicted.

OCFS Recognizes Harm of Pandemic-Caused Isolation for Older Adults

World Elder Abuse Day Was June 15
Encourage Districts to Look for Red Flags

We are all too aware of the pandemic’s numerous consequences. For many of our vulnerable and elderly adults, the impact of social distancing exacerbated the existing isolation that this population so often experiences. Vulnerable adults, especially elderly ones, can become more susceptible to abuse, neglect and exploitation when supportive relationships and frequent interactions with others are limited.

OCFS observed World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15. Raising abuse awareness and identification of red flags for the elderly is more important now than ever. OCFS encourages districts to use these resources for local awareness activities.

OCFS’s Bureau of Adult Services (BAS) is running a campaign on agency social media platforms that includes facts, awareness tips and resources to help the elderly.

In addition to the posts, BAS is highlighting the work of Adult Protective Services (APS) workers from around the state with videos addressing risks in a challenging situation, creative ways to engage or support the elderly, and red flags to watch for. The videos are delivered by social service workers and will be shared for awareness throughout the year. Please see below for examples:

New Yorker Named to U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Children’s Bureau

It’s always terrific to see a New Yorker rise to a national leadership position.

Aysha E. Schomburg, J.D., is the associate commissioner in the Children’s Bureau in the Administration on Children, Youth and Families, located within the Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Aysha joined the Biden Administration in March 2021, after serving as the senior administrator for program oversight for New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS). There, she worked collaboratively with agency leaders to develop and implement plans for the operational infrastructure of ACS, while also developing and coordinating comprehensive organizational capacity-building strategies across programs.

She began her career at ACS as the director of parent recruitment, where she focused on supporting foster and prospective adoptive parents. She also served as the director of youth development initiatives, where she developed several critical programs including pioneering the implementation of the nurse family partnership program for parenting youth and the preparing youth for adulthood plan.

During COVID-19, she worked closely with New York City’s Department of Education and Department of Homeless Services to create and coordinate guidance for front-line staff.

Aysha received her bachelor’s from the University of Virginia, her master’s from New York University and her juris doctor from New York Law School.

Looking for Resources for Healthier Families? Look No Further

The New York State Council on Children and Families (CCF) coordinates New York’s health, education and human services systems to provide more effective systems of care for children and families. CCF has built and maintains several robust, resource-rich websites that are useful to front-line workers, parents and caregivers, policymakers and more.

Multiple Systems Navigator

Built especially for older youth, parents, family members and caregivers, the site is ripe with information on health, education, disabilities and various other systems serving children and youth and supporting their families. Mapping features provide immediate access to a range of information and community assets for front-line workers and their supervisors, mentors, peer support audiences and more.

Kids’ Well-being Indicators Clearinghouse (KWIC)

The KWIC is a data warehouse website built to advance the use of children’s health, education and well-being data to improve outcomes for New York State’s children and families. KWIC has a wide range of data for policymakers, educators and advocacy groups to use in policy development, planning and accountability. KWIC has robust data visualization and mapping tools and has abundant data for all subcounty boundaries.

NYS Child Care, After School and Home Visiting Programs Locator

The NYS Child Care, After School and Home Visiting Programs Locator maps all licensed child care programs. It is updated daily and provides links to each program’s violation history. In addition, this mapping application provides maps for selected after-school and home visiting programs, as well as Child Care Referral Agencies and Child Care Oversight offices.

Every Student Present

The Every Student Present website is a public awareness campaign developed by CCF intended to help families, school leaders and communities understand the importance of consistent school attendance and the impact of absences of children’s learning – especially on young students. The site has a section for parents and a section for school administrators. The parent section provides many videos and helpful tips to help children who are struggling in school for various reasons.

NYS Parent Portal

The NYS Parent Portal is a product of the Preschool Development Grant Birth-Five Initiative. It provides a one-stop, digital portal for information on parenting, child care options, child development and guidance on how to talk and collaborate with your child’s teachers. The website includes direct links to all the above links.