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Kathy Hochul, Governor
Suzanne Miles-Gustave, Esq., Acting Commissioner
July 2021 — Vol. 6, No. 7

Commissioner's Message


My message this month is dedicated to all of you, OCFS’s valued staff members.

This past year brought many challenges, and you have risen above them. Society as we knew it closed down very suddenly. Most of us had to scramble to adjust to substantial changes quickly, which was no easy feat. Juggling remote work with the COVID restrictions while maintaining our services to youth and families was tough. But we succeeded!

I understand how well we as an agency adapted to the sudden changes. And I know that many of you have made, and continue to make, significant sacrifices to achieve the many important initiatives and projects we have before us.

To name a few examples, statewide Adult Protective Services workers maintained contact with vulnerable adults through home visits and in-home services monitoring. The Commission for the Blind quickly learned how to provide services remotely and continued to serve blind college students who left campus for home and needed adaptations on their technology, checked in with their advocates regularly on issues such as food insecurity and shelter and provided resources for blind state residents seeking transportation to access COVID vaccines.

Child Care has had the gargantuan task of administering $2.9 billion in funding, which includes the Child Care Development Fund, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES), the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA) and the American Rescue Plan Act funding. Child Welfare provided guidance to voluntary agencies to encourage creativity to ensure foster youth remained connected to their biological families through both in-person visits when it was safe and online visits when needed. OMS stayed on the job throughout, distributing PPE statewide and keeping our physical plants running smoothly.

DJJOY adapted to online visitation to keep youth and families engaged. As the positivity rate has dropped across the state, DJJOY has begun allowing in-person visits, which have been such a boost to youth and their families. And OCFS staff logged more than 11,000 volunteer hours as we supported testing and vaccination sites, the Emergency Operations Center, the nursing line and county contract tracing efforts, just to name a few.

I see your hard work and recognize it, and I deeply appreciate it. You are a valuable member of the team, and I am aware of your efforts – they haven’t gone unnoticed. To all of you who have gone the extra mile to maintain and support OCFS’s mission, I am eternally grateful. And cheers to all of us; we continue to help those in need.

Loyal and dedicated employees like you are OCFS. I am truly grateful for such wonderful, resourceful and dedicated staff, especially during these times. You are an inspiration. Thank you wholeheartedly for your diligence and commitment.

As a thank you to staff, I hope you can join us at our Employee Appreciation ice cream socials this month on various dates for home office and regional offices.

All my best and have a wonderful summer!

Sheila J. Poole


$25 Million in Child Care Scholarships Available for Essential Workers

New York State began providing an additional round of child care scholarships to essential workers starting June 23, 2021. Essential workers include health care providers, pharmaceutical staff, law enforcement, firefighters, transportation workers, food delivery workers, grocery store employees and others.

Child care costs will be covered with $25 million in federal Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act funding. Essential workers will be eligible if they work outside the home and their income is less than 300 percent of the federal poverty level (or $79,500 for a family of four). Child care costs will be paid up to the market rate for each region statewide. Families currently receiving essential worker child care scholarships through CARES are eligible for this program and strongly encouraged to apply for this new funding if they wish to continue receiving a scholarship.

Essential workers can use the funding to pay for their existing care arrangement, or if they need child care, they can contact their local child care resource and referral agency (CCR&R) to find openings. OCFS will administer the program.

“The state’s essential workers are the brave and dedicated people who have gotten us through this pandemic. They are heroes who deserve all the support we can give,” said OCFS Commissioner Sheila J. Poole. “We are proud to support their child care costs so they can go to work knowing that their children are well cared for and safe.”

To streamline the application and funding process, parents will apply for funding through a single online application, and providers will be paid directly on behalf of the parent. Online applications will be processed and awarded on a rolling basis until funds are depleted. Get more information on Essential Worker Scholarships.

OCFS Partners With SUNY Empire State College to Help Employees and OCFS Connections Earn College Credits

OCFS is excited to announce a new partnership with SUNY Empire State College that will increase access to education, simplify the admissions process and provide those connected to OCFS an opportunity to earn college credit for their professional and life experiences.

SUNY Empire State College Logo

Through SUNY Empire’s Corporate Partnership Benefit Program, all OCFS employees, family members and OCFS partners have access to

  • associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees,
  • affordable college tuition,
  • a flexible learning model that fits around busy schedules,
  • an accelerated path to degree completion,
  • college credit for previous learning, and
  • a $100 Presidential Scholarship and a waiver of the $50 orientation fee.

Join us on Wednesday, June 30, 2021, at noon for a 45-minute presentation to learn more about this exciting partnership and how it can benefit you and your family.

To learn more about the Empire State College, please visit the ESC government partnership page or www.esc.edu.

Application Process

  • Supervisor approval is required, so please discuss attending with your supervisor.
  • To register, use this ESC online registration form.
  • If you have any questions, please contact Rosalynn Duvall at Rosalynn.Duvall@ocfs.ny.gov.
  • The presentation will be recorded and sent to all registered attendees.
  • You can request follow-up individual appointments through our SUNY Empire Partnership representative, kelly.mollica@esc.edu.

Restorative Justice Event Marks Juneteenth With Candid Discussion About Race

SJuneteenth Flag

On June 17, OCFS celebrated the United States’ and New York State’s newest official holiday, Juneteenth, with a virtual event about restorative justice, which seeks to improve and repair relationships between people and communities. (Juneteenth’s official date is June 19, which was a Saturday.)

Also known as Freedom Day, Juneteenth commemorates the end of legalized slavery in 1865 in the United States and celebrates Black and African American freedom and achievements, while recognizing that much work must be done to achieve full equality and racial justice in this country.

Juneteenth Keynote Speaker Dina Thompson

Keynote speaker Dina Thompson, executive director of the Erie County Restorative Justice Coalition and an adjunct professor of restorative practice at the University of Buffalo Department of Social Work, addressed the past and present harms of racism, privilege and implicit bias and led participants in an informative presentation about this critical component of racial justice, privilege and implicit bias.

The event was emceed by Serena Joyce White-Lake, assistant counsel with OCFS Legal Affairs. “The story of how this enslaved, disenfranchised African descent population freed themselves by saving the Union is worth telling and celebrating,” Serena said. “It is the story of a glorious march to liberty.”

However, as she also pointed out, “Presently, there are more African American adults under correctional control – that is, prison, parole or probation – than were enslaved in 1850. And the wealth gap between white and Black Americans is 10-to-1 and increasing (due in large part to racially discriminatory housing policies).”

OCFS Pride Event Celebrates LGBTQ+ Ballroom Community’s Efforts to Teach and Protect LGBTQ+ Youth

OCFS and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion hosted a mesmerizing webinar to celebrate Pride Month that showcased the work of the ballroom community and Black and Brown transgender women supporting LGBTQ+ young people.

In recent years, many people have become familiar with the 1980s-1990s LGBTQ+ ballroom community through television shows like FX's POSE and HBO Max's Legendary. Then, as now, many LGBTQ+ young people found themselves homeless due to family rejection or abuse, and a social safety net for them was nonexistent. In response, many Black and Brown transgender women found ways to take the youth in, provide shelter and support their growth while protecting them from the dangers of the street.

At the event, an LGBTQ+ elder explained the history of the ballroom scene, how it developed and how it prevented homelessness for many. A panel of youth who are actively part of the ballroom community presented on applying lessons learned and understanding to OCFS’s work with LGBTQ+ youth today.

New York Public Welfare Association Annual Conference Coming in Late July

From July 19-23 and July 26-29, the New York Public Welfare Association (NYPWA) is hosting its virtual summer conference, “An Ever-Changing View in the World of Social Services.”

Attendees will focus on how social services adapt as new challenges arise and explore letting go of what is known while remaining open to what is emerging. Over-arching tracks include helping cross-system kids, a leaders’ track for supervisors, a commissioners’ panel on tenacity and fortitude, and workforce support and sustainability.

Stay tuned for more information and how to register.

Council on Children and Families Presents Workshops to Help Educators Connect With Families

The New York State Council on Children and Families, in partnership with the New York State Education Department (NYSED), will present the annual Prekindergarten through Third Grade (P-3) Virtual Summer Institute 2021 this summer. It’s open to all educators who work with children ages 3-8.

Each Thursday from July 22 to August 12, NYSED’s Office of Early Learning (OEL) will post virtual presentations and workshops for educators from school districts and community-based organizations. Other early childhood professionals and parents can also access the materials.

Dr. Junlei Li of the Harvard Graduate School of Education will deliver a keynote, “Finding More Than One Way,” and will address how educators can remain connected to children and families during physical distancing. He will also present a follow-up workshop with guest presenters, “The Power of Simple and Ordinary Interactions,” which will use the “Simple Interactions” approach to identify what ordinary people do extraordinarily well with children in everyday moments.

Additional workshops during the institute will focus on transitions during unpredictable times, New York State Standards P-3 resources, equity and cultural responsiveness, and a P-3 instructional learning toolkit.

Find more information and updates on the NYSED P-3 Virtual Summer Institute page. Contact NYSED’s Office of Early Learning at OEL@nysed.gov with any questions.

Harriet Tubman Residents Walk 100 Miles to Wellness

The girls living at Harriet Tubman Residential Center are participating in their first “100 Mile Walk to Wellness Challenge.”

Harriet Tubman was enslaved on a plantation in East Shore, Maryland, in the 1840s. She was determined to be free and set forth for Philadelphia, walking 110 miles to freedom before returning South several times to assist others in their quest for freedom. Harriet became a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad, leading enslaved people to freedom before the Civil War.

She is one of the most recognized icons in American history and her legacy has inspired countless people from every race and background.

In honor of Harriet Tubman, residents are replicating her 100-mile walk, and they have various options to rack up the miles.

“The goal is self-improvement, and the program is voluntary,” explained Troy Hopson, facility director. “During free time, youth can walk our field and/or gym. We’ve encouraged clinicians to walk during their therapy sessions, we’ve encouraged youth division aide mentors to walk with youth during their meeting times, teachers are walking with their classes, and we offer weekly ‘Walks With the Director.’”

The challenge launched in early June and participating girls had already walked almost 100 miles in the first two weeks.

The girls chart their progress, and as they hit varying milestones (5 miles, 10 miles, 25 miles, 75 miles and 100 miles), they earn rewards to reinforce the concept of wellness through self-improvement – fitness apparel, water bottles, digital wrist pedometers, etc.

“We want the girls to see – in a tangible way – that serious change can happen if we’re simply willing to put one foot in front of the other,” Troy noted.

OCFS Holds Domestic Violence Accountability Public Hearings

Silence holds violence logo for domestic violence awareness

OCFS’s Bureau of Domestic Violence Prevention and Victim Support (BDVPVS) recently held two virtual public hearings on accountability programs for those who harm their partners, which allowed survivors, abusers and domestic violence advocates to provide written and oral testimony to help inform New York State’s role for oversight of domestic violence (DV) accountability programs.

Jara Traina, director of the bureau, and Marie Limbach, DV licensing supervisor, represented OCFS as a part of the hearings’ panels.

“As we promote the shift from a ‘failure to protect’ paradigm to a perpetrator pattern-based approach when working with families that are experiencing domestic violence, we shift the accountability away from the survivor’s ‘failure to protect’ and back to the person whose behaviors are the source of harm to the child,” explained Jara.

Since systems have held women more responsible for the day-to-day care and well-being of children, abusive fathers are often not held responsible for the harm their behavior causes to children. These hearings provided an opportunity for survivors to share their stories about what accountability means to them and highlighted the need to improve accountability for abusers across the multiple systems they encounter.

BDVPVS will collect oral and written testimony and will then recommend how to move forward as a state.

Almost 500 Empire Passes Distributed to Foster Families to Enjoy New York’s Great Outdoors

OCFS and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (State Parks) have teamed up once again to provide foster families a free Empire Pass, which provides unlimited entry to most of New York State’s parks and recreational facilities including 180 state parks, 55 Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) forest preserve areas, boat launch sites, arboretums and park preserves.

Lisa Ghartey Ogundimu, deputy commissioner for Child Welfare and Community Services, explained that this unique opportunity enables passholders to enjoy all the beauty and outdoor activities New York State parks and recreational facilities have to offer.

“We are pleased to partner once again with Commissioner Poole and the team at OCFS on this meaningful foster family program,” said State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid. “Providing easier access to the outdoors for the generous families who share their hearts and homes with children in need is just one way we can show our appreciation for all that they do. With the Empire Pass, we can open the door to nature and recreation so that foster families can enjoy the parks all year long and spend time making special memories.”

This year, 490 families from 38 counties statewide received the passes, which are valid through the rest of 2021. The program was last held in 2019.

Consideration was given to foster families who have demonstrated a strong commitment to fostering, are a certified foster/adoptive family, have multiple children and will use the pass regularly. Some new foster parents were also included.

OCFS and State Parks thank foster parents for their care and support of New York’s foster children.

Division of Juvenile Justice & Opportunities for Youth Offers Domestic Violence and Teen Dating Abuse Training

New domestic violence training has begun for 275 Division of Juvenile Justice & Opportunities for Youth (DJJOY) staff both at facilities and community multi-services offices through 10 webinars running through November. The topic of teen dating abuse was presented in late June.

80% of teens say they know someone who has been controlled by a partner; 60% know someone who has been physically abused, only 37% of parents are aware

Participants learned about “Recognizing and Responding to Teen Dating Abuse in Juvenile Justice Settings” and explored the tactics of power and control and how those often keep victims trapped in an abusive relationship.

The training delved into the many issues that intersect with teen dating abuse, such as trafficking and substance abuse. The presentation emphasized how staff in juvenile justice settings can talk to young people and promote healthy relationships.

The goal of the training, according to DJJOY Deputy Commissioner Felicia Reid, was for staff to not only have greater awareness and knowledge but also to “prevent and respond safely and effectively” to teen dating abuse. Once accomplished, staff can “enhance victim safety and offender accountability and build resiliency.”

Legislative Session Ends With An Eye On Child Care

The New York State Legislature ended its session in June and passed a number of bills that impact our work at OCFS, including many child care initiatives. Some of the bills that have passed both houses of the Legislature and have not yet been acted on by the Governor include:

  • S.4051 (Bailey)/A.4982 (Hevesi) ends the arrest and prosecution of children as young as seven as juvenile delinquents in New York State for offenses other than homicide offenses.
  • S.2755-C (Ramos)/ A.1160-C (Bronson) requires New York State to publicly commit to cutting child poverty by half in 10 years with the creation of a Child Poverty Reduction Advisory Council that will regularly assess progress toward this goal and related strategies to improve racial equity.
  • S.5162 (Brisport)/ A.5840 (Clark) allows child care providers to be reimbursed via direct deposit.
  • S.7128 (Brisport)/ A.7721-A (Clark) extends the term and expands the scope of the Child Care Availability Task Force.
  • A.7723 (Jean-Pierre)/ S.7008 (Benjamin) requires OCFS to translate, upon request, forms and applications to become a child care provider into the 10 most commonly spoken languages in New York State.