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Kathy Hochul, Governor
Suzanne Miles-Gustave, Esq., Acting Commissioner
August 2021 — Vol. 6, No. 8

Commissioner's Message

On July 6, New York State declared a first-in-the-nation gun violence disaster emergency as part of a new, comprehensive strategy to build a safer New York.

New York State is attacking gun violence like the epidemic it is.

OCFS is on the front lines of this epidemic, as gun violence touches far too many of the families we serve and youth who are at risk. We are using our resources, combined with those of our sister state agencies, to intervene to prevent gun violence in communities statewide.

We are viewing and treating gun violence as a public health crisis, going into communities to identify with local organizations the programs that can quickly and effectively address the immediate crisis and looking at long-term solutions that focus on community-based intervention and prevention strategies to break the cycle of violence. The disaster emergency declaration allowed the state to expedite money and resources to communities and begin targeting gun violence immediately.

Community Meetings

OCFS and other state agencies are leading community meetings in 20 locations with the highest rates of gun violence across New York State with local officials and community leaders to brainstorm and collaborate on initiatives to address gun violence. The initiatives focus on engaging the most at-risk youth in employment and community activities, hiring new community-based gun violence interrupters and assisting with treatment for mental health and substance use disorders. I especially want to thank Nina Aledort, deputy commissioner of the Division of Youth Development and Partnerships for Success, and her team and John Johnson, Community Credible Messenger Initiative program manager, for their work to support these endeavors and facilitate successful, positive meetings.

Input received to date indicates a need for culturally relevant and locally designed alternatives that attract young people to activities that enrich them and engage them in the positive contributions they can make to their neighborhoods and communities. We also need relatable, credible messengers who can convey the right message to youth, including people who have experienced street violence and found a better way.

Our communities need an all-hands-on deck approach to heal this epidemic. Government is instrumental in that effort, and OCFS is helping to lead and inspire hope by listening and responding to this crisis. We all must work together to diminish gun violence. You will read more in this newsletter about our efforts, and I thank all of you who are involved in this necessary and important work. Together, we can make New York a safer state for the children, families and vulnerable adults we serve.

Sheila J. Poole


Safe Summer 2021 Focused on Battling Gun Violence

Over the past month, there has been a laser-like focus on ending gun violence in New York. As part of the Safe Summer 2021 campaign, Commissioner Poole is leading community meetings around the state (see right) with staff from the divisions of Youth Development and Partnerships for Success and Juvenile Justice and Opportunities for Youth (see below for a photo of John Johnson, Community Credible Messenger Initiative program manager).

The commissioner has visited the Bronx, Brooklyn, Albany, Rochester and Utica as part of the effort, leading conversations with local officials and community leaders. She has also spent time with the Fresh Air Fund to highlight the severity of this emergency and the need for community stakeholders such as clergy, health care providers, community organizations and government to work together to defeat this public health crisis.

Administering $2 Million in Grants

Another part of the effort involves $2 million in grant funding that OCFS is administering for youth organizations in 17 counties statewide and New York City. The money will support the development of positive and productive activities for youth and young adults to draw young people away from street activities and into enriching activities.

Grants of up to $50,000 each will support positive development activities for youth and young adults aged 14 to 24 for programs including STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics), sports, visual and spoken word art, civic engagement, restorative justice and youth leadership.

“We need to take preventative measures, not just address violence after the fact,” said Commissioner Poole at a stop at the Albany Public Library on Wednesday, July 21. The grants will help to spark new strategies based upon the input of youth and trusted community members. The message is sobering: 68% of gun homicide victims in New York State are nonwhite; 10,042 young men live in gun violence hot spots. At each stop, this campaign is tailored for critical zip codes, offering jobs and positive engagement plus mental health support, substance abuse treatment and family crisis intervention.

OCFS Deputy Commissioner of the Division of Youth Development and Partnerships for Success Nina Aledort said, “The funds are targeted to hyper-local programs that know how to reach youth who are at risk of perpetrating gun violence and can provide meaningful alternatives that can steer them away from violence and onto a path toward success.”

From a Degree in Fine Arts to OCFS’s Executive Deputy Commissioner

For the first time in several years, OCFS once again has an Executive Deputy Commissioner. Former General Counsel Suzanne Miles-Gustave has been appointed to the position to assist Commissioner Poole in administering our agency.

Suzanne did not begin her academic career in law. She intended to be an artist and still has artwork in storage thatshe created as a teenager and in college, where she majored in fine arts.

Mission-critical Legislation

Suzanne began working at OCFS in 2014 and brings a wealth of legal professional experience from outside roles and inside the agency. She has led the legal division in developing mission-critical legislation and has played a pivotal role in shaping the agency’s policies to advance the mission of promoting the safety, permanency and well-being of our children, families and communities.

Energy, passion and positivity emanate from Suzanne.

“Managing any team requires strong leadership,” she said. “My attorneys and I recognize that we support all the other divisions at OCFS in a legal sense, and we are here for them. The most fulfilling part of my job, though, is being a leader. Modeling good leadership for my staff and modeling how to be a good lawyer are important to me.”

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Mission

Suzanne is especially excited that, as part of her new position, she will have more time to focus on OCFS’s diversity, equity and inclusion mission. “I can help lead the program work to make certain that our workforce feels supported and included while working to make sure our policies are equitable so that we serve all people.”

Suzanne noted that she is often driven by people telling her she can’t accomplish something. “When folks doubt my abilities, it fuels me to do more.”

She went to art school because creating art helped her express feelings that were difficult to articulate – including women’s issues, gender equality and race. As the only Black woman in her classes, she didn’t feel fully supported by her professors or classmates. A pivotal moment came when a professor told her she’d never become a successful artist because of her identity as a Black woman. Suzanne decided at that moment that she wouldn’t be an artist and decided to go to law school to focus on civil rights issues, “since no one’s dreams should be limited because of their identity.”

OCFS is certainly grateful that Suzanne headed toward a career where she has already made her mark and will continue to do so as OCFS’s new executive deputy commissioner. Congratulations, Suzanne, on your appointment to this senior leadership role.

An All-Star Push for a Quality Child Care Program

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul has been touring child care programs in New York City and other parts of the state to announce the $35 million expansion of the QUALITYstarsNY program, along with Commissioner Poole and Deputy Commissioner of the Division of Child Care Services Janice Molnar. (See photo with Janice, left, then Commissioner Poole and the Lieutenant Governor, third from right.)

QUALITYstarsNY is a statewide initiative led by the New York Early Childhood Professional Development Institute at the City University of New York under the guidance of the governor's Early Childhood Advisory Council. More than 900 child care providers are already participating in the program, serving 55,000 children and 10,000 child care professionals.

The program delivers resources for early childhood care, including staff training. Programs receive individualized support from a designated quality improvement specialist and access to professional and career development opportunities, classroom materials and furnishings plus a wide range of resources to build and sustain programming.

Quality improvement specialists rate child care providers using research-based standards and then design, implement and fund a quality improvement plan. The expanded funding runs through September 30, 2024.

OCFS Fellow Nathaniel Gray Named to Prestigious “40 Under 40” List

You probably know Nathaniel Gray from his role as host of multiple virtual presentations over the past pandemic year as part of the OCFS Diversity Committee leadership. OCFS’s ubiquitous and versatile “Edie Windsor, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera Empire Fellow,” is now one of City & State’s “2021 Albany 40 Under 40.”

“I’m so honored and excited,” Nate said. “Getting this award encourages me to keep working on behalf of LGBTQ youth and legitimizes the need for more LGBTQ leaders.”

40 Under 40 is a sought-after and distinguished business award for young business leaders.

Nate grew up in a conservative town in Ohio, the son of Marines. “Coming out was incredibly difficult and ultimately a big reason to move to New York City to find a safe space.”

Passionate About Musical Theater

He attended Pace University and received a master’s in social work, leadership and policy from Fordham University. He taught music and worked with kids for 10 years while using his talent to pursue his other passion – musical theater.

But something changed for him in 2013.

“Several high-profile LGBTQ youth suicides lit a spark in me to learn why this is happening and how to stop it,” he said, adding that his long-term goal is “to keep being the adult in leadership I could have benefited from as a kid.”

Nate’s passion is working with youth, and he founded “The Proud Path,” an organization that trains non-profits and schools to support LGBTQ homeless youth. His fellowship ends this month, and he has been hired full time in OCFS’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Congratulations, Nate!

Bureau of Native American Services Director Completes Prestigious Leadership Program

Bureau of Native American Services Director Heather A. La Forme recently attended the Minority Professional Leadership Development program’s award/graduation ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Run by AdoptUSKids, the year-long program designed for emerging minority leaders working in the child welfare field includes hands-on experience, exposure to national experts and mentorship opportunities. Heather presented her work with OCFS on the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).

The program also included research projects used to address issues related to adoption or guardianship, plus online structured courses in policy, practice, research and transformational leadership. The alumni network provides long-term career support, resource-sharing and leadership opportunities.

Heather is of the Onondaga Nation, Beaver Clan. She joined OCFS in 2012 and has been the director of the Bureau of Native American Services since 2015 – only the fourth person to hold that position. Her responsibilities include managing New York State’s compliance with the ICWA and monitoring payment to tribal nations required by treaties.

Congratulations, Heather!

Child Care Division Marks Promotions

OCFS’s Division of Child Care Services (DCCS) is announcing five promotions of Home Office staff.

“Each of these individuals is grounded in the work of the division and brings to their new position enthusiasm and deep commitment to our mission and goals,” noted Janice Molnar, DCCS deputy commissioner. “Along with their staff, each will contribute to the exciting growth and transformation of the Division of Child Care Services.”

  • Bob Korycinski, director of administrative operations for the past eight years, has been promoted to children and family services program manager 4 in recognition of his increased responsibilities and those he’ll continue to take on as a key member of the division’s leadership team. Bob’s promotion was effective on July 8, 2021.

    In addition, four current DCCS supervisors have moved into newly created manager positions effective July 22, 2021.

    Regional Office Support Unit (ROSU)
    • John Benson, who has been with DCCS since 2019 as a supervisor in ROSU, is now in a new ROSU children and family services program manager 1 position.
    • Mark DeCicco has also been promoted to a new ROSU children and family services program manager 1 position. He started with DCCS as a licensor in the Albany Regional Office in 2013 and transferred to ROSU in 2014. He was promoted to supervisor in 2017.
    Contracts Units
    • Linda Darrah has been promoted to a new children and family services program manager 1 position with oversight responsibilities over the Child Care Resources Contracts Unit and the After School Unit. Linda started with DCCS as a licensor in the Albany Regional Office in 2006. In 2015, Linda was promoted to a position in the Child Welfare & Community Service division, and in 2017, Linda transferred back to DCCS as a supervisor in ROSU.
    Subsidy and Monitoring
    • Sonoma Pelton, who has been with DCCS since 2019 as the supervisor of the Legally Exempt Policy unit, has been promoted to a children and family services program manager 1, responsible for the Child Care Subsidy Program Unit and the relatively new subsidy Monitoring and Quality Assurance Unit.

    Congratulations to these talented and well-deserving staff!

See You at The New York State Fair!

After being cancelled last year, the Great New York State Fair is back this month, running 18 days from August 20 to September 6. Food, exhibits, entertainment and a lot more are just the start—including the OCFS booth staffed by your co-workers!

The Governor announced the “Reimagined New York State Fair” on April 26. As we count down the days until the event in Central New York, new attractions and concerts at the Syracuse fairgrounds are added almost daily.

The fair is a unique reward for New Yorkers who sacrificed so much during the pandemic. The event will allow visitors from across the state and the country to enjoy the fair’s topnotch attractions.

Many see the fair as an important step toward the full reopening of New York State and its economy.

Admission is $3 per person, with children younger than 12 admitted for free. Visit the NYS Fair website to find more information on the fair. And if you’re interested, there are still some slots available to help staff the OCFS booth. Please contact Jackie.jensen@ocfs.ny.com for more information.

Hope to see you there!

Don’t Miss International Day Diversity Celebration

For the first time in two years, OCFS will mark “International Day” on August 19 after the pandemic shut down the event last year.

Organized by the OCFS Diversity Committee, the day marks an opportunity to join colleagues in a virtual celebration of the diverse cultures represented by OCFS employees and the people we serve.

At 2019’s Diversity and Multicultural Heritage Day (see photo above), the celebration included food from various nations, performances by OCFS youth and staff, and displays of folk art. Watch your email for more information.

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream

Ice cream in the summer made a comeback this year as OCFS held its staff appreciation events at Home Office (above) and the Regional Offices at the end of July.

The message was extra special this year – a huge thank you to all staff, who worked so hard through the pandemic, which was, for many of us, the toughest challenge of our professional and personal lives.

Thank you, and we hope you are enjoying your summer!

Community Outreach with Law Enforcement in Rochester

Members of the Rochester community multi-service office (CMSO) are working to improve communication with local law enforcement. CMSO employees Pablo Astudillo, Ken Pryor and Dwayne Hayward participated in June in the Community Outreach TIPS event – Trust, Information, Programs and Services.

Several city, county and state law enforcement agencies were on hand, along with non-profit and grassroots organizations. With assistance from officers from Monroe County Probation, Dwayne and Pablo went door-to-door conducting quality-of-life surveys and let residents know about the event.

The event included horseback riding, a cookout and numerous agencies handing out information about their various programs. Ken worked the table for the CMSO, discussing the different programs and services OCFS provides the community.

Graduation Celebration at Brentwood Residential Center Includes Music, Food… and College

Brentwood Residential Center’s end-of-school ceremony had extra special meaning for three of the residents in particular – they graduated from high school and will be attending college this fall.

“Despite the obstacles, all of Brentwood’s youth did exceptionally well this past school year by putting in the work,” Facility Director Edward Figueroa, Jr. said.

Families of the graduates gathered in late June, along with current and former Brentwood staff, at the socially distanced ceremony. Attendees also got a visit from Division of Juvenile Justice and Opportunities for Youth Deputy Commissioner Felicia Reid and Associate Commissioner Rob MacGiffert, who also enjoyed the music, food and excitement.

Congratulations to the graduates and thank you to the wonderful teachers and staff who helped guide them to this terrific milestone.

Child Tax Credit Boosts New York Families

Starting in July, the new and expanded child tax credit (CTC) in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) provides monthly benefits of $250 per child between ages 6-17 and $300 per child younger than six. It runs from now through the end of the year, which works out to $3,000 to $3,600 per child for nearly all working families.

After making it through the pandemic, these payments are a lifeline for some families. A couple of items of note:

  • Most families will automatically receive monthly payments without taking any action.
  • Families who did not file taxes last year can still access the benefit.

This time, the CTC also makes 17-year-olds eligible for the $3,000 credit. Previously, low-income families did not get the same amount or any of the CTC. Under the ARPA, all families in need will get the full amount.

Families will get the remainder of the credit when taxes are filed next year. Learn more at www.whitehouse.gov/child-tax-credit/.

Council of Children and Families Lends Expertise for Kids Count

The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2021 Kids Count Data Book is out, ranking New York State 27th overall in child well-being across the United States. But the state is trending up in almost every category measured.

In the survey, New York State ranks 10th in health, 16th in education, 33rd in family and community and 45th in economic well-being. In a recent radio interview, Cate Teuten Bohn, director of the Council of Children and Families’ New York Kids Count initiative, agreed that the new child tax credit will help bolster economic well-being. She pointed to the New York census, which reveals that even though the economy is recovering, too many New York households still face issues like food insecurity.

"Still, in early 2021, almost one in five families with children in New York sometimes [or] often did not have enough food to eat, based on those survey results," Cate explained.

The data book shows that from 2017-2019, 41% of New York children ages three and four weren't enrolled in preschool, compared to the 52% nationally.

OCFS Team Shirt for CDPHP Workforce Challenge to Feature Commission for the Blind

We are pleased to announce that the athletic shirts OCFS participants in the CDPHP Workforce Team Challenge will be sporting this year will feature the New York State Commission for the Blind on the back. Go NYSCB!

NYSCB provides vocational rehabilitation and other direct services to legally blind New York State residents, including children, adults and the elderly. One of the commission’s primary objectives is to assist consumers in achieving economic self-sufficiency and full integration into society. Please see here for more information: ocfs.ny.gov/programs/nyscb/.

The race is being held August 26 at the Altamont Fairgrounds in New York and proceeds through the Village of Altamont. We hope many of you are dusting off your running or walking shoes to join the team this year.

Best of luck to all participants.