Child Welfare News And Notes

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Kathy Hochul, Governor
Suzanne Miles-Gustave, Esq., Acting Commissioner
September 2021 — Vol. 5, No. 3

Deputy Commissioner's Message

A Message from Deputy Commissioner Lisa Ghartey Ogundimu

Fall has arrived, and with it, most students returning to in-person learning. While many parents are relieved their children are back to a structured environment where they can interact with teachers and peers, others remain concerned for their children's safety given the continued risk of COVID-19 for young, unvaccinated children and the risk of breakthrough infections with the delta variant for those who are vaccinated. However, if parents who are uncomfortable with the return to in-person school keep their children home, do they run the risk that they will be the subject of a call to the New York Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment (SCR)?

The Division of Child Welfare and Community Services (CWCS) will discuss these concerns with our Parent Advisory Board and remains committed to working with them and our partners at the State Education Department to create viable solutions to this complex situation. We are also focusing on re-engaging students who did not participate in virtual learning this past year and half, recognizing the importance of collaborating when working with families to provide needed support and services.

September is also when we celebrate our kinship caregivers. As we near Family First Prevention Services Act implementation, we recognize the critical role these individuals – grandparents, aunts and uncles, and family friends – hold in keeping children out of the foster care system and in loving, nurturing families. We acknowledge these caregivers’ sacrifices and thank them for their inspiration and love. Their dedication to providing children with family belonging forms the foundation for successful outcomes later in life.

Critical Work to Reduce Trauma

In our last newsletter, I wrote about the importance of being trauma-informed in all aspects of our work and the efforts New York is making to reduce compounding trauma that too many children experience in the child welfare system. Today I focus on another form of trauma that is equally important but perhaps less discussed – trauma from not knowing who we are or where we belong.

One painful example of this involves the historical trauma among Native Americans. Research has shown that non-Hispanic Native American adults carry historical “loss symptoms” (depression, substance abuse, unhealthy parenting practices and unemployment) from the cross-generational transmission of mass trauma from losing land, culture and population. Children and families involved in child protection experience similar disconnection and trauma.

This is why, as child welfare professionals, it is vitally important for us to meaningfully engage with the children and families with whom we work. As I’ve stated in previous newsletters, Signs of Safety is one way we are moving our system toward a child and family well-being system. Signs of Safety puts children and their caretakers at the center of assessment, decision-making and planning. Signs of Safety Signs of Safety highlights trauma, the importance of belonging and the role Signs of Safety and child welfare professionals can play in reducing trauma through inclusion and recognizing we are all “born to belong.”

In Brief

OCFS Parent Advisory Board Focuses on Trauma-Informed Practice

OCFS’s Parent Advisory Board (PAB) met recently and focused on trauma-informed agency practices. As per a new bill that focuses on adverse childhood experiences (ACES), OCFS and all agencies it regulates are required to become trauma-informed, trauma-centered and healing-centered.

The legislation requires OCFS and other state agencies to educate parents, guardians and others about ACEs, including the environmental events that may affect or lead to them, the importance of protective factors and the availability of services for children at risk of or suffering from ACEs.

ACEs Can Affect Brain Development

The PAB explored how ACES can affect children, brain development and “survival brain” reactions and what a trauma-informed agency model comprises, including leading and communicating, hiring and orientation practices, establishing a safe environment and collaborating with partners.

The PAB will delve further into this topic by gaining additional perspective on trauma-informed approaches for both OCFS and its regulated agencies and will make practice recommendations.

Celebrating Latinx Heritage Month



Although the name of the traditional Hispanic Heritage Month is shifting, it still lasts from September 15 through October 15, tied to the dates of the independence of many Latin American countries, including El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Mexico, Chile and Belize. As we celebrate the month, we honor the cultures, contributions and resilience of Latinx, Hispanic and Latino-identified communities.

OCFS celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month on October 7 at noon. This year’s theme is Esperanza: A Celebration of Hispanic Heritage and Hope.


New York State on Track for Family First Implementation on September 29

New York State is just days away from Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) congregate care provision implementation on September 29, 2021.

The state is set to meet the goal of no more than 12% of children in foster care living in congregate care and at least 50% of children in foster care living in kinship foster care. Currently, 41% of children in foster care are with a kinship resource and 14% are in congregate care.

“OCFS is committed to transforming child welfare by modernizing and expanding the array of programming, supports and services for preventive, out-of-home and after-care services,” said Commissioner Sheila J. Poole. “Over the past two years, OCFS has collaborated with many community stakeholders to craft strategies to support successful Family First implementation.”

Collaboration with local departments of social services (LDSSs), voluntary agencies, Casey Family Programs, Redlich Horwitz, Chapin Hall, the Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies (COFCCA), the New York Public Welfare Association (NYPWA), our sister state agencies, and other internal and external stakeholders has been pivotal in the broader planning, and OCFS appreciates their dedication, commitment and hard work.

“The work has been grounded in a shared vision for child welfare system improvement, centered on strengthening families and the communities where they live and safely reducing the need for foster care,” said CWCS Associate Commissioner of Implementation and Accountability Gail Geohagen-Pratt. “OCFS, LDSSs and voluntary agencies have been focusing on increasing recruitment and retention of kin and non-kin foster parents, reviewing and refining removal and placement protocols, conducting a critical assessment and redesign of the congregate care system and enhancing our prevention services array.”

Additional Family First Legislative Changes

Family First also changes the way states, territories and tribes can spend Title IV-E funds. States may now use Title IV-E funding for prevention services to keep foster care candidates with parents or relatives, when possible.

Additionally, the FFPSA legislation created a new type of congregate care setting known as a qualified residential treatment program (QRTP) and QRTP-Exceptions. Specific federal requirements exist for each setting, which can be found on the OCFS Family First website.

Supports and Resources

New York allocated $3 million in transition funds to LDSSs to support kinship initiatives, foster family recruitment and retention, enhance foster parent support and assist counties with foster family search and engagement.

“We continue to move toward our goals as we build a child welfare system where more children will remain with family or close friends whenever possible, and we celebrate their lives and our successes supporting them,” said Commissioner Poole.

Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi Attends September’s Kinship Care Month Celebration

OCFS Parent Advisory Board Member is Recognized

The New York State Kinship Navigator, which provides an information and referral network for kinship caregivers, sponsored its eighth annual celebration of Kinship Care Month on September 9 with a virtual event recognizing kinship caregivers and the professionals who work to keep at-risk children safe.

The celebration included special guest Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi, left, chair of the Committee on Children and Families, who praised kinship caregivers statewide and highlighted the important contribution they make. The day also featured a presentation on the rollout of the Office of Addiction Services and Supports toolkit for kinship caregivers and presentation of the Cura awards, which recognize the outstanding achievements and contributions of those involved with kinship care.

Ellen Early, a member of OCFS’s Parent Advisory Board (PAB), received a Cura award for her commitment to the well-being of kinship families throughout the state. Parenting her grandson for four years, she helps to shape policy and practice in child welfare as a PAB member.

From sitting on kinship panels to meeting with a senator about the needs of kinship families, Ellen’s dedication is clear for all to see. She is pictured at right with her son (middle) and grandson (left). Congratulations and thank you, Ellen!

CWCS Invites Voluntary Agencies to Train on Strategies to Support Authentic Youth Voice

CWCS has invited voluntary agency executives and their staff to participate in a two-part virtual training, “Making Meaningful MOVES – Strategies to Support Authentic Youth Voice,” led by the Bravehearts MOVE New York Credible Trainer Team, beginning mid-October. The training will be delivered separately to each region of the state and will provide guided practices, concepts and tools to agency staff and administrators to augment youth inclusion, maximize youth-adult partnerships and improve service delivery and outcomes.

Founded in 2013, Bravehearts is the first youth-led nonprofit in New York State to empower youth who have had child welfare system involvement to advocate for youth-centered policies and practices in foster care agencies, family court and social services departments.

Compelling Learning Collaborative

Bravehearts youth leadership will provide a compelling learning collaborative and provide attendees with tools, strategies and concepts to strengthen the lens of systemic engagement of youth voice on the macro level. The concepts and conversations will challenge attendees to “think outside of the box” when it comes to fostering and incorporating the voices and causes of youth with lived experiences in the child welfare system.

After participating, six agencies will be selected to receive Bravehearts Brainstorming Sessions to provide technical assistance regarding ongoing courageous conversations to support the sustainability of building youth-guided policies, practices and culture to highlight current and implement new youth-guided strategies.

Please contact the Human Services Learning Center if you would like to register.

OCFS Child Fatality Review Teams Unit Hosts Annual Conference for Local and Regional Teams

In August, OCFS held its virtual 2021 local/regional child fatality review teams (CFRT) annual conference, which focused on prevention, education and outreach. OCFS CFRT program managers Michael Miller and Amelia Mindel hosted the event.

Eighteen CFRTs attended, representing 23 counties throughout New York, along with OCFS staff, New York City Administration for Children’s Services staff and members of the newly created New York Statewide CFRT.

CWCS Deputy Commissioner Lisa Ghartey Ogundimu welcomed attendees and requested a moment of silence to recognize and honor lives lost, as various local and regional CFRTs do at the beginning of their meetings. She read:

A moment of silence is observed in respect to the memory of those individuals who have succumbed to or have suffered a loss due to infant/child mortality.

Let us remember why we are here today.

Let us have the strength to undertake the task ahead and be thankful for what we have accomplished to date.

The conference focused on child and adolescent suicide prevention, health inequities and child fatalities, and child fatality prevention messaging using social media platforms.

OCFS also reviewed its collaboration with and funding to community partners, including

  • distributing 1,969 Pack ‘n Plays with fitted sheets from 2020 to date to CFRTs, family resource centers, Native American tribes, Healthy Families New York, Trust Fund, kinship care, permanency resource centers and multidisciplinary teams/child advocacy centers;
  • distributing more than 5,440 infant safe sleep kits since 2020 to a wide range of partners and stakeholders statewide;
  • creating a Child Safety Resources page on our website for parents, caregivers and day care providers to help keep kids safe from harm; and
  • supporting 14 CFRTs in the state with $827,630 in annual funding.

Conference participants were excited to attend the two-day event and to collaborate with other stakeholders. Feedback noted that presentations were educational and informative and that presenters were very knowledgeable, current and exceptional on the topics they discussed. Many participants expressed how much they’re looking forward to attending next year’s conference.

OCFS and Community Partners Present Sessions at New York Public Welfare Association 152nd Annual Summer Conference

The New York Public Welfare Association’s recent virtual annual conference featured OCFS staff collaborating with our community partners to present 10 workshops.

Staff from OCFS, the Department of Civil Service and local departments of social services presented on workforce retention – a topic that continues to challenge child welfare leaders. They also explored strategies to improve caseworker recruitment, selection and retention. Other workshops included

  • Title IV-E Reimbursement for Legal Representation Services for Children and their Parents,
  • Serving Youth with Complex Needs: Challenges and Solutions,
  • Legal Changes to Child Protective Services Practice and Indicated Reports of Child Abuse and Maltreatment: SCR Reform,
  • Legalization of Adult Recreational Use Cannabis and Beyond, and
  • Child Care Post Pandemic: The Impact of New Federal Funding on New York State and Overview of the Enacted State Legislation for Family First

Attendees participated actively in the Q&A time after presentations, and speakers received positive feedback.

OCFS and Community Partners Present Sessions at New York Public Welfare Association 152nd Annual Summer Conference

CWCS State Fair booth
Kathryn Shelton (above left), OCFS’s associate commissioner of the Office of CPS Intake, Human Services Call Center and Protective Practices, and Derek Fumano, a youth counselor at the Rochester community-multi-services office, helped spread the word at the New York State Fair to interested community members about OCFS’s services, including foster care, adoption, resources to protect vulnerable adults and keeping children safe.

New York State Receives Landmark $10 Million in Federal Funding for Adult Protective Services

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Community Living has awarded New York State two grants to enhance protective services for adults, including more than $5 million for COVID-19 relief to support adult protective services (APS) clients and caseworkers and an additional $4.8 million to continue this work unrelated to consequences of the pandemic. CWCS is administering the grants to local departments of social services (LDSSs).

OCFS hosted virtual grant Q&A sessions for LDSSs, which have already developed strategies and plans. Their APS units will purchase vehicles to visit and transport clients, hire temporary staff to assist with administrative activities supporting clients, contract for increased community-based services, create cleaning and hygiene kits for clients who are unable to secure the items on their own and improve data and documentation systems.

Funding Paves the Way for Future Opportunities

“The decision to acknowledge and address this at the federal level re-affirms the value of this population in our society and the importance of prioritizing their needs,” said Shelly Fiebich, director of OCFS’s Bureau of Adult Services (BAS). “The funding, which is formula-based instead of competitive, sets a precedent and paves the way for additional funding opportunities in the future. Allowing LDSSs some flexibility to select their strategies is integral to influencing the funding’s impact.”

BAS will also devote a portion of the funding to enhance the APS upstate electronic system of record to better assist LDSSs with case practice, documentation and reporting; engage in a national adult abuse prevention public awareness campaign; and develop a practice manual for APS case workers. As part of the federal requirement, the bureau is developing a three-to-five-year strategic plan delineating how New York’s expenditures will improve safety outcomes and self-determination and preserve the dignity of the vulnerable adults served through protective services.

New York State Office of Victim Services Funds Two New Mobile Child Advocacy Centers

The Office of Victim Services (OVS) has provided OCFS with $1.5 million in additional funding to support mobile child advocacy centers (CACs).

OCFS was originally awarded $2.1 million to kick off the mobile CAC project, which allowed OCFS to buy seven mobile homes to convert to mobile CACs along with providing a $50,000 award that accompanied the vehicles for maintenance and staffing. The additional funding from OVS will support the purchase of six new mobile centers and three more years of support for the existing ones.

Centers Offer an Array of Services and Collaborate With Community Teams

The mobile CACs support child victims and their non-offending family members in rural communities. They allow for access to services such as child-centered interviews, victim advocacy, mental health and, in some instances, a specialized medical exam. Without the accessibility of these mobile centers, some child abuse victims may not have been able to access these services due to the distance of a CAC from their community.

OVS is a committed partner to OCFS and has provided federal dollars to help develop programs in regions that did not have a CAC. The initial seven mobile centers provide services to 13 counties and the St Regis tribal lands. Counties served include Delaware, Fulton, Montgomery, Hamilton, Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence, Cattaraugus, Allegany, Steuben and Clinton, Franklin, and Essex.

All CACs, including the mobile CACs, have a foundational, multi-disciplinary team that includes law enforcement, child protective services, a medical provider, mental health services, victim advocacy, the district attorney and the CAC coordinator.

More Than 200 People Attend Directors of Service Leadership Training Forum

CWCS hosted the annual Directors of Service Leadership Training Forum virtually in September 2021. As always, it provided a valuable opportunity to convene to listen and learn, and share challenges, ideas and strategies to improve child welfare work.

More than 220 participants attended webinars on Family First, state legislative updates, using digital media to support foster care recruitment (see slide at right), adverse childhood experiences and updates on Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment (SCR) practices.

John Thompson and Gina Newlin from the Research Foundation at SUNY Albany, Professional Development Program, presented a workshop on secondary trauma, an issue we’re focusing on both internally at OCFS and externally with our stakeholders and partners, and discussed recognizing the signs and symptoms of trauma and how to build a trauma-responsive climate.