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Kathy Hochul, Governor
Suzanne Miles-Gustave, Esq., Acting Commissioner
October 2021 — Vol. 6, No. 10

Commissioner's Message

As we greet October, we celebrate the lovely arrival of Fall.

We also mark the implementation of the congregate care provisions of the Family First Prevention Services Act, which will transform child welfare by prioritizing kinship placements for youth in foster care and lead to better outcomes for families. This has been a monumental undertaking, and I want to thank Lisa Ghartey Ogundimu and the Division of Child Welfare & Community Services, Tom Brooks and the Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Development, the Division of Legal Affairs and the Office of Information Technology for their dedication, time and energy toward this implementation.

I would again like to thank our Division of Child Care Services, which continues to manage the Child Care Stabilization Grant fund efficiently and smoothly for more than 12,500 applicants already! What a success story.

October at OCFS brings many opportunities to celebrate and empower ourselves in personal and inspiring ways, including Coming Out Day, the continuation of Hispanic Heritage Month, White Cane Day and Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

There is a critical need to recognize the long-lasting effects that domestic violence (DV) can have on children and families, and to prevent their exposure to it. This year’s theme is “Every 1 Knows Some 1,” and I hope you will join me in wearing purple on October 21 to raise awareness and show support for all who have been affected by DV.

May each of you recognize and rejoice in your own identity and all the good work that you do every day. I hope you all feel a sense of belonging here at OCFS. Thank you for being you.

Sheila J. Poole


Division of Childcare Services Updates

More Than Two-Thirds of the $1.1 Billion Child Care Stabilization Grant Funding Has Been Approved

Application Deadline is November 30

More than two thirds of New York State’s 18,000 eligible child care providers have requested $714 million in federal funding since the launch of the nearly $1.1 billion Child Care Stabilization Grant fund on August 4. The awards, which so far total $210 million, directly benefit child care providers and are helping to stabilize the struggling child care industry.

Providers have until the end of November to apply. The streamlined application process takes just minutes to complete.

Awardees receive funds directly once they complete the simple online application. The funds may be used for personnel costs, rent or mortgage, utilities, facility maintenance or minor improvements, personal protective equipment, supplies needed to respond to COVID-19, goods and services needed to maintain or resume child care services, mental health supports for children and employees, health and safety training for staff, and other uses as outlined in the grant.

Child Care is Hot Topic for Regional Reporters

Commissioner Sheila J. Poole Interviewed About OCFS and the Child Care Industry

Who better for regional reporters to get the scoop on the child care industry from than OCFS’s commissioner, Sheila J. Poole? She recently joined three regional reporters to discuss the success of OCFS’s Stabilization Grant (see article above) and the child care industry as a whole.

Child care is the “super highway to economic recovery,” the commissioner recently explained to the host of Capital Tonight, an issues-based program that spans upstate New York. They discussed various child care grants, the importance of advocates, child care subsidies and the idea of universal child care.

The commissioner, who co-chairs New York’s Child Care Availability Taskforce, also recently sat down with The Capitol Pressroom, a show that features interviews with state representatives and important newsmakers.

In addition to also exploring various child care grants, the commissioner noted that OCFS “is working hand in glove with providers” on the Stabilization Grant to help them make good decisions on how they use the funding.

“This is an amazing opportunity to stabilize and reopen and stay afloat. We learned a lot of lessons [administering previous grants] and created a beautifully simple portal.” The commissioner explained that, while building the online application “…our providers were with us in the moment giving us feedback. That was incredibly valuable.”

The commissioner also discussed how to build a comprehensive, affordable child care system, saying, “Some financial support needs to come from Washington. The infrastructure bill in Congress will hopefully be what we need. There absolutely must be a federal commitment to this in perpetuity. We need a workforce that is paid a living wage with a career ladder. That’s a big challenge.”

She also spoke on similar topics with a reporter from WMHT Public Media, the Capital Region’s Public Broadcasting Service station.

“It’s been an incredibly exciting year given the infusion of federal dollars,” said Commissioner Poole. “We’ve been able to push out hundreds of millions of dollars in child care subsidies. We’re trying to keep people in the workforce. We’re also looking at whether we have enough child care slots and non-traditional slots for parents and essential workers who work overnights and holidays. That’s a need we’re addressing in our child care deserts.”

Division of Child Care Services Presents its Diversity Message at National Conference

Six members of the Division of Child Care Services (DCCS) will present a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) seminar during the upcoming virtual National Association of Regulatory Administration’s (NARA) annual conference, the theme of which is "Leading Through a Lens of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.” The conference runs October 4-6.

DCCS’s Tina Cook, Shaka Bedgood, Heather Robinson, Bonnie Waite, Virginia Primm and Division of Legal Affairs’ Vanessa Icolari will present "Equipping Regulators to Advance Equity in Child Care” and will focus on the importance of training for regulators by

  • discussing the DEI resources that OCFS is incorporating throughout its programs;
  • explaining why this work is important to the OCFS mission and goals and current trainings;
  • exploring how to embrace diversity, celebrate differences and ensure that all children are treated fairly; and
  • sharing some of the tools OCFS is developing for providers.

DCCS DEI committees are developing a DEI toolkit for child care regulators and providers and are reviewing OCFS child care policies with a racial equity lens to determine whether they need to be improved and updated.

An international non-profit professional association, NARA represents all human care licensing, including adult residential and assisted living, adult day care, child care, child welfare and program licensing for services related to mental illness, developmental disabilities and abuse of drugs or alcohol. Conference participants will share ideas about leadership, education, collaboration and service.

“Every 1 Knows Some 1” – Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Bureau of Domestic Violence Prevention & Victim Support Awards Millions in Grants

Wear Purple on October 21

This year’s national slogan for Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM) is “Every 1 Knows Some 1” because one-in-four women and one-in-seven men experience domestic violence.

OCFS is asking staff and advocates to wear purple on October 21 to recognize DVAM. OCFS will also host a campaign to announce the “Signal for Help,” a simple one-handed sign someone can use on a video call that indicates they need help and want someone to check in with them in a safe way.

OCFS’s Bureau of Domestic Violence Prevention & Victim Support recently awarded grants of $6.5 million in Family Violence Prevention and Services Act funding to statewide DV programs: $4.8 million to 79 service providers statewide to provide housing for domestic violence survivors and $1.7 million to five nonprofit organizations that offer domestic violence prevention programs, including Retreat, Inc. in East Hampton; the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project; Unity House of Troy; Vera House in Syracuse; and Family Justice Center of Erie County.

Anyone, regardless of gender, race, sexual identity or orientation, or socio-economic status, can experience domestic violence. Throughout October, OCFS and the National Network to End Domestic Violence will share content on social media to help raise awareness. Nationally, a week of action is planned for October 18-24 to engage advocates, partners and the public in starting a national conversation. Please “like” and “share” posts to help spread the word.

“See Us, Support Us” Campaign Raises Awareness of the Needs of Children of Incarcerated Parents

1 in 9 Black children have an incarcerated parent
1 in 28 Latinx children have an incarcerated parent
1 in 57 White children have an incarcerated parent

“See Us, Support Us” (SUSU) is a month of national awareness-raising activities to increase support for children of incarcerated parents. SUSU focus this year is on supporting children’s educational success and well-being from early childhood through college.

Throughout October, the New York State Council on Children and Families (CCF) will share resources, tips and stories on how to increase visibility and support in schools for children of incarcerated parents. CCF’s KIDS COUNT project has supported SUSU events since its launch in 2015 by the Osborne Association’s New York Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents.

SUSU works to decrease stigma, build community, share supportive resources and celebrate children who thrive and succeed when we See and Support them. Even though one in 14 children experiences parental incarceration, many remain unseen. This can isolate and harm children and hinder service providers, educators and communities from supporting them. Stigma, inaccurate stereotypes and harmful narratives can further isolate children and families.

Educators, social workers and youth specialists can join the SUSU network. Visit the SUSU website for more information.

Commission for the Blind Creates Rehabilitation Paraprofessional Training at State University of New York

The New York State Commission for the Blind (NYSCB) has created a nine-month orientation and mobility assistant (OMA) and vision rehabilitation therapy assistant (VRTA) credential program with the State University of New York (SUNY) Empire State College.

VRTAs and OMAs teach individuals daily living skills, travel safety and independence. The program’s goal is to implement vision rehabilitation therapy, restore people to a functional ability and improve quality of life, according to Instructors Michael Honan and Madison Near, both NYSCB employees. The program is free and students pay for related materials and fees.

“I am exceedingly proud of our dedicated staff as the state continues to face a crisis due to a lack of professionals pursuing vision rehabilitation careers,” said NYSCB Associate Commissioner Brian S. Daniels. “Thank you to our friends at SUNY Empire State College and our community-based service providers for developing this groundbreaking program to address the shortage. Their hard work and great efforts will continue to provide the means to train the next generation of vision rehabilitation professionals in the state.”

The program includes live classes, virtual and in-person instruction, plus an internship. Admission requirements include a high school diploma/GED, computer skills, a letter of recommendation and an interview.

New York State has approximately 130,000 residents eligible for NYSCB services. Currently, the state has a limited number of certified instructors in this field. For further information please email OMAVRTA.Instructor@ocfs.ny.gov or call (518) 473-1599.

Celebrate Coming Out Day on October 11

The following article was written by Nathaniel Gray, Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion coordinator. Coming Out Day is celebrated on October 11.

Over time, the LGBTQ+ community has often been told to tone it down or hide who they are by various people in power positions.

It has not always been safe, or even legal, to be openly LGBTQ+ in American. In fact, leading up to and for some years after the Stonewall Riots of 1969, bars that served LGBTQ+ people typically boarded up their windows because seeing two women or two men dancing in public was considered "lewd behavior" and wearing clothes "of the wrong gender" was treated as a mental illness. After some advances were made, including the American Psychiatric Association no longer considering gay, lesbian and bisexual people mentally ill in 1978, the LGBTQ+ community lost ground elsewhere, such as with “Don't Ask, Don't Tell,” a military policy that allowed LGBTQ+ people to serve their country if they did not disclose their sexuality -- which we now know is detrimental to a person's mental health. The policy was repealed in 2011.

Coming out is inextricably tethered to the queer experience. LGBTQ+ people must first grapple with their own sense of self-identity, sometimes as young as 2-4 years old, and find acceptance within themselves before summoning up the courage to come out to someone else. For decades, especially beginning in the early 20th century, LGBTQ+ people have been told to hide their truth, that being LGBTQ+ was deeply private or inappropriate, or that by coming out, we are actively trying to recruit others (which is impossible).

We now know that LGBTQ+ identities have existed throughout history and all around the world. We also know that for kids who identify as LGBTQ+, having an LGBTQ+ adult role model in their lives can prevent extremes like running away, depression, anxiety and even suicide. Coming out can save lives.

So, on Coming Out Day on October 11, if someone you know comes out, or even someone you don't know, remember that it takes bravery to be so open and honest, that's it's 100% normal and that they are making the world a little safer for the other LGBTQ+ people in their lives.

Supervision and Treatment Services for Juveniles Program

Since its inception in 2011, the Division of Youth Development and Partnerships for Success’s (YDAPS) Supervision and Treatment Services for Juveniles Program (STSJP) has incentivized local programs to divert youth from detention or placement.

YDAPS has spent many months working with OCFS’s Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Development and local partners to develop enhanced reporting of data related to the program, since a consolidated way to collect and analyze data didn’t exist.

As a result, YDAPS can share some of the outcomes of the first six months of the 2020-2021 program year.

“The data and outcomes are very exciting,” said Nina Aledort, deputy commissioner of YDAPS. “It is the first time we can really measure the impact of supporting community-based programs and show that they are cheaper, better and more responsive to youth and community needs than detention and placement.”

In the six months from October 1, 2020, to March 31, 2021, more than 4,000 youth were served, and most were provided alternatives and interventions for delinquency concerns. Overall, the programs appear to be very successful at keeping youth away from the deepest parts of the system.

  • 92% of youth who received prevention had no justice system involvement.
  • 76% of youth with early system contact did not have their cases go to court.
  • 85% of youth who were in alternatives to detention avoided detention, jail and pre-dispositional placements during their service engagement.
  • 78% of youth who received aftercare/reentry services were not returned to placement.

YDAPS is partnering with the Youth Justice Institute (YJI) to help provide technical assistance and support for the STSJP lead agencies in counties and to programs. Lynn Tubbs, director of the Bureau of Cross-Systems Supports, said, “YJI is a cutting-edge research and technical assistance partner – we are excited to see how, with their help, we can continue to improve on these outcomes.”

For more information, visit the STSJP website.

Events Focused on Native Americans Help Stakeholders Collaborate and Exchange Ideas

OCFS’s Heather LaForme, director of the Bureau of Native American Services, participated in two recent events focused on Native Americans: as part of the planning committee for the Indian Child Welfare Act conference and as a member of the New York Federal-State-Tribal Courts Forum.

Heather noted, “These two events are so vital in ensuring New York State remains vigilant about keeping American Indian/Native American children with families and connected to their community and culture.”

New York Federal-State-Tribal Courts Forum

On September 23, the New York Federal-State-Tribal Courts Forum hosted its semi-annual meeting, which allowed federal, state and Tribal court judges and others to exchange ideas and information. The forum was developed to help the different justice systems collaborate to foster mutual understanding and minimize conflict and has a six-pronged mission:

  • To develop educational programs for judges, tribal chiefs and Indian communities.
  • To exchange information among Tribes, nations and agencies.
  • To coordinate integrating Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) training for child care professionals, attorneys, judges and law guardians.
  • To develop mechanisms for resolution of jurisdictional conflicts and inter-jurisdictional recognition of judgments.
  • To foster better cooperation and understanding among justice systems.
  • To enhance proper ICWA enforcement.

Learn more about the forum.

Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) Conference: Bringing and Keeping Our Children Home

On September 24, the virtual third-annual conference featured keynote speaker Professor Kate Fort, director of the Indian Law Clinic at the Michigan State University College of Law and head of the Indian Law Clinic. She teaches classes in federal Indian law, and in 2015, started the Indian Child Welfare Act Appellate Project, which assists Native nations and tribes in ICWA cases across the country. She also co-edits the popular and influential Indian law blog, TurtleTalk.

ICWA conference sessions focused on residential boarding schools, murdered and missing Indigenous people, ICWA 101 and new tools for caseworkers. Heather presented on the OCFS ICWA Case Process Checklist, a comprehensive caseworker form focused on maintaining Native American family unification, and her hope that it will help caseworkers meet the important elements of ICWA.

Division of Juvenile Justice and Opportunity for Youth Treats Community Multi- Services Offices to Ice Cream Socials

As a thank you, Division of Juvenile Justice and Opportunities for Youth Deputy Commissioner Felicia Reid treated community multi-service offices (CMSOs) staff around the state to an ice cream social. The offices picked a day between July and mid-September to hold the socially distanced team time to enjoy ice cream together. Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse/Utica CMSO shared in an ice cream social, but did not take pictures.

Long Island CMSO ice cream social
Long Island CMSO ice cream social and picnic
Mid-Hudson office
Mid-Hudson CMSO ice cream social
Capital District office
Capital District CMSO ice cream social

Kinship Navigator Honors Caregivers During Kinship Care Awareness Month

Jerry Wallace, founding director of the Kinship Navigator, accepted the Kinship Navigator’s Lifetime Achievement Award last month. OCFS Commissioner Sheila J. Poole was among those to wish him well during the virtual program held in September.

As part of the eighth annual presentation, Kinship Navigator honored programs and caregivers who have been looking after grandchildren and other family members. Among others, an award went to Ellen Earley, right, one of OCFS’s Parent Advisory Board members for parenting her grandson for the past four years. From sitting on kinship panels to meeting with a senator about the needs of kinship families, Ellen’s dedication is clear.

“As in previous years, the annual Kinship Navigator celebration was a heartwarming tribute to those individuals and programs that have made an indelible impact in the life of kinship caregivers,” said Carol McCarthy, director of adoption services for the Division of Child Welfare and Community Services. “It was a beautiful tribute to the caregivers themselves, who are unyielding in their daily devotion and sacrifice to the children they love and raise.”

The program concluded as Pat Lincourt, associate commissioner of the New York State Office of Addiction Services and Supports, rolled out a "Kinship Care Toolkit" for parental addiction and addressing substance use and related mental health concerns.

White Cane Awareness Day Event Marks Importance of Independence

Presented by the New York State Commission for the Blind and the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Office, OCFS is hosting its White Cane Awareness Day event on October 14.

While the white cane allows those who are blind and visually impaired to maneuver around their surroundings safely and allows drivers and pedestrians to easily see it – the National Federation of the Blind calls it a tool to achieve independence, for people to explore and navigate the world on their own, an extension of a blind person’s arms. In October 1964, President. Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law a joint resolution from Congress to mark White Cane Safety Day.

Please join us for our White Cane Awareness Day event October 14, 12-1 p.m. on Zoom (ID: 160 8495 4797). Please seek supervisory approval to attend.