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Kathy Hochul, Governor
Dr. DaMia Harris-Madden, Commissioner
November 2021 — Vol. 6, No. 11

Commissioner's Message

November is full of important events as we recognize National Adoption Month, National Runaway Prevention Month, Transgender Day of Remembrance, and of course, as we celebrate the season of Thanksgiving.

During this month of giving thanks, I would like to thank all the families in New York State who open their homes and their hearts to welcome children from foster care for adoption. On various social media platforms, we highlight youth in foster care who are free for adoption and await loving and stable families. Please help us spread the word to raise awareness of these children who need and deserve forever homes and families.

This year’s theme for National Runaway Prevention Month is “Shine a Light.” Youth and young adults who are homeless or lack stable housing are always vulnerable – particularly those in the LGBTQ+ community who may have even fewer supports. Last year, OCFS developed a partnership with 1-800-RUNAWAY to raise awareness not just of these issues, but also of resources available throughout the state. Please join me in wearing green on November 10 to show our support.

Despite the challenges of the last two years, it’s important for all of us to recognize and give thanks for the many blessings in our lives. The dedicated and hardworking OCFS workforce is at the top of the list of things I am grateful for in my life. I am in awe of all that has been accomplished through your extraordinary effort during the most extraordinary of times and extend my sincere gratitude to each of you.

A very Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

Sheila J. Poole

In Brief

Veterans Day Celebrated November 11

OCFS thanks and honors all military veterans who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, but especially OCFS staff who are veterans.

This year, the federal holiday falls on November 11. The day is formerly known as Armistice Day and Remembrance Day, marking the end of World War I.

According to the Department of Defense, Veterans Day honors all those who have served the country in war or peace – those who are living and who have died – although it’s largely intended to thank living veterans for their sacrifices.

ExpressStop Officially Re-Opens

Great News!

Juan's ExpressStop, run by Juan Santana in the Home Office building, officially reopened on October 18 after closing due to the pandemic. Current hours are 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., which will be adjusted based on customer traffic. The shop is offering fresh-brewed coffee and tea, pastries, bottled soft drinks, limited snacks and candy and instant lottery game tickets. As customer traffic increases in the coming weeks and months, Juan will have more items back in the shop, hopefully building back to the previous level of products and services. Let's all support Juan's ExpressStop.


Elijah’s Law Now in Effect to Protect Young Children With Life-Threatening Allergies

Auvi-Q epinephrine auto injector
An Auvi-Q epinephrine auto injector pen made especially for allergy emergencies in young children.
OCFS DCCS Officers
OCFS Division of Child Care Services Deputy Commissioner Janie Molnar and Assistant Director of Regional Operations Christine Coons.

OCFS and New York State finalized the launch of “Elijah’s Law,” named for three-year-old Elijah Silvera, who died after his child care program gave him a grilled cheese sandwich, even though his parents notified them that he had a severe dairy allergy.

To prevent such tragedies, child care programs must follow new health care guidelines and establish a communication plan and obtain an Auvi-Q epinephrine auto injector pen for small children, which includes a tester that talks to make it easy to use. OCFS is offering providers free training and a free specialized epinephrine auto injector pen for small children.

“Tens of thousands of New York’s working parents place their children’s lives in the hands of child care providers, and we must take every action to ensure their safety,” said OCFS Commissioner Sheila J. Poole during a recent news conference that included Elijah’s parents, Thomas and Dina Silvera; Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin; and OCFS Division of Child Care Services Deputy Commissioner Janice Molnar and Assistant Director of Regional Operations Christine Coons.

OCFS marked Elijah's Law going into effect, which mandates child care centers prepare for life-threatening food allergies. From right: OCFS Commissioner Sheila J. Poole; Lt. Governor Brian Benjamin; Thomas Silvera, Elijah's father; Assemblymember Al Taylor, and Dina Silvera, Elijah's mother.

“OCFS strongly encourages all providers to complete the training, and we are going to do our best across every corner of this state to make sure that these life-saving tools are in the hands of every child care provider.”

Christine worked with OCFS’s Legal team to help finalize the related regulations and was instrumental in connecting with the Silveras throughout the process.

The lieutenant governor praised OCFS for moving quickly to pass the important legislation, noting how OCFS worked collaboratively to ensure that child care providers could access the needed training and tools.

He said, “Your team helped to get this done, and the state is covering the cost. Just in case anyone missed that – the state is covering the cost for the auto injector. That is the kind of state that I am proud to be the lieutenant governor of.”

National Adoption Month Includes a Virtual Adoption Exchange

November is National Adoption Month, and OCFS’s Regional Offices are hosting a virtual adoption exchange on November 18. Coordinated by the offices’ permanency specialists, up to 10 children from different regions will be featured in videos that approved adoptive parents can view.

At the event, potential parents can learn more about a child and, if interested, connect with their caseworker to pursue adoption. Then visitations, matches and home studies ensue.

Three virtual exchanges have already occurred – one in 2020 and two so far in 2021, involving 23 children. This year’s theme, “Conversations Matter,” encourages us to incorporate youth engagement into daily child welfare practice, which can start with a simple conversation. Listen to what a young person has to say, what their goals are and how they feel about adoption.

Each day during National Adoption Month, OCFS shares on social media the story of a child who is in foster care awaiting adoption. We highlight their interests and strengths and hope a forever family will open their hearts and home.

New York State has more than 3,500 children in foster care with the goal of adoption. Nearly 630 of these children are awaiting placement. During 2020-2021, New York State continued more than $5 million in funding to 16 regional Permanency Resource Centers, which provide support services for adopted children and their families. In 2020, despite the pandemic, OCFS and New York State celebrated 873 children adopted from foster care.

Division of Child Care Services Associate Commissioner Speaks at National Conference on Success of Stabilization Grants

Nora Yates
Associate Commissioner of the Division of Child Care Services Nora Yates.

The great success of OCFS’s child care Stabilization grants was featured at the recent national State and Territory Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) Administrator’s Meeting, sponsored by the Office of Child Care, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Held virtually, the conference’s first session focused on Strategic Planning and Communication. Associate Commissioner of the Division of Child Care Services Nora Yates (left) demonstrated in her workshop how her team used a variety of different communication methods to reach child care providers about the Stabilization grants.

New York State was featured thanks to the grants’ smooth rollout and the number of materials and training offered to help providers. Nora walked participants through changes OCFS made to our consumer education web pages and how we used social media to engage with all providers, including those with limited English language proficiency.

“The meeting was a great opportunity to discuss our work on outreach and communication about the Stabilization grant, including the commitment to language access,” said Nora. “We produced more than 20 videos in partnership with the University at Albany’s Professional Development Program and created more than 100 pages of technical assistance materials. We hosted more than 20 information sessions, and our partners have hosted trainings all over the state for providers. We were proud to highlight our partnership with community-based organizations and advocates to reach a wide variety of providers who are eligible for the grants.”

Brian Daniels Retires From the New York State Commission for the Blind After 27 Years of State Service

Brian Daniels
Former Commission for the Blind Associate Commissioner Brian Daniels with desk lamp that came with his office. Sine retired, Brian left the lamp for the next office occupant.

A banker’s lamp is one of the few items remaining – besides the furniture – in Brian Daniels’ former office in Rensselaer. And it’s staying…as opposed to Brian, who retired after 27 years of state service.

“Just as it was left for me, I’m passing it on, the warm, bright light,” said Daniels, the former associate commissioner of the New York State Commission for the Blind (NYSCB).

Brian began his state tenure during the end of Governor Mario Cuomo’s administration in the Office of Regulatory Reform and became deputy director of NYSCB in 1998 when OCFS was born under Governor George Pataki.

A public policy major at SUNY Binghamton, Brian first worked with people with intellectual developmental disabilities, something he would like to return to soon. On his last official day, October 8, he offered measured thoughts on his time, his elbows covering the worn-away foam on the arms of his chair.

“This Commission for the Blind does not belong to the person who sits in this seat,” he said. “The Commission for the Blind belongs to the blind state residents of New York.”

Brian pointed to his biggest accomplishment, the new Empire State College paraprofessional training program, which instructs people to implement vision rehabilitation therapy and help blind and vision-impaired New Yorkers learn new life skills and restore functional abilities, improving quality of life.

“I wouldn’t leave until that job was done,” he said quietly. “There is a profound need out there. We are in a crisis right now in our service delivery system. I’m convinced that this is the beginning…this is the snowflake that I hope starts an avalanche.”

Brian praised OCFS leadership and is proud of and hopeful for his team.

“The staff right now is the strongest I’ve ever seen at the Commission for the Blind,” he said.

Future plans include more direct service, spending time with his wife and traveling, which might include a trip to Israel and a stop in Norway.

“I hope people will say I was an advocate for blind state residents,” said Brian. “I hope that I left this place for my successor better than how I found it. For me this was an opportunity of a lifetime. It’s been a profound privilege to serve people with vision loss in New York.”

Julie Hovey Named New Acting Associate Commissioner

Julie Hovey
New Acting Associate Commissioner for the Commission for the Blind Julie Hovey.

Congratulations to Julie Hovey on being named acting associate commissioner at NYSCB, after serving for the last 20 years in various key leadership positions there.

“I am very proud to have the opportunity to continue the valuable work at OCFS and the New York State Commission for the Blind,” Julie said. “The commission helps people every day to be more independent, gain employment and enhance their quality of life. Improving accessibility for blind New Yorkers so that they can fully participate in the community is our priority.”

Julie started with NYSCB as a vocational rehabilitation counselor trainee in 2000 and steadily increased her responsibilities over the years, most recently serving as associate vocational rehabilitation counselor. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the State University of New York at Oswego and a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling from Wright State University.

Adult Abuse Training Institute Helps Those Who Assist Vulnerable Adults Take Stock and Move Forward

The 2021 New York State Adult Abuse Training Institute (AATI) banner

After the trials of 2020 and 2021, this year’s Adult Abuse Training Institute (AATI) in October saluted frontline service providers who continue to support vulnerable adults.

More than 700 participants from a variety of disciplines attended, including adult protective services, criminal justice, domestic violence and aging.

“A statewide gathering like AATI is more important now than ever,” said Shelly Aubertine-Fiebich, director of OCFS’s Bureau of Adult Services. “At a time when resources for vulnerable adults are at their leanest, bringing our programs and staff together to share what’s working, what’s new and what’s emerging rejuvenates us and fosters hope and creativity.”

OCFS Commissioner Sheila J. Poole offered opening remarks, and the keynote speaker explored free interactive tools to prevent financial exploitation. Workshop topics included engaging with Native American Tribal Nations, presented by OCFS’s Director of the Bureau of Native American Services Heather LaForme; living with vision loss, presented by New Yok State Commission for the Blind staff Laura Murphy and Julie Hovey; substance abuse; legal practices; scams; guardianship; and caregiver resources.

Transgender Day of Remembrance Offers Solemn Opportunity

Transgender Day of Remembrance banner

Mark your calendar for TDOR – Transgender Day of Remembrance – and a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion webinar on Tuesday, November 16. The official TDOR day is Saturday, November 20.

Transgender people experience hate crimes, violence and discrimination at alarming and disproportional rates. Research shows that up to 89% of transgender people have experienced violence based on their gender identity, and according to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), transgender women of color experience this violence at higher rates than others. In 2020, 44 transgender people were murdered. So far in 2021, HRC tracked 41 deaths, trending toward a higher number than last year. Many more murders go unreported and unsolved.

TDOR started in 1999. Transgender advocate Gwendolyn Anne Smith organized a candlelight vigil as a memorial for one transgender woman, Rita Hester, killed the year before. Like many movements, what began as small and local grew to be international, with events now held in 185 cities across 20 countries.

This important and somber day is a reminder that being a gender nonconforming person in society should not be dangerous, and it is vital that we create safe spaces for transgender people to live and work to prevent such violence.

Many LGBTQ+ organizations and college campuses host a vigil or march to honor Transgender Day of Remembrance. For a list of LGBTQ+ organizations across New York State, visit the OCFS LGBTQ+ webpage.

NYSB5 Parent Leadership Conference Focuses on Resilience and Perseverance While Parenting in the ‘New Normal’

NYS Birth through Five logo

The New York State Council on Children and Families, in partnership with Prevent Child Abuse NY, will convene the annual NYSB5 Parent Leadership Conference November 18-21, 2021. The conference will focus on “Resilience: Persevering to Go the Distance – Parenting in the New Normal” and aims to strengthen partnerships, expand parent choice and increase knowledge to ensure all children in New York State receive equitable and comprehensive supports and services.

This three-day conference is free and open to families with children younger than six. Parents, guardians, kinship caregivers and foster and adoptive parents all are welcome. Workshops will be offered in person at the Albany Hilton Hotel (with funds available to support parent travel, lodging and child care) and live-streamed virtually and will provide parenting tools, resources and tips featuring topics such as fatherhood, self-care in response to COVID, family engagement and more.

This conference has been an annual event thanks to support from the federal Preschool Development Birth through Five grant, first awarded to the New York State Council on Children and Families in 2018 and renewed for three additional years in 2019.

You can register online.

November is National Runaway Prevention Month

National Runaway Prevention Month logo

Nationally, this year’s Runaway Prevention Month public awareness campaign for November features a light bulb and is designed to “shine a light” on the experiences of runaway and homeless youth (RHY) who too often remain invisible. It is also an opportunity to spotlight resources available to support youth in crisis in New York State.

The impacts of homelessness on youth are far reaching. When youth experience homelessness they are more likely to drop out of school (a shocking 87%) and experience violence, food insecurity and medical complications. They are also slower to develop life skills and obtain employment. Living on the street, youth may become victims of violence, struggle with mental health challenges, engage in substance use and be forced to trade sex for basic needs.

OCFS supports homeless young people by licensing, monitoring and funding emergency and longer-term residential programs, as well as non-residential services to provide a safe and supportive environment. Services focus on supporting and developing healthy relationships to enhance youths’ existing strengths and resiliency, while incorporating youth voice and leadership in programming. Programs recognize that youth are the experts in their own lives and support them to make choices that improve their safety and personal development.

One way you can turn on the light bulb is to wear green on November 10, the nationally designated “Wear Green Day,” to bring awareness to the issues faced by runaway and homeless youth.

For more information about programs and services, visit the OCFS Runaway & Homeless Youth website or contact RHY@ocfs.ny.gov.

Does OCFS Have a Grammar Guide? You Betcha!

Next time you’re drafting a document and have a question, check out the OCFS grammar guide. It resides on the intranet and includes information on commonly confused words, word usage, capitalization, punctuation, lists and much more. The Associated Press Stylebook and The Chicago Manual of Style are our sources for this living document.

To find the guide, you can bookmark a direct link to it, go to the intranet > Resources > PIO Resources > Quick Grammar Guide or scroll to the bottom of the intranet homepage under “Reference.”

Let us know at info@ocfs.ny.gov if you don’t find what you’re looking for, and we’ll be happy to add new items to the guide.

OCFS’s Language Access Resources Keep Expanding

OCFS offers multiple brochures in 15 languages to meet the needs of the diverse families and individuals we serve.

Did you know that OCFS’s agency overview brochure is available on our website in 15 languages, as is the As You Think About Child Care brochure and the New York State Commission for the Blind brochure?

To meet the language access needs of the diverse New York State population, various publications have been translated into 14 languages. New York State currently mandates the translation of vital documents into Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Italian, Haitian Creole, Korean, Polish, Russian, Spanish and Yiddish. The recent influx of refugees from Afghanistan prompted OCFS to include Urdo, Pashto, Dari and French.

Please note that OCFS employees and those we serve can also visit our Language Assistance webpage and scroll down to "Publications by Language".

And if you don’t find what you are looking for, send us an email at info@ocfs.ny.gov.