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Kathy Hochul, Governor
Suzanne Miles-Gustave, Esq., Acting Commissioner
March 2022 — Vol. 7, No. 3

Commissioner's Message

Looking back at February and looking ahead to March, OFCS continues to be packed with events, workshops and celebrations, all focused on our mission of promoting the safety, permanency and well-being of New York’s children, families and communities.

I’m proud that more than 10 of our staff presented at the annual New York Public Welfare Association Conference in February, covering topics ranging from the Executive Budget to Family First to the Statewide Central Register. Workshops were well-attended, and we received positive feedback from attendees.

We celebrated Black History Month in late February, which provided an opportunity to celebrate the achievements and contributions of the Black community and understand Black history, going beyond stories of racism and slavery. Our event speaker called on us to use whatever power, position and privilege we have to encourage equity whenever possible.

And March is full of events and celebrations, including National Social Work Month, Women’s History Month and Transgender Day of Visibility.

We celebrate and are so grateful for our social workers whose talents and commitment benefit our mission in every corner of the agency. Social work is a profession that allows people to make a profound, positive impact on the lives of millions of people every day. It is important to reflect upon and honor the powerful, positive impact the social work profession has had on society for generations.

We will celebrate Women’s History Month on March 22, as a dedicated time to reflect on the often-overlooked contributions of women to our nation’s history, culture and society. And March 31 marks Transgender Day of Visibility, a day committed to celebrating transgender people and their resiliency and accomplishments, and to raising awareness of the discrimination they face.

As we (hopefully) welcome spring, remember that we truly make a difference. I look forward to continuing to work with you to improve the lives of our fellow New Yorkers.

Sheila J. Poole


Commissioner Poole Presents Executive Budget

On February 2, Commissioner Sheila J. Poole presented the state fiscal year 2022-23 Executive Budget as it relates to OCFS to members of the Senate and Assembly during the legislative fiscal committees’ joint human services budget hearing.

She noted that as a result of the state’s currently strong fiscal position, this year’s budget includes a number of new, fiscally prudent investments that provide much-needed support for OCFS’s core child welfare, child care and juvenile justice programs.

In addition to supporting child care subsidies for approximately 132,000 children by maintaining the New York State Child Care Block Grant at $832 million, the budget would expand access to subsidies for many thousands more children by increasing the eligibility level to 300 percent of the federal poverty level over three years.

The budget also includes $62.5 million this year, and $125 million in future years, to ensure that the state can continue serving the same number of families when new market rates take effect later this year. And, in recognition of the vital importance of our child care workers, whose work is undervalued, the budget also invests $75 million for wage supports for this essential workforce.

The Executive Budget would also

  • modernize and significantly boost foster care maintenance rates and remedy years of inequity by requiring that local departments of social services pay the full foster care rate that is established by the state, and
  • extend child welfare financing reform for an additional five years; the system has improved outcomes for families and greatly contributed to a reduction in the state’s foster care caseload from more than 50,000 children in the 1990s to a little over 14,000 today.

During the hearing, Assembly Children & Families Committee Chair Andrew Hevesi expressed his heartfelt gratitude that this year’s budget does not put the legislature on defense and sets a positive tone that positions everyone to work together to improve the lives of New York’s children and families.

Division of Child Welfare and Community Services Offers New “Grand Rounds”

New Challenges and Case Studies Making the “Rounds”

A slide from the Division of Child Welfare and Community Services’ first Grand Rounds workshop on domestic violence

OCFS offered a Child Welfare Grand Rounds recently to local departments of social services, voluntary agencies, domestic violence providers, OCFS staff and various partners that showcased good casework and recognized how just a few small behaviors can drive big change.

More than 400 participants gathered virtually for what is now a quarterly Grand Rounds series. Modeled after the medical grand rounds learning approach, a practitioner presents a case to a group of experts. Learning occurs as the group discusses the strengths of the case, applies case circumstances to current research and best practices, shares potential obstacles and collaborates to find the best ways to achieve the desired outcomes. This method focuses on evidence, using a strength-based approach.

This session focused on domestic violence and reviewed the best way to work with children who are in families where intimate partner violence affects their safety and well-being.

The session inspired critical thinking and comprehensive assessment. Some feedback from the session included:

“This course outlined a case that included domestic violence, and led to a mother/survivor being able to keep the child safe and get the offender out of the home.”

“The input (from a case member) was refreshing to hear, and I appreciated her honest and thoughtful answers. I expect that families she is connected to will continue to thrive.”

“I think it is a good refresher and hopefully eye-opener for some caseworkers to remember to treat the clients that we work with respectfully.”

Each quarterly Grand Rounds will focus on a different topic. Stay tuned for information about the next one, occurring in May.

Dissecting Racism During Black History Month

Artwork made by residents of Goshen Secure Center in celebration of Black History Month

During this year’s Black History Month virtual event, former OCFS Division of Child Care Services investigator Antionette Amos, M.A., shared some thoughts on racism, disproportionality, mental models and ways in which to use our power, position and privilege (the three Ps) to help bring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dreams to fruition.

The Buffalo Regional Office (BRO) Black History Month Committee and the OCFS Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion hosted the event on February 22.

Following this year’s MLK theme, “Bringing the Dream to Fruition: A Call to Action,” Amos reflected on her experience as an author, speaker and strategist specializing in diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. She commented

  • that child welfare systems remove Black children from their homes and families at rates higher than White children on similar case facts and
  • that Black youth are arrested at disproportionately high rates as compared to other youth, both for the same behaviors and for lesser crimes.

Amos also reminded participants of the power we all have and to use the three Ps, large or small, to encourage equity in our communities.

The presentation also showcased contributions from youth in OCFS facilities, including dancing, music, poetry and art. And OCFS shared trivia questions about Black History Month, with the top three winners receiving gift cards funded by the BRO Planning Committee.

Division of Youth Development and Partnerships for Success Incorporate Youth Consultants in Program Development

The Division of Youth Development and Partnerships for Success (YDAPS) has been working to center the voice of youth and young adults with lived foster care experience while working to improve outcomes for youth in foster care.

In 2020, OCFS applied for and was chosen to be part of a larger group of states working on increasing authentic youth engagement through the Annie E. Casey Foundation. A key goal that emerged was to bring the voice of former foster youth into our trainings for child welfare professionals.

YDAPS worked with the OCFS Bureau of Training and Development and our Youth Services Training contractor, the SUNY Professional Development Program (PDP), to hire training consultants who are young adults who experienced either the foster care system or homelessness or were involved in the juvenile justice system. These experts provide feedback on developing trainings and curricula to ensure they capture the perspectives and voice of youth, and they also deliver trainings in partnership with PDP staff. For example, YDAPS youth consultant Coral Mrozik, above, discusses healthy boundaries in a staff training.

“Their input and perspective are invaluable to OCFS, local districts and counties, and we are proud that our inaugural year is having profound impacts,” said Dr. Nina Aledort, YDAP’s deputy commissioner.

The consultants are currently researching evidence-based youth practices to provide recommendations for future trainings. Suggestions have included increasing trauma-informed approaches with youth and training staff on motivational interviewing approaches targeted specifically to adolescents.

In addition, the consultants advised professionals on a variety of ways to engage and connect with youth, such as using social media platforms like Tik Tok. These experts provided guidance for alternative ways to connect youth in care with friends and family during the holiday season. Their work has lifted up ways to increase resources and supports for runaway and homeless youth and youth in foster care.

Child Care Desert Grants Opening Mid-April

A reminder that OCFS will be administering $70 million in grant funding to new licensed, registered or permitted child care programs in areas of the state without sufficient child care slots, known as child care deserts.

Providers interested in opening a new child care program may submit a grant application starting mid-April until mid-May 2022, with award announcements expected in June 2022. The grant application portal will be available on the OCFS website.

Purple Pride for Women’s History Month

Mark your calendars: OCFS has a virtual event planned on March 22 at 11 a.m. to celebrate Women’s History Month, also called “herstory” by some.

The month’s national theme is “Providing Healing, Promoting Hope,” which is both a tribute to the ceaseless work of caregivers and frontline workers during this ongoing pandemic and a recognition of the thousands of ways that women around the world have historically provided healing and hope.

To mark the month, we’re asking you to incorporate the official color of International Women's Day – purple. Make sure to include some purple into your outfit on March 22 wherever you may work – the office, your car or a corner of your kitchen.

And for the first time, this national month has a woman as governor of New York State!

OCFS Staff Present at the New York Public Welfare Association Conference

“Leading the Way Forward” was the theme for the New York Public Welfare Association’s 153rd annual winter conference, and multiple OCFS staff did lead the way in their workshops. Below are summaries from a few of the virtual sessions that OCFS staff participated in.

  • Getting Money Out the Door to Provide Services: Meghan Manny, senior manager of the Financial and Administration and Child Fatality Review Team Units; Kathleen Meerwarth, Bureau of Contract Management; Kevin Sweet, Bureau of Contract Management; Bob Korycinski, Division of Child Care Services; and Sonia Tate, Division of Youth Development and Partnerships for Success (YDAPS), presented an overview of the procurement and contracting process. Participants had breakout sessions to brainstorm obstacles, strategies to reduce delays, ways to improve and expedite the process and strategies to enhance collaboration
  • Diving Into the Executive Budget: Bureau of Budget Management Director Bryan Bagstad and Mala Boolchandani, director of the Bureau of Financial Operations, presented a summary of the FY 2023 Executive Budget to county fiscal staff. OCFS-related questions and comments from the counties focused primarily on child welfare reimbursement rates and the impact of the NYC Children’s Center settlement on the foster care block grant.
  • Statewide Central Register (SCR) Updates: Kathryn Shelton, associate commissioner, Division of Child Welfare and Community Services, and Kristin Gleeson, SCR director, presented on anonymous/false reports. Among their findings:
    • If registering a child abuse/maltreatment report and the source provides no identifying information, the source is “anonymous.” Approximately 8% of child protective services intakes (initial/duplicates) are anonymous.
    • Some anonymous reporters may knowingly register false reports to harass and/or exert power and control over victims. This behavior is criminal.
    • By focusing reform efforts on strengthening and improving how false reports are handled by systems, OCFS can reduce the use of CPS as a means of harassment while protecting the safety of children.
  • QRTP Exception Models and Family First Implementation Updates: Approximately 200 people watched the live session presented by leadership from the Division of Child Welfare and Community Services (CWCS), YDAPS and the Strategic Planning and Policy Development office. The session provided a wide range of high-level updates on topics related to Family First.
  • Fair Hearings/SCR Reform Legislation: Cassandra Kelleher-Donnaruma, senior director of the Office of Implementation, Community Affairs and Protective Practices, and Kelleena Richards, senior attorney on the Fair Hearing and Administrative Review Management Team, conducted the continuing legal education presentation. According to the presenters, NYPWA and their membership have been eager for these presentations, which focused on SCR reform and included a lively question and answer session.
  • Signs of Safety: Jennifer Maurici of CWCS and John Thompson, principal education specialist at the Professional Development Program, presented to about 110 people. They partnered with four practitioners to describe the rationale for learning labs and to discuss “Signs of Safety.”

Did You Know OFCS Has Staff Lactation Rooms?

You might not know that every regional OCFS office has at least one dedicated lactation room for staff to have a private, comfortable space to express milk after returning to work from pregnancy.

At Home Office, Kristine Ritson in Personnel coordinates the use of the room, which is open via request only. She helps interested staff with regular scheduling while also helping maintain privacy and safety.

Home Office’s room includes a chair, desk, sanitizer, paper towels, a small refrigerator and other amenities that make the space welcoming. If you’re in Home Office and are interested in using the lactation room, please contact Kristine at Kristine.Ritson2@ocfs.ny.gov. Staff at other offices should contact their Personnel or Human Resources department.

Mark Your Calendar: Child Abuse Prevention Month Event is April 12

April is known for a few things, including those showers that we hope bring beautiful flowers. It’s also Child Abuse Prevention (CAP) Month, and early in April, pinwheels will start sprouting up in recognition. The pinwheel is a symbol of the carefree childhood we wish for all children in New York State and beyond, and the campaign promotes simple actions that can make a big difference in the lives of children, strengthen families and prevent child abuse.

This year’s CAP event is April 12, 12-1 p.m., which was planned by the CAP Month committee, consisting of state agencies, not-for-profits and parent leaders. CAP Month reminds us how to take everyday actions to prevent child abuse, including

  • having a trusted and safe family member or friend watch your children when you can’t be home and
  • encouraging parents and caregivers to take time for self-care and/or telling them they’re doing a great job managing their child’s challenging behaviors or needs.

Last year’s virtual event (youtu.be/xZCcuiFQDAo) focused on protective factors and highlighting prevention programs. This year’s event builds upon these protective factors with a theme of “Building Resilient Children, Families and Communities.” Commissioner Sheila J. Poole will provide opening remarks, and Lisa Ghartey Ogundimu, deputy commissioner, Child Welfare and Community Services, will emcee. Dr. Isaiah Pickens, licensed clinical psychologist and CEO and founder of iOpening Enterprises, is the keynote speaker, and he will challenge us with his presentation, “Transforming the System: Moving Beyond Trauma and Toward Resilience, Recovery and Health.”

  • April 1: National Wear Blue Day for Child Abuse Prevention Month
  • April 12: 12-1 p.m., CAP event and OCFS’s Wear Blue Day

Please follow/like/share with OCFS on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn with the hashtag #GreatChildhoodsNY. Landmarks around the state will also be lit in blue on April 1 & 12 to mark the month.

Legendary Staff Member to Retire From Division of Juvenile Justice and Opportunities for Youth

‘Caddy’ Drives Brookwood in the Right Direction

Nobody knows the residents of Brookwood Secure Center better than Joe Pertilla.

“I have a connection with the youth – being fair, firm and consistent with them. They trust me,” said Pertilla, a youth division aide in OCFS’s Division of Juvenile Justice and Opportunities for Youth (DJJOY). “They know I am here to look out for them. They get the truth regardless.”

After more than 34 years with OCFS, Pertilla is getting set to retire as a youth division aide. “It’s going to be hard to separate,” he said.

“Mr. Pertilla has been an extremely valuable asset to me from a professional standpoint,” said Daval Coleman, a youth counselor with OCFS since 2016. “In my personal development, he was my YDA 4 staff when I was a resident at Brookwood from 1991 to 1993. Mr. Pertilla has been amazing on every level during his Brookwood tenure.”

Pertilla, 61, is better known in the halls of Brookwood as “Caddy,” a nickname he earned as a teenager growing up in Syracuse, thanks to the Cadillac Coupe Deville he drove.

Caddy was on the wrong side of the law as a juvenile. Born and raised in Syracuse, he says he had problems as a child and battled dyslexia. That set him back in reading and writing, and he turned to the streets. Once out of prison, he worked construction and then, in 1987, he was approached about becoming a YDA. He took the job.

“I really think I can make a difference,” Caddy said. “I have what a lot of staff don’t have. I have been educated by doing time. I enjoy doing the work. I identify with them. I knew there were certain individuals growing up who invested in me after I got in trouble.”

Coleman says that Pertilla “…has been a bedrock and staple of Brookwood program and structure since his hire.”

“The [youth] have a lot of issues growing up,” Caddy said. “Fathers are not in their lives for most of them and for some, their mother. You have a lot of damage there at a young age and sometimes we’re the only family that they have.”

Editor’s Note: For a more detailed story on Caddy, please visit the news item on our intranet.

Lions Clubs Serve Blind and Visually Impaired People

Jessica Scanlon, vision rehabilitation therapist with the Commission for the Blind

Lions Clubs International was founded in 1917 and has grown to be one of the world’s largest service organizations with more than a million members in more than 200 countries. While known as a global network whose members volunteer their time to many humanitarian causes, Lions Clubs are well recognized for their service to blind and visually impaired individuals.

Through fundraising efforts, Lions Clubs support vision-related activities including improving eye care in countries around the world through prevention and treatment, collecting eyeglasses for distribution to those in need in developing countries, providing free quality eye care and glasses, and providing equipment such as braille writers, mobility canes, magnifiers and assistive technology.

In New York State, there are several hundred active Lions Clubs. Jessica Scanlan, vision rehabilitation therapist with the New York State Commission for the Blind’s Buffalo office, is a member of the Buffalo Host Lions Club. She is legally blind and was introduced to the Lions Club as a child when a local chapter provided her with a video magnifier that helped her read print materials.

“I joined the local Lions Club so I could participate in helping other visually impaired individuals in the way that I was helped,” she explained. “We assist people in need, which increases their independence and improves their quality of life.”

In addition to providing visually impaired individuals with adaptive equipment, the Buffalo Host Lions Club donates funds to many local non-profit organizations including camps for blind and visually impaired children. Referrals of people needing assistance often come from the New York State Commission for the Blind, vision rehabilitation agencies and independent living centers. For more information on Lions Clubs or to find a local chapter, visit lionsclubs.org/en.

Editor’s Note: Lions Clubs International has a partnership with the Walmart Corporation, and you can deposit old eyeglasses at any participating Walmart Vision Center.

Day of Visibility Uplifts Transgender Community

Founded in 2009 by transgender advocate Rachel Crandall to uplift and elevate the transgender community’s accomplishments, contributions and strength, the annual worldwide Transgender Day of Visibility (TDOV) is March 31.

In the face of systemic oppression and discrimination, transgender and gender non-conforming people have fought tirelessly to live their lives openly and authentically. They model courage, authenticity and resilience.

On TDOV, we also raise awareness of the disproportionate amount of discrimination, harassment and violence that transgender and gender non-confirming people experience in society. According to a survey done by the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), 78% of transgender youth experienced harassment and 35% experienced physical assault in school. Additionally, the NCTE reported that 90% of transgender people surveyed experienced harassment or discrimination or hid their identity to avoid mistreatment in the workplace.

In 2021-2022, 21 states introduced bills to deny gender-affirming care for youth, and 31 states introduced bills to exclude transgender youth from athletics. The epidemic of violence against the transgender community also disproportionately affects trans women of color.

“TDOV is an important reminder that the transgender community deserve to feel safe, welcomed, affirmed and respected in every setting,” said Angelica Kang, OCFS’s diversity, equity and inclusion officer. “We must commit ourselves to working towards an equitable and inclusive society so that the accomplishments and achievements of members of the transgender community are not overshadowed by the extreme violence, exclusion and discrimination they experience on a daily basis.”

Below are additional resources on TDOV:

March is National Social Work Month

This year’s National Social Work Month theme is, “The Time is Right for Social Work,” and we encourage you to take time to learn more about the many positive contributions of the profession.

Social work is one of the fastest growing careers in the United States, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In 2020, there were more than 715,000 social work jobs, and the profession is expected to grow by 12 percent by 2030.

Our unofficial tallying from last year showed that we had 136 social workers at OCFS – everyone from deputy commissioners to entry level staff. OCFS would like to recognize the work that you do. Social workers, please contact PIO (john.craig@ocfs.ny.gov) between March 1-7, and we will send you a special surprise. Thank you for all your efforts!

Get Discounted Broadband Internet Service!



Governor Kathy Hochul recently announced discounted broadband access, which provides discounts of up to $30 a month toward internet service for low-income families. On average, broadband costs New Yorkers more than $60 a month.

This multi-agency initiative, led by the New York State Department of Public Service, encourages eligible New Yorkers to sign up for the federal government's Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). The ACP helps ensure that households can afford broadband needed for work, school, healthcare and more.

In addition to the rebate, financially eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer or tablet from participating providers.

For more information and to sign up, visit fcc.gov/acp.