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Kathy Hochul, Governor
Dr. DaMia Harris-Madden, Commissioner
May 2022 — Vol. 7, No. 5

Commissioner's Message

Every May, we renew our commitment during National Foster Care Month (NFCM) to continuously strive to produce positive outcomes for youth in the foster care system. I’d like to recognize the diligent efforts our staff make every day to improve the lives of these vulnerable children, adults, and families under stress.

This year, we are particularly excited to announce a special NFCM event on May 16 at 11 a.m. to raise awareness of foster care and our launch of a new social media campaign for May. We are challenging New York State residents to “do one thing” in the name of foster care for our state, embracing the approach that everyone can find something they can do to help. “If you can’t foster, then consider respite; if you can't do respite, then mentor; if you can’t mentor, then support; if you can’t support, then raise awareness!”

We are using the hashtag #DoOneThingNY and will be flooding social media with our messages. And we need your help. Please “like” and share as much as possible to help us spread the word. Let’s make this campaign go viral!

Our special event will feature speakers with the latest foster care news and initiatives, videos of a foster family and former foster youth that will shine a positive light onto foster care and words from a member of our Youth Advisory Board (see more information below). The videos will be used to help recruit other foster parents and will be shared with districts and voluntary agencies to also use.

We have so much to celebrate, with the numbers of children living in foster care at historic lows and the percentage of children living with relatives/kin at historic highs – these are tremendous accomplishments. And congratulations to those hard-working staff who are implementing the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA), which further encourages placements in family home settings for children in need.

I am so grateful for the voices of our OCFS Youth Advisory Board, a panel whose members are ages 18-24 who have invaluable experience and knowledge that enables them to provide feedback that helps to shape state policies and initiatives, and they advise and collaborate with OCFS on foster care. Their contributions also help foster families and the court system learn to better meet the needs of foster youth and families.

And most importantly, we salute all kinds of foster parents across New York State who continue to support our young people.

Sheila J. Poole


Updates from the Division of Child Care Services (DCCS)

Celebrating Child Care Providers

Our annual observance of Provider Appreciation Day is on May 6, and this year’s messaging is two-fold: #ThankYouChildCare and #WaytoGrow.

The day celebrates New York State’s thousands of child care workers, as these respected and qualified professionals play a critical role in our children’s early development.

Providers include the owners, operators and staff of child care centers, group family and family day care programs, and school-age child care programs.

This year’s celebration will occur in various ways, including thank you notes sent to providers and messaging on supermarket screens, the Empire State Plaza concourse, Yankee Stadium and Citi Field scoreboards. Of course, you’ll also see communications on social media including Pinterest, where you’ll find a printable flowerpot that kids can color, cut and put together.

Presenting on Deserts and Clean Water for Child Care

Just before OCFS launched the child care desert grants, Tracey Turner and Nora Yates from DCCS presented to more than 100 child care providers and stakeholders at the New York Association for the Education of Young Children conference at Turning Stone in Verona, New York.

Attendees heard details about several DCCS initiatives, including:

OCFS also gave away pinwheels, blue Child Abuse Prevention Month wrist bands and more than 1,000 COVID-19 test kits.

Updates from the Commission for the Blind

There’s An App for That: Assistive Technology and Accessible Apps for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Some visually impaired, blind or deaf/blind computer users employ assistive technology that includes a refreshable braille display, which displays braille characters to read text output from their computers.

A blind user can use both their speech software and a braille display to read text. However, a braille display can also work without needing a computer or external device.

Claire Wade, independent living coordinator at the New York State Commission for the Blind in Valhalla, New York, says that assistive technology also consists of “go to” apps for the blind and visually impaired. It’s not quite the Jetson’s yet, but when it comes to teaching people how to read their mail, find something on the table or tell what can of soup they’re eating, now we can say: “There’s an app for that!”

Traditional non-tech ways of accomplishing things are still shared and taught to the blind and visually impaired, but the apps are great tools.

“Seeing AI” is an app that helps someone read mail, identify canned goods, money and more. “Be My Eyes” is an app that uses a live personal assistant to help locate an item, identify an item, read instructions and many more tasks.

The bottom line is if you care for someone who has a vision issue, and they are challenged by a particular task, you can now say, “Hey, there might be an app for that.”

Updates from the Division of Child Welfare and Community Services (CWCS)

Child Abuse Prevention Month Event Was Meaningful Reminder

For the first time in the three years since the onset of the pandemic, OCFS employees were able to gather to plant a pinwheel garden for Child Abuse Prevention Month on Monday, April 4.

And while the unpredictable spring weather claimed a few, most of the blue and silver pinwheels spun and sparkled throughout the month outside home office in Rensselaer.

Human Services Call Center staff also planted pinwheels outside their building, and, for the first time, folks did the same at the New York City Regional Office (NYCRO).

“We at NYCRO are very excited,” Associate Commissioner and Regional Director Ronni Fuchs said.

On April 12, the Child Abuse Prevention Month virtual presentation followed the theme, “Building Resilient Children, Families and Communities.” CWCS Deputy Commissioner Lisa Ghartey Ogundimu emceed the event, and OCFS Commissioner Sheila J. Poole shared some thoughts, as well.

Keynote speaker Isaiah B. Pickens, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist and CEO and founder of iOpening Enterprises, opened his presentation with “Gonna Fly Now,” the theme song to the 1977 Oscar-winning movie “Rocky,” and didn’t pull any punches the rest of the way.

“Sometimes we really have a hard time seeing all the layers of who our young people are,” Pickens said. He discussed his time working at Rikers Island jail, the people he dealt with and their backgrounds. In one anecdote, he was asked how they could “reach a guy who didn’t care about anything?”

Pickens used nesting dolls as an example, showing the many layers of a person, where they came from and what they care about. “These little parts of them can help them connect in a meaningful way,” Pickens said.

He ended his message of “Transforming the System: Moving Beyond Trauma and Toward Resilience, Recovery, and Health” with the same fight theme, quoting Muhammad Ali, who once said: “Don’t count the days, make the days count.”

The OCFS Child Abuse Prevention Month planning committee includes representatives of state agencies, not-for profits and parent leaders. The awareness campaign reminds us that we can act every day to prevent child abuse.

Foster Family Park Passes Offer Opportunities to Enjoy the Great Outdoors

OCFS and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (Parks) are again teaming up to provide foster families a free Empire Pass as a thank you for all the work they do for foster children in New York.

This year, just in time for Memorial Day weekend, 500 passes will be distributed.

“Foster parents play an essential role in providing temporary, safe and nurturing homes for children who are removed from their homes,” said Lisa Ghartey Ogundimu, deputy commissioner for CWCS. “We’re delighted to have this unique opportunity for our foster families to enjoy all the beauty and outdoor activities New York State parks and recreational facilities have to offer.”

The pass provides unlimited use of most of New York State’s parks and recreational facilities, including access to 180 state parks, 55 Department of Environmental Conservation forest preserve areas, boat launch sites, arboretums and park preserves.

“We are pleased to partner once again with Commissioner Poole and the team at OCFS on this meaningful foster family program,” said Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid. “Providing easier access to the outdoors for the generous families who share their hearts and homes with children in need is just one way we can show our appreciation for all that they do. With the Empire Pass, we can open the door to nature and recreation so that foster families can enjoy the parks all year long and spend time making special memories.”

Consideration was given to foster families who have demonstrated a strong commitment to fostering, are a certified foster/adoptive family, have multiple children and will use the pass regularly. New foster parents were also contacted.

Safe Sleep Month Campaign Messages Need to be Heard All Year-round

OCFS recognizes that even if “Safe Sleep” month is not until October, the message is important every single day of the year.

Year after year, infants younger than 12 months old account for more than half of all child fatalities in New York State, according to the New York State Department of Health (DOH). And about half of those deaths occur in unsafe sleep environments.

Even though parents are taught safe sleep habits before they leave the hospital with their newborns, each year approximately 90 infants in New York die while co-sleeping in their parents’ bed; on a couch; in a crib with blankets, pillows, toys or bumpers; or in some other unsafe sleep environment.

The message is simple: follow the “ABCs” of safe sleep – “Alone on their Backs in a Crib.”

The crib should be equipped with a firm mattress and a snug-fitting sheet. And it’s not just at home. When a baby travels, every grandparent or caregiver should provide a safe crib for the child as well. Families who are unable to afford a crib can reach out to their local department of social services to see if assistance is available.

OCFS has worked closely with DOH over the years to educate the public about the risks related to unsafe sleep. We have given parents of newborns safe sleep kits in hospitals, which include a tote bag, door hanger, baby book, magnets, window clings, DVD and a baby sleep sack. OCFS has also organized outreach campaigns and given away Pack ‘n Play cribs with safe sleep kits.

Keep watch for more outreach through our social media.

Updates from the Division of Juvenile Justice and Opportunities for Youth (DJJOY)

Books Come to Life for Teens in Care

Positive testimonials are endless for the “Literature for Incarcerated Teens” (LIT) program. Teachers and students at DJJOY described the program as an “awesome partner, awesome resource” and “very important.”

LIT has delivered hundreds of books to OCFS students statewide, and occasionally, the authors will hold a virtual session with English classes – for kids who otherwise might not get that opportunity.

Tamarra Taylor, an English teacher at Industry Residential Center, raves about LIT. She has been working with Robert Galinsky, a poet, screenwriter and actor based in Manhattan, for the past six months. She describes it as a “delightful occasion.” Galinsky used his contacts in the entertainment industry to bring the arts to OCFS’ youth in care.

“Our contact at LIT provided us with books for each youth and some adults and created a series of conversations surrounding the importance of community, accountability and resolve,” Tamara said. “We appreciate the kindness and mission of the program. Mr. Galinsky meets with the Raise the Age residents at Industry every Thursday and brings a plethora of knowledge and compassion.”

The students are very respectful and look forward to the materials and lessons presented each week, she added. “The connections that have been made are wondrous to see.”

Brookwood Secure Center for Youth’s library committee also recently formalized a partnership with the Mid-Hudson Library Association, which allows Brookwood residents to borrow books and take advantage of the educational materials offered by libraries throughout the Hudson Valley.

There will also be a book drive to restock the Brookwood library. Among the teachers who are the driving force: Travis Lyon, Lynn Kuber and Raymond White.

Find out more about LIT. (NYENET only)

Community Leaders Encourage Students to ‘Dream Big’

For more than an hour at a special lunch, various female residents at Brookwood Secure Center were able to share salad and stories with three female leaders in business and the arts.

They dished over some dishes.

DJJOY organized the “Women in Leadership” lunch on March 29, and the guests of honor shared inspirational messages with the residents to “dream big.” Joining the youth were Cammie Jones, founder of J. Jones Consulting, a small, minority-owned, women-owned firm; Lauren Enright, founder of Axion Climate, which looks at strategies for clean water; and Julia Weist, a local visual artist collaborating with public and private exhibitions.

The trio shared stories of their business journeys while the Brookwood residents peppered them with questions. The guests left feeling they had helped the residents, and the residents were inspired to continue to grow while at Brookwood.

The program was organized by Jason Courrege, the facility’s education coordinator, and vocational teacher Andrea Cesternino, who helped the residents hone their culinary skills to make the food.

Updates from the Division of Youth Development and Partnerships for Success (YDAPS)

New York Stands Against Sexual Assault
More than 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men experience sexual violence

Statistics like this – more than one third of women and one quarter of men will experience sexual violence involving physical contact in their lifetime – reinforce the need for Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Throughout April, OCFS partnered with the state Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence (OPDV) to use social media and other initiatives to show survivors that they are not alone.

Activities included a panel discussion about masculinity and the role that men play in ending sexual assault on college campuses; a webinar with a panel of experts to discuss the implications of the new Title IX regulations proposed by the federal Department of Education; and the launch of OPDV's new Sexual Violence 101 trainings, which are open to the public.

New York State’s efforts are supported by dedicated leadership at OPDV and YDAPS. Rape crisis and sexual assault services programs address the needs and concerns of survivors to ensure they receive help to recover from acts of sexual violence.

For more information, please visit the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence website.

New York Stands Against Sexual Assault

May 25 is National Missing Children’s Day. First established in 1983, the occasion is now organized by the national Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention under the Department of Justice.

The day is dedicated to encouraging parents, guardians, caregivers and others concerned with the well-being of children to make child safety a priority. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) deals with all issues related to the prevention of and recovery from child victimization. NCMEC has regional offices in Rochester; Austin, Texas; and Lake Park, Florida.

For more information, please visit the DOJ Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention website.

Updates from the Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility (DEIA)

Jewish American Heritage Month

May is Jewish American Heritage Month. First declared in 2006 by President George W. Bush to honor the Jewish American Community, it pays tribute to the generations of Jewish Americans who helped form the fabric of American history, culture and society.

According to a study by Pew Research Center, about nine million Jewish Americans live in the United States. Jewish American identity consists of following Judaism, growing up Jewish or having Jewish ancestry. About 5.3 million Americans are Jewish by faith or grew up following Judaism. Additionally, roughly 3.6 million Americans identify as Jewish through their family's background, but do not consider themselves Jewish by faith.

Throughout history Jewish people have been targets of violence, stereotypes, discrimination and bigotry. In the face of this injustice and exclusion, Jewish Americans have actively worked to advance social justice issues such as civil rights, labor reform and women's equality.

Remembering and acknowledging the hardships Jewish people have endured – but not defining them by their struggles alone – will help to ensure that such discrimination and violence remains abhorrent to our cultural values and standards.

Jewish American Heritage Month is an important reminder to reflect on history and appreciate everything Jewish Americans have helped create, build and accomplish. Jewish Americans continue to be an integral part of our nation, and they deserve recognition.

Below are additional resources on Jewish American Heritage Month:

May Marks Asian American and Pacific Island Heritage Month

May is the annual worldwide celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (AAPIHM) – a time to recognize the influence and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans, a population that is among the fastest growing in the United States.

The push for a national celebration of AAPIs began under President Jimmy Carter in 1978 with the introduction of Asian-Pacific Heritage Week. This was later extended to a month-long event under President George H.W. Bush, which was designated to occur in May. In 2009, President Obama renamed the event Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

According to the 2016 Census, an estimated 22.9 million AAPIs live in the United States. AAPI Americans continue to be integral in our success throughout the country and represent a wide range of distinct cultures, backgrounds, beliefs and experiences.

OCFS will hold a virtual event to celebrate AAPIHM on May 24, 11 a.m.-12 p.m. Keep an eye out for event details and registration information.

Below are additional resources on AAPIHM:

MMIP: Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples

Since North America was first colonized, Indigenous people have been exploited, displaced, systemically excluded and oppressed. The consequences have led those communities to suffer from poverty and high rates of crime.

It wasn’t until 2017 when a grassroots group called for justice, which has grown to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples week that runs from April 29 through May 5 and is recognized internationally.

On May 5, OCFS’s Bureau of Native American Services held a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples event with Amie Barnes, executive director of the Seven Dancers Coalition, presenting “Missing & Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP): the History, Impact and Response.”

According to studies, the systemic exclusion and separation of Indigenous communities from their culture, traditions and support systems have led to children and youth becoming increasingly at risk for involvement in the justice system, substance abuse, homelessness and mental illness.

A survey from the National Institute of Justice found that more than four in five American Indian and Alaska Native women (84.3%) have experienced violence in their lifetime, including 56.1% who have experienced sexual violence. In addition, the Urban Indian Health Institute reported in 2019 that 95% of missing or murdered indigenous women cases are never covered in national media.

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 www.fcc.gov/acp.