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Kathy Hochul, Governor
Sheila J. Poole, Commissioner
July 2022 — Vol. 7, No. 7
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Commissioner's Message

July is when we celebrate America's independence, and it's a great time to consider how we at OCFS help those in our communities achieve independence and pursue safe, happy and rewarding lives.

OCFS has recently launched several additional mobile response units, some to bring child advocacy center work directly to child victims of abuse and their non-offending family members to mitigate the effects of trauma and facilitate healing. And some to help develop and operate coordinated programs of community-based family support and family preservation services. They will help reduce child maltreatment, address children’s safety and preserve the integrity and independence of the family unit whenever possible.

Throughout OCFS, we offer multiple programs that promote and teach independence and self-determination. In fact, the New York State Commission for the Blind’s (NYSCB) mission is to enhance employability, to maximize independence and to help develop the capacities and strengths of people who are legally blind. With specific training and educational programs for people from birth to seniors, NYSCB’s programs – from teaching a young child how to function at home more easily, to pre-employment transition services, to vocational rehabilitation program for adults, to a rigorous vendor training program – are all key to maximizing the future independence of each participating child, youth and adult.

Additionally, our Division of Youth Development and Partnerships for Success offers the Chafee Foster Care Program for Successful Transition to Adulthood to help current and former youth in foster care achieve self-sufficiency and maintain autonomy. Transitioning out of foster care can often be a challenging, less stable time for young adults, and our services can include academic support, employment and vocational programs, housing, financial literacy and career preparation. And our Chafee Funds Program offers direct cash assistance to young adults who have been affected by COVID – all to foster self-sufficiency and a happier, healthier future.

There are so many other OCFS programs that help promote independence, but we also know there is tremendous work to be done to help our families and communities achieve true “independence” – including continuing to confront systemic racism, addressing the racial wealth gap and health disparities, and attempting to do our utmost to examine and dismantle inequitable policies and practices.

I do hope you are having a great summer, and it was terrific to see and chat with so many of you at the agency picnic – what a joy to be together again in person!

Sincerely,
Sheila J. Poole
Commissioner

Articles

OCFS Welcomes New Staff

Dave Garcia, Assistant Commissioner at Commission for the Blind

Growing up in Brooklyn, Dave Garcia loved baseball and numbers. They seemed to go hand-in-glove since baseball is steeped in statistics.

“I had a good fastball,” he said, “But I told myself I was going to become an accountant for the state, and that’s what I did.”

He dreamt of a uniform not with an “NY” but an “NYS” on it. So, when Dave’s fastball at SUNY Oneonta wasn’t going to get him to the majors, he turned to another team – OCFS. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a finance minor and has worked for OCFS for 17 years. For four years, he was in Audit and Quality Control as an audit manager and for 13 years in Federal Reporting and Grants Management.

“Between Finance and Audit, I have worked on every federal grant OCFS administers,” Dave said while settling into his new office as assistant commissioner with the New York State Commission for the Blind (CB).

“Dave brings knowledge and dedication,” said CB Associate Commissioner Julie Hovey. “He will be focusing on our ability to maximize federal grants and help our team with the implementation of our new case management system.”

During his time in grants, Dave was the financial lead on the $235 million Superstorm Sandy grant. Little did he know that his love of numbers would translate into helping so many people near where he grew up.

“It was special to me in a lot of ways. I was able to work on all things finance, and I had a hand in all those payments,” he explained. “At that moment in time, helping an area I grew up in and with experience in the Governor’s office, I learned the whole financial picture.”

Dave said he never once thought about leaving OCFS and is excited about his new role with CB. He hopes this will keep him in the game for a long time to come. His wife Holly, an accountant, also works for OCFS.

“All the years of hard work paid off,” he said. “I’m excited to start my career with the commission.”

Kathleen Hoskins, Deputy General Counsel

Kathleen Hoskins is OCFS’ new deputy general counsel and comes to Home Office from the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, where she was special counsel for ethics, risk and compliance and chief risk officer. But Kathleen’s true passion is advocating for children.

This passion was ignited early in her career in New York City at the Administration for Children’s Services where she represented the agency in child abuse and neglect cases in Queens Family Court and later returned to the agency to serve as the assistant commissioner for education support services. Between those two positions at ACS, Kathleen worked for the New York City Department of Education as a special education attorney and later, as agency counsel for approximately 150 New York City public schools in Queens and Brooklyn and all District 75 special education schools.

“I knew when I became an attorney I would do public service work,” she said. “Having experienced the system personally, I knew I wanted to help drive change in child welfare.”

OCFS Deputy Commissioner and General Counsel Willow Baer said, “I am thrilled to welcome Kathleen. She brings a wealth of experience, not only in state government and risk management, but also specifically within the fields of child welfare and education.

Kathleen is overseeing the legal bureaus of Child Welfare and Community Services, Child Care Services, Legislation and Intergovernmental Affairs, Information Technology, and House Counsel (which includes FOIL, ethics, audit and contracts).

“She has joined us not a moment too soon!” said Willow.

Kathleen grew up in New York City but has acclimated to the Capital Region. She says the move in 2018 reignited her “running bug,” and she joined the local “Black Girls Run” chapter and is now training to run in this year’s New York City marathon.

Kathleen earned her bachelor’s degree at Stony Brook University, her law degree at St. John’s University and a master’s in public administration from Baruch College. She has a son, 26, and mentors multiple current and former foster youth.

“For all intents and purposes, I’m their parent… It fulfills me to be an adult resource for them and help them navigate life.”

She said she’s excited about joining OCFS. “For me, this is like a homecoming getting back to child welfare, but I never had the privilege of working for OCFS…I’m ready to get to work.”

Updates from the Division of Child Care Services (DCCS)

OCFS to Host Federal Office of Child Care Virtual Monitoring Visit with Key Partners

In July, DCCS and several key partners will host the federal Office of Child Care (OCC) for the tri-annual Child Care and Development Block Grant Monitoring Visit.

Usually conducted in person, this year’s meeting is virtual due to the pandemic. DCCS is coordinating an internal team of more than 25 speakers and topics and is including multiple county local departments of social services, partners from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, New York City Administration for Children’s Services, DCCS regional office leadership and local community-based organizations that serve as enrollment agencies.

“This monitoring visit is an excellent time to showcase all the many facets of the New York State child care system,” said Janice Molnar, DCCS’ deputy commissioner. “During our last visit, we were able to have our partners onsite as well as provide a tour of the Human Services Training Center. This year, while the format may be different, we expect to highlight all our state does for children and providers in one of the largest child care systems in the country,”

OCC’s monitoring visits are a valuable component of the federal monitoring process. OCC’s visit will cover four full days with 12 sessions on topics such as data collection, the licensing process, program integrity, health and safety, child care supply and legally exempt providers. OCFS colleagues from Audit and Quality Control and the Division of Legal Affairs will also be a vital part of the visit.

Updates from the Commission for the Blind (NYSCB)

New York City Commission for the Blind Regional Office Sends Braille Finalists to National Competition and Fosters LGBTQ+ Understanding

The New York City Regional Office of the New York State Commission for the Blind recently held both a Braille Challenge and an LGBTQ+ meeting.

Two finalists in the challenge made it to the national Braille competition in Los Angeles, held in late June.

“This competition celebrates the brightest Braille readers and writers in the country,” said Brian Pinto, district manager for the Commission for the Blind. “It is the only academic competition held in January through March each year for students who are blind or visually impaired. The competition continues to encourage students to practice and enhance their Braille literacy skills, which are essential to academic and employment success.”

And members of the commission’s LGBTQ+ advisory group met in person to discuss the importance of being an “ally” to provide greater awareness of the LGBTQ+ community during Pride Month celebrations. An ally creates and fosters a safe and supportive space with no judgment of another’s life experiences, Pinto explained.

The group discussion also focused on the importance of pronouns and how using them can be the first step in “allyship.” Feedback provided by commission staff was very positive, and staff shared personal and work-related experiences and reflected on the importance of fostering an inclusive environment.

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

Building Strong Supports to Combat Elder Abuse
Elder Finacial Abuse
Elder Financial Abuse: The misuse or abose of finances in a relationship where there is an expectation of trust, harming an older person.

To mark World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, June 15, state landmarks were lit in purple, and OCFS partnered with the state Office for the Aging (NYSOFA) to get the word out using many platforms. This year’s theme was “Building Strong Supports for Elders.”

OCFS oversees adult protective services (APS) in every county. It received more than $10 million in federal funding to support and improve services including addressing unsanitary conditions in the home, buying personal protective equipment for COVID-19 safety and upgrading technology to help improve field investigations. All of this has helped APS clients remain in their community with housing, heating, basic needs and transportation assistance.

“Financial exploitation is the most common form of elder abuse,” said Shelly Aubertine-Fiebich, director of the Bureau of Adult Services. “Statewide, for every reported case of financial exploitation, 44 cases go unreported.”

Other forms of elder abuse include physical, emotional, sexual and neglect (including self-neglect). In the past couple of years, due to COVID-19, older adults became socially isolated and were at an increased risk for elder abuse, officials said.

“Approximately 260,000 older adults are victims of elder abuse each year in New York State,” said state NYSOFA Director Greg Olsen. “For every reported case, 23 cases go unreported, making it vital for the public to recognize signs of abuse and act.”

The statistics come from a statewide Elder Abuse Prevalence Study by Lifespan of Greater Rochester, Inc., Weill Cornell Medical Center of Cornell University and the New York City Department for the Aging.

“Across the state, our local departments of social services’ adult protective units continue to work tirelessly to investigate, address and mitigate allegations of abuse, neglect and financial exploitation,” said OCFS Commissioner Sheila J. Poole. “We know that our most senior New Yorkers are more at risk of becoming victimized due to the aging process, increased medical needs and social isolation, certainly worsened by the consequences of COVID-19. It is more important today than ever for all community members to understand the risks facing our elderly population and to recognize and report possible signs of abuse.”

OCFS also participated in a national public awareness campaign with nine other states. In this partnership, OCFS contributed to the development of universal public education materials and public service announcements that were distributed throughout New York State. OCFS continues to support an APS reporting line at the Human Services Call Center (1-844-697-3505) weekdays until 8 p.m.

Warming Up to a New Phone Line

The new OCFS “warm line” called HEARS – Help, Empower, Advocate, Reassure, Support – has taken more than 100 calls in the short time it’s been operational.

The HEARS line assists families by providing resources and referrals to a variety of services without the need for intervention from the child welfare system. Caring representatives guide families to self-identified needed assistance including resources such as food, clothing, housing, child care, parenting education and more.

“The most common calls are for assistance with housing, parenting, mental health services and child care,” said Kathryn Shelton, director of the Human Services Call Center. “OCFS has notified local districts and voluntary agencies about the HEARS line. We are working closely with similar helplines such as 211 United Way and Prevent Child Abuse NY.”

Set up for family support, the HEARS line began taking calls April 15, 2022. It is open Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. If you know a family that could use support, please refer them to the HEARS line at 888-554-3277.

More information can be found on our website: ocfs.ny.gov/programs/cwcs/hears.php.

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

State Office of Mental Health Offers Black-led Healing Circle Support Groups and a Chance to Become a Sawubona Healing Circle Facilitator

In response to elevated levels of grief and trauma experienced by Black New Yorkers in the aftermath of the May Buffalo shooting and elevated rates of racial trauma statewide, the state Office of Mental Health (OMH) has partnered with the Association of Black Psychologists (ABPsi) to provide virtual “Sawubona” healing circle support groups for individuals and families seeking support.

The Black-led healing circles, which are non-clinical, provide culturally relevant ways for people to express thoughts, feelings and stories in a healing way. Culturally grounded in African-centered practices, the model helps address racial and other forms of trauma in communities of color. If you’d like to attend a Sawubona healing circle, please sign up on the ABPsi site.

To grow this effort, OMH is looking for state residents interested in becoming trained Sawubona Healing Circle facilitators. This is a perfect opportunity for volunteers, retirees, students, advocates and mental health service providers interested in supporting resilience in the Black community. If you are interested in this free training opportunity, you can apply for facilitor training on the ABPsi site.

The ABPsi is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) membership association organized in 1968. One of the National Programs of the association is the Sawubona Healing Circle (SHC) program. Sawubona is a Zulu word that means “I see you.” Sawubona Healing Circles are a culturally grounded rapid response intervention model designed to provide coping and wellness strategies in an affirming space for Black people experiencing race-related stress and trauma.

How Far Have We Come? A New Take on Juneteenth

What do South Africa, Brazil and Cleveland, OH, have to do with Juneteenth?

In his presentation during the OCFS virtual Juneteenth seminar, Professor Livingstone Mukasa revealed how segregation and separation still exist around the globe in a Juneteenth event that broke from the norm of just noting when slavery was abolished.

Described by OCFS Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Officer Angelica Kang as “incredibly powerful,” Prof. Mukasa’s keynote showed aerial images and ground level reality to illustrate the pronounced separation of neighborhoods of Black and white people and the long road to reach equality.

In South Africa, where segregation is a way of life, the professor indicated that Black people do not have municipal or social services. They must “build a life and fend for themselves with nothing,” with “no freedom and no independence,” he said.

Next to a well-planned suburb for white people, Black people built their own 8’x8’ tin shacks in one development near Johannesburg. Near Cape Town, a fancy development is surrounded by an electrified fence and a guard house while wetlands separate the “haves from the have-nots.” There is no police station in the Black neighborhood and only one small day clinic. Fires are common because people use charcoal for heat. There is no insulation, no indoor plumbing and no clean water source, and there is a single entrance and exit to their land, he explained.

The same is true in Brazil where Mukasa said “life as a black person in Brazil is quite dire.” And in developments in cities like Cleveland, OH, and the Bronx, NY, there is one overarching theme, he said – “Stay in your place.”

Please see Professor Livingstone Mukasa's presentation on OCFS’ Zoom channel. The password is Z0sn!3a9.

OCFS Has Pride Alright

OCFS celebrated Pride during the entire month of June with a variety of events and campaigns. Though we normally have events to celebrate heritage and diversity, this year the Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility (DEIA) went above and beyond.

Not only were there more Pride initiatives than ever before – including office photos showing Pride support (left), a Wear Your Pride campaign, an art contest with facility residents, flying the Pride Progress flag and a monthlong social media campaign – the DEIA office tried new mediums to help promote Pride Month and share stories and experiences of the LGBTQ+ community. Our friends at the Commission for the Blind reminded us that our events are visually based (although other accessible modes of communication are available). And we listened!

The DEIA office created a new podcast called OCFS Voices and convened conversations between OCFS employees and agency partners where people discussed and reflected on their identities and experiences. And these interviews are not just available on our website. The DEIA office spearheaded making them available on multiple streaming platforms:

OCFS also partnered with Channel Albany, the City of Albany’s public access channel, to film a roundtable discussion between OCFS employees Precious Riehl, Dawn Parker, Kari Smith, Kirsten LaClair and Maureen Boll about supporting children who are LGBTQ+.

The roundtable was a crucial conversation among allies about how to have difficult conversations, particularly emphasizing the fact that we don’t always get them right the first time and that these conversations require practice!

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

Galloping Art in Goshen

For the first time, residents of the Goshen Secure Center created art to enter an annual art display in the village entitled “Illuminate Goshen.” Center residents were very excited about this event and were more than happy to give back to community, according to Stefanie Spiegl, the center’s special education teacher.

“As an art educator and artist myself, it was my intention to teach students to explore, challenge, express and develop ideas using the skills and techniques they have previously acquired to create a well-developed piece of artwork,” Spiegl said. “This project also helped students to establish self-esteem and self-confidence and sharpen intuitive abilities.”

Among the highlights of the June 3 show were wooden “trotter horses” that were designed by Goshen Secure Center, Burke High School and Goshen High School. The students began with plywood cut outs provided by the trotter museum in Goshen. “We picked a theme and then the residents penciled in the pictures and then painted them,” Spiegl said.

The horses will continue to be displayed in the village throughout the summer. After the summer, the horses will be auctioned off with proceeds divided among the trotter museum, non-profit organizations and charities.

In addition to the horses, the center set up a large tent with tables displaying residents’ artwork, including acrylic self-portrait paintings, papier-mâché birds and parody paintings of Di Vinci’s Mona Lisa.

“Many people who attended were extremely impressed by our resident’s artwork and were proud to have them be involved in the event,” said Gail Sullivan, Goshen’s community outreach staff member. “They will be asked annually to participate.”

One of the artists from the center said, “I had a lot of fun painting the horses. I learned about abstract art and to think outside the box. I am going to be the art teacher’s assistant this summer, so it helped me to learn about painting styles.”

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

Safe Shelter Pilot Launching this Summer

OCFS has partnered with Caravan Studios to offer the Safe Shelter Collaborative pilot, which addresses a critical need for quick identification of available shelter resources for survivors of domestic violence and runaway and homeless youth in New York State.

Set to launch this summer, the pilot will allow provider agencies to use a technology app to connect with other area programs to find immediate shelter. Within the app, agencies answer a few non-identifying demographic questions about the person in need of shelter to help determine which programs are most appropriate. With that information, a shelter request is sent to all participating programs in that geographic area. The agency is then alerted which programs have beds available.

The Safe Shelter Collaborative will increase the speed and ease of finding appropriate shelter by reducing the need for multiple phone calls and emails or the repetition of sharing a survivor’s story and information.

Agencies that serve survivors of domestic violence or runaway and homeless youth have been invited to attend demonstrations of the app, and then interested agencies are invited to apply to participate. Throughout the initiative, training and technical assistance will be provided and feedback will be solicited to ensure the app meets the needs of our agencies and programs.

Updates from the Council on Children and Families (CCF)

Free Fatherhood Events to Support Parenting

The Council on Children and Families (CCF) is spreading the word about three upcoming summer events for fathers, part of the New York State Fatherhood Coordination Initiative.

“We want fathers to be the best they can be, and these get-togethers will give them even more options and ideas on how to help their children grow,” said Elana Marton, acting executive director of CCF. “This investment allows New York State to make families even stronger than they’ve ever been.”

Through its Preschool Development Birth through Five Grant (NYSB5) from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families, CCF launched the New York State Fatherhood Coordination Initiative last year. It has identified community action programs in the state’s economic development regions, including Allegany County Community Opportunities and Rural Development (ACCORD); Wyoming County Community Action, Inc (WCCA); Pro Action of Steuben and Yates; PEACE, Inc.; Mohawk Valley Community Action Agency; St. Lawrence County Community Development Program; Albany Community Action Partnership (ACAP); Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD); Westchester Community Opportunity Program (WESTCOP); and the Economic Opportunity Council of Suffolk to act as champions to bring local agencies together to develop a unified voice for fathers.

Upcoming events

  • August 7, 2022: 2nd Annual “The Makings of a Man Conference! A Conference Just For Men”
    The Renaissance Hotel, Albany, 3-7:30 p.m.
    Registration: admin@mkrobinsoninternational.com
  • October 2022: NYS Fatherhood Coordination Initiative Convening
    Convenes regional stakeholders to discuss how to engage local and state systems to create a statewide fatherhood network.
    For more information contact: Jocelyn Basley at jrbasley@c3consultancy.org
    Registration: TBA
  • November 2022: Westchester Fathering Conference
    Registration: TBA