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Kathy Hochul, Governor
Suzanne Miles-Gustave, Esq., Acting Commissioner
September 2022 — Vol. 7, No. 9

Commissioner's Message

Summer has flown by again, and somehow, it’s the start of another new school year, which we hope goes more smoothly for our children and families than the previous two years.

During September, I also hope you will join me in reflecting on OCFS’s efforts to reduce foster care and help all at-risk youth find positive outcomes. It’s Kinship Care Month, when we recognize grandparents, aunts and uncles and close family friends who care for children other than their own and who make a critical difference in their lives.

These families provide safe, stable and nurturing homes for children and step up when a child cannot remain with their parents. We are all thankful and continue to support and encourage the kinship caregivers in our community. More than 20 kinship caregiver programs exist across New York State to provide services to these special families and help improve the well-being of children and reduce the effects of trauma on kinship children and families.

September also launches Hispanic Heritage Month, celebrated September 15-October 15, when we hail the many contributions of Hispanic and Latinx Americans to our agency, our state and our nation. Keep your eyes peeled on your email for more information on this year’s celebratory event.

I’d also like to thank the staff who helped make our presence at the Great New York State Fair a memorable one for the thousands of people who saw our display and those who stopped to learn about our services or even just pick up a shiny new pinwheel. This outreach event provides an invaluable opportunity to talk with people from across the state about foster care, adoption, safe sleep, child care options, services for elderly and vulnerable New Yorkers and so much more. And it provides an opportunity to meet a few of the dedicated and positive OCFS staff who work hard every day on behalf of the children and families of New York State. I truly appreciate all you do to drive our success.

Sheila J. Poole


The Great New York State Fair Makes a Splash

NYS Fair
Commissioner Sheila J. Poole (center) visits Arlene Reece-Solomon and Kenneth Kirton of Youth Development in NYC at our State Fair booth.

The Great New York State Fair returned in August and completed its annual run Sept. 5 after a 13-day celebration of food, exhibits, entertainment and fun. More than half a million people visited the fair this year.

Once again, OCFS staff members volunteered to operate a booth sharing information with the public about all of OCFS’ programs and services – as well as a recruitment flyer detailing open OCFS positions.

Nearly 30 staff members traveled to Syracuse to help answer questions and distribute giveaways at the booth, said Jackie Jensen, a public information specialist who organized the effort.

“Volunteers answer questions about everything from foster care to Adult Protective Services. This year we also distributed information about the new Affordable Connectivity Program and pamphlets describing the effects of adverse childhood experiences and where to receive related assistance,” she added. Volunteers also gave away popular swag such as pinwheels, tote bags and jar grippers, all bearing the OCFS logo.

Updates from the Division of Child Care Services (DCCS)

Nora Yates and Erin Cassidy Take on New Leadership Roles

Nora Yates recently began her tenure as deputy commissioner of DCSS, succeeding Janice Molnar who served in that capacity for the past 15 years. And on September 1, Erin Cassidy stepped into the role of associate commissioner.

Since April 2021, Nora had served as the associate commissioner and managed, coordinated and operationalized child care programs, developed major policy recommendations and provided overall policy direction. In addition, she oversaw the rollout of $2.3 billion in COVID-19 recovery funding for child care programs and provided expertise on federal guidelines and regulations pertaining to the Child Care and Development Block Grant.

Before working at OCFS, Nora was assistant secretary for the human services portfolio in the Governor’s Executive Chamber. She took on several key roles including leading the Governor’s anti-poverty initiative and working in the Department of Health’s Office of Public Health during the height of the pandemic in 2020-2021. She began her state service approximately 10 years ago in the inaugural class of Empire Fellows, the state’s selective leadership program.

Before she joined the state, Nora served as the executive director of the Pride Center of the Capital Region and worked at the Empire State Pride Agenda as field director for the marriage equality effort. Nora earned both bachelor’s and masters’ degrees at the State University of New York at Albany and a master’s degree in public administration from the Sage Graduate School.

Erin Cassidy most recently served as associate commissioner of Executive Operations and IT management within OCFS’ Executive Office, where she oversaw the day-to-day operations of the commissioner’s office and worked with all parts of the agency to move priority projects and initiatives forward.

Prior to that, Erin served as the executive assistant to then-Acting Commissioner Poole. She has also served as a special assistant in DCCS. Before coming to OCFS, she was the deputy director of scheduling to the Governor and held various positions within the Executive Chamber. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Siena College.

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

Goshen Residents Enjoy Art and Animals This Summer
Goshen craft project
Silk-screened items created by Goshen residents

This summer, residents of the Goshen Secure Center built skills and found therapeutic benefit through art and horses.

A silk screen program allowed participants to print on cloth to make books, t-shirts and pillowcases. More importantly, successful course completion led to certification and a letter of recommendation from the American Screen Printing Association. Every resident who participated completed the training and passed the certification test.

Other art offerings focused on multi-cultural studio projects, including creative painting, drawing and sculpture.

“The classes are lively and inviting and focus on comprehensive projects designed for beginning to advanced artists,” said Stefanie Spiegl, art instructor. They’ve included a parody of Grant Wood’s well-known painting “American Gothic,” a Spanish-design-influenced wall hanging and surrealist drawings, she added. An exhibit of residents’ work is planned for September at the Goshen library to allow community members to see some of the fabulous artwork being created by youth at the center.

After an absence of several years due to COVID-19, Saddlebrook Farm returned to Goshen, providing an opportunity for many residents to try something completely new. On Wednesday afternoons they learned how to groom horses and how to behave around them. And they rode. Well, at least most did.

“Some would rather not ride, but they can see how much fun it is by watching other residents,” said Gail Sullivan, a vocational instructor and point person for Goshen’s Enhancement Program, which funded the horseback riding and silk screen classes, among other programs.

Goshen art project
Residents' studio art projects parody Grant Woods’ "American Gothic"
Goshen riding
Goshen residents leave their comfort zones on horseback


Updates from the Commission for the Blind (NYSCB)

28-Year Staff Member Honored for Exemplary Service

The Brooklyn Advisory Board of Visions recently honored NYSCB children’s consultant Paul Geraci at its annual dinner. Paul was one of four honorees to receive a commendation from Visions/Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired, a nonprofit vision rehabilitation and social service organization.

Paul began his service to the blind in 1986, first working as a vocational evaluator and trainer at the Jewish Guild for the Blind. He later joined NYSCB, where he’s spent the last 28 years assisting children and their families – striving to make sure each family’s needs are met and that each child has the opportunity to achieve the maximum possible level of independence. With a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling from NYU, Paul works from the commission’s Manhattan office.

“Listening to stories about Paul throughout the evening, it was clear there is no one more deserving of this award,” said Brian Pinto, district manager of the Manhattan office. “Paul has truly made a tremendous impression on the children he served throughout his tenure at NYSCB. It’s touching to hear clients and their family members, decades later, thanking him for being part of their lives.”

Paul noted that he struggled with a learning disability and attention problems as a young person and benefitted greatly from support – especially from tutors who helped him develop skills that allowed him to eventually become a statistics tutor himself.

“I’m in this business of helping others overcome their difficulties like I was able to do,” Paul added. “I believe everyone deserves a chance and my goal is to see that through.”

NYSCB Lauds Counselors at Annual Meeting

NYSCB recognized the important work of each and every one of its counselors at its annual Counselors Meeting – which returned after a two-year pandemic hiatus – on August 16 and 17 in Albany.

Rehabilitation counselors provide vocational rehabilitation and vision rehabilitation services to all legally blind New Yorkers. And although NYSCB primarily provides services to support employment outcomes, agency counselors also help clients lead their best lives by supporting independent living skills and overall adjustment to blindness.

Commissioner Sheila J. Poole and Executive Deputy Commissioner Suzanne Miles-Gustave recognized NYSCB staff for their efforts and each counselor was recognized individually for their work.

In addition to staff recognition, Counselors Meeting attendees also received advanced training on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) from the Northeast ADA Center.

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

Kristin Gleeson Brings Extensive Experience to Role of Acting Associate Commissioner

With more than 25 years of child welfare experience, Kristin Gleeson has begun her tenure as the new acting associate commissioner of Child Welfare and Community Services/Regional Operations and Practice Improvement (CWCS/ROPI). Kristin’s portfolio will include supervision of the regional offices, Native American Services, the State Central Register (SCR), and Child Fatality Reviews and Prevention.

Kristin has worked to address children’s needs in multiple capacities, starting at the local level where she provided direct casework services to children and families before joining the state. Over the years, she has acquired extensive experience and expansive programmatic knowledge in the field of child welfare.

Employed with OCFS since December 2000, Kristin has held positions with increasing responsibility and oversight, including child protective intake at the SCR, and work with CWCS ROPI, statewide child welfare Oversight and Monitoring, and Practice Improvement. She most recently served as the director of the SCR, in addition to overseeing the Bureau of Protective Practices, which encompasses child fatality work.

OCSF and Partners Highlight Kinship Care with Awards and Outreach

OCFS will help shine a spotlight this month on the grandparents, other relatives and family friends who provide around-the-clock care for children who are not biologically their own. September is National Kinship Care Month, and OCFS and its New York partners will recognize it with a virtual celebration, an awards ceremony and media outreach. The New York State Kinship Navigator – an OCFS partner – will host the annual Kinship Care Month Celebration on September 22 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The event is virtual, and you can register at www.nysnavigator.org. During the celebration, the NYS Kincare Coalition will present its annual Cura Awards to recognize an outstanding professional, outstanding organization, outstanding kinship caregiver and a kinship champion.

Catholic Charities Family and Community Services operates the Kinship Navigator to provide information and a referral network for kinship caregivers across the state. These relatives and family friends provide homes when biological parents can’t, and they do so outside the foster care system. The Kinship Navigator, along with the 14 local kinship programs, contribute to OCFS’ efforts to support these caregivers.

Through a federally funded grant from the Administration for Children and Families, OCFS and the Kinship Navigator have created an expansive state-wide media outreach campaign, including social media, digital screens and banners, and print and bus cards, designed to spread the word to kinship caregivers that support is available and where to find it. The campaign also includes outreach intended specifically for African American and Latinx caregivers and will run through September.

CWCS Presents Annual Home Finding Summit

More than 300 professionals from around the state gathered virtually August 9-10 for the annual OCFS Home Finding Summit.

Lisa Ghartey Ogundimu, CWCS deputy commissioner, welcomed attendees with opening remarks and was followed by six presentations spread across the two days. These included a panel of foster parents who spoke on the rewards and difficulties of fostering teens as well as common misconceptions. A group of kinship “champions” from organizations around the state described their motivation, challenges and successes working with kinship families. And a foster/adoptive parent and birth mother discussed how they shared parenting to create the best possible outcome for the involved children.

Other presentations included “Critical Thinking for Foster/Adoption Home Studies,” “Depth of Assessment: Reauthorization Edition” (on reauthorizing foster homes) and a demonstration of the soon-to-be-released National Training and Development Curriculum for foster and adoptive parents.

New York Joins Effort to Spur Elder Abuse Awareness
Home Finding Summit
Nassau County APS staffers wear purple to raise awareness of elder abuse.

Across New York this summer, local departments of social services (LDSSs) and their partners promoted public awareness about the occurrences and signs of adult abuse.

Each year, June 15 marks World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD), designed to raise international awareness of the impact of abuse, neglect and exploitation of our most vulnerable adults.

More than 30 public education and information events occurred throughout the month. And many adult protective services workers, law enforcement officials, state agency staff and service providers donned purple to telegraph their roles as partners in protecting one of our most valuable living resources. Events included panel discussions, public demonstrations and virtual conferences on restorative approaches to elder justice. You can find more information about the many statewide events and awareness activities at the New York State Coalition on Elder Abuse nyselderabuse.org.

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

OCFS Marks Orange Shirt Day on September 30

Each year, September 30 is set aside as Orange Shirt Day to promote awareness of the Indian residential school system in the United States and Canada, which harmed so many Native and Indigenous children and families.

The system forcibly separated Native American children from their families to be housed and conditioned at boarding schools across the country. The schools forbade the children to speak their Indigenous languages or practice their cultural traditions.

Orange Shirt Day was created in 2013 by survivors of a Canadian residential school. The name references a school survivor who recalled that at only six years old and on her first day of school, her orange shirt, a gift from her grandmother, was taken away without explanation – a tactic used to dehumanize Native identities and to prevent the children from preserving their connections to home.

Here at OCFS, the Office of Native American Services asks you to mark your calendar for Orange Shirt Day and, of course, to wear orange. And once dressed for the occasion, please take pictures for posting on our intranet and send them to Sharrissa.hodge@ocfs.ny.gov in the Public Information Office.

We also invite you to watch last year’s video, which discusses the roles and responsibilities of the Office of Native American Services and offers background on Indian residential boarding schools and Orange Shirt Day itself.

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

Youth Advisory Board Spends Summer Building Skills

OCFS Youth Advisory Board (YAB) members asked for opportunities to foster cohesive relationships within the board and to hone leadership skills. In response, OCFS teamed up with FosterClub, the national network for youth in foster care, to create a series of five summer workshops designed to do just that.

From June through August, YAB members delved into a multitude of topics ranging from “strategic sharing” to mindfulness. For example, the session examining strategic sharing sought to help members reframe their foster care experiences as strengths and consider how to share their stories while maintaining boundaries.

A session on mindfulness and self-care walked participants through the process of creating an at-home sensory-based toolkit. Sessions on creating an individual leadership development plan and another on team building rounded out the series.

YAB members had the chance to put some of their new skills to work at a July 26 peer-to-peer meeting with members of the New Jersey Youth Council. Both groups shared successes and challenges they’d encountered during the previous year. New York YAB members identified the creation of a peer specialist position as a “win.”

YAB members agreed that ongoing engagement among board members as well as between board members and OCFS remains a challenge. After small-group discussions, participants concluded that frequent check-ins between the adults and young people involved would help foster the desired level of engagement.

Updates from the Council on Children and Families (CCF)

CCF Names Vanessa Threatte New Executive Director

CCF has named Vanessa Threatte as its new executive director. Vanessa brings tremendous experience working with parents, educators, advocates and strategic partners to strengthen early childhood education. She most recently served as assistant deputy chief operating officer at the State University of New York, where she was responsible for strengthening the coordination and support of operations across 64 SUNY colleges and university campuses.

Vanessa previously served as the executive director for Best Practices and Partnerships at the SUNY Charter School Institute where she was also appointed to serve as a member of the NYS Early Childhood Advisory Council. She was executive director of Cradle to Career at SUNY and was the founding principal of the Brighter Choice Charter School in Albany. She holds an undergraduate degree from Dartmouth as well as a master’s in art therapy from the Art Institute of Chicago and another master’s in literacy and special education from the University at Albany.

“I’m thrilled to welcome Vanessa to CCF, where she’ll be responsible for leading cross-agency collaborations and initiatives with member agencies, setting strategic and policy objectives and implementing the council’s overall mission,” said OCFS Commissioner Sheila J. Poole. “I’d also like to thank Elana Marton for serving as acting executive director and counsel these last few months. Elana didn’t miss a beat during that time and will continue to serve as counsel and ensure a smooth transition.”

Don’t Get Caught With the Wrong Identification

Avoid the Rush and Upgrade to Real or Enhanced ID Now

Flying is trying enough these days! Make things easier by upgrading your identification well in advance of the May 3, 2023, deadline.

As you may know, the federal REAL ID Act takes effect in May 2023 and will require anyone flying domestically to have a REAL ID, Enhanced ID or passport to board the plane. There are still millions of New Yorkers who haven’t updated their IDs, so DMV is urging us to do so now to avoid the rush next May.

Please spread the word about the REAL ID Act. Family, friend, colleagues and clients will be grateful to avoid the complications that will come with not having the proper ID when they need it.