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Kathy Hochul, Governor
Dr. DaMia Harris-Madden, Acting Commissioner
November 2022 — Vol. 6, No. 1

A Message from Deputy Commissioner Lisa Ghartey Ogundimu

The Division of Child Welfare and Community Services’ (CWCS) newsletter may have taken a hiatus, but our work certainly has not!

Much has happened since our last newsletter, beginning with the submission and federal approval of New York State’s Title IV-E Family First Prevention Services Act Prevention Plan.

Recently, I was asked to present our Prevention Plan to various child welfare colleagues from across the country. During these presentations, I discussed our bold vision for prevention and some of the work that is being done in collaboration with state and local partners to provide upstream supports to families. These include:

  • a direct cash transfer pilot
  • CarePortal, a technology platform that connects children and families to resources in their local communities
  • mobile response vans
  • Family Opportunity Centers (FOCs) with our partners at the state Education Department
  • partnering with Families Together New York in the creation of Family Peer Advisors to incorporate parent voice at the state level
  • the implementation of our Help, Empower, Advocate, Reassure and Support line (HEARS) for families and caregivers

The feedback I’ve received has been inspiring. Many have recognized these programs and priorities as impactful and innovative, proving once again that New York State is a national leader for child safety and family preservation.

A time for transformation

Together, we are part of a transformative moment that refocuses efforts on improving the health and well-being of families and communities by placing economic and concrete supports at the center of prevention strategies, reaching families and children before they come to the attention of child protective services. I want to thank each and every one of you for your contribution to the Prevention Plan, for the work that has already been done to implement Family First and for your commitment to all the work still ahead. This transformation is impossible without you!

Worker turnover creates challenges

As we commit to doing the work that is necessary to improve the lives of the residents of New York State, we do so amid an unprecedented worker shortage. Recruiting and retaining child welfare workers has always been challenging, but COVID-19 created even more barriers to maintaining and developing these professionals.

OCFS is working closely with our colleagues at the state Department of Civil Service, University at Albany School of Social Welfare and Fostering Change for Children – a non-profit whose work has dramatically improved workforce retention in New York City – to provide strategies to improve recruitment and retention efforts across the state.

Identifying trauma

In one of my last messages, I wrote about the importance of being trauma-informed in all aspects of our work. CWCS recently updated its website to add content on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). ACEs are stressful or traumatic events, such as neglect and/or violence, and are strongly related to brain development and a wide range of health problems throughout a person’s lifetime.

I encourage you to visit our ACEs page to deepen your understanding of the impact ACEs have on those we serve, as well as on those of us who are serving. Trauma may impact the day-to-day decisions we make in our work and can make us more susceptible to vicarious trauma, which has far-reaching consequences on our health and well-being.

Self-care is crucial

As we approach the holidays, please don’t forget to take the time to cherish what is most important to you. Spend time with loved ones and take time to do the things that bring you joy – whether it’s reading a good book, exercising, meditating, listening to music or binge-watching your favorite show.

Remember there is only one you. You are a miracle. Take good care of yourself and treat yourself as such.

OCFS Kicks Off National Adoption Awareness Month with Darryl McDaniels of Run-DMC

Adoption Month kick-off event
Commissioner Poole welcomed Lt. Governor Antonio Delgado and Darryl “DMC” McDaniels to the Adoption Month kick-off event.

Foster care and adoption advocate and hip-hop icon Darryl “DMC” McDaniels joined Lieutenant Governor Antonio Delgado and State Director of Operations Kathryn Garcia to help OCFS kick off National Adoption Awareness Month on November 1.

The special event held at Albany’s Capital Center highlighted the growing need for adoptive parents given the hundreds of children across the state waiting for their forever homes. Commissioner Poole rallied attendees around OCFS’ new “#BeTheChangeNY” campaign, aiming to bring greater awareness to the adoption effort.

McDaniels and Garcia both shared their distinct, but powerfully personal, adoption stories. The event was also streamed live on the OCFS YouTube Channel, and almost 300 people tuned in along with about 120 guests at the event.

Throughout November, OCFS will feature different children available for adoption on social media. We’ll highlight their interests and strengths and hope a forever family will open their hearts. Several adoptive families and their journeys will also be featured in videos on social media.

Additionally, the Heart Gallery of Western New York and OCFS’ Buffalo and Rochester regional offices hosted a Virtual Adoption Exchange on November 2. The Albany, Syracuse and Westchester regional offices will host a statewide OCFS Virtual Adoption Exchange on November 17 at 2 p.m. The regional office permanency specialists coordinate these events.

Both events are for caseworkers, homefinders and approved/certified foster/adoptive parents. The children who will be introduced are from those respective regions, but families from across New York are welcome to attend both sessions.

We encourage all OCFS employees to join this month-long effort to do their part to spread awareness of all the wonderful children available for adoption and to spur potential parents to consider being the catalyst for change in a child’s life. Please help #BeTheChangeNY.


Family Prevention Services in Action

mobile van
Upstream Supports: Mobile vans funded by OCFS bringing services and resources into communities to support families.

It’s Back! My Bag Program

my bag program
John Finch, assistant director with the Westchester Regional Office, shows off one of the duffel bags that are distributed to children leaving their homes and entering foster care.

What started out as a passing comment by a Youth Advisory Board member regarding personal belongings being put in garbage bags has turned into a program designed to reduce trauma and return dignity to our children and youth who are removed from their homes.

Now in its third year, the My Bag Program will be sending out more than 3,000 bags this fall and more next summer.

On October 19, Deputy Commissioner Lisa Ghartey Ogundimu sent an email to LDSSs asking about their remaining inventory and additional desired colors (if available) and eliciting their feedback and suggestions for the future of the program, including participation in the next shipment.

If you received the email and haven’t already responded, please take a few minutes to complete the survey, which will be open until December 5.


Funding Available for Family Opportunity Centers

In partnership with the State Education Department (SED), OCFS has announced funding for programs to improve the safety and well-being of children and families through Family Opportunity Centers (FOCs), which will support families at risk of abuse, maltreatment, family violence and/or trauma and improve connections and coordination with community partners. Potential partners include schools, community-based programs, mental health clinics and substance use disorder services. Services to children, youth and families will be strength-based and enhance protective factors that reduce the risk of child abuse and maltreatment.

OCFS and SED are investing in services that are culturally and linguistically competent and cost-efficient and contribute to alleviating issues identified as needs for the respective communities. FOCs emphasize family engagement, characterized by strong partnerships and additional supports to strengthen families and counter environmental factors impeding well-being and student achievement.

Eight FOCs awards were recently made through an RFP: EPIC - Every Person Influences Children (Serving Cattaraugus and Niagara Counties), St. Catherine’s Center for Children (Albany County), Rockland BOCES (Rockland County), Children’s Home of Poughkeepsie NY, Inc. (Dutchess County), North Country Prenatal/Perinatal Council, Inc. (Jefferson and St. Lawrence Counties), Hillside Children’s Center (Monroe and Onondaga Counties), Watervliet City School District (Albany County) and Delaware Opportunities (Delaware County).

OCFS anticipates issuing a second request for proposal in the near future focusing on schools with high rates of economically disadvantaged families across New York State. Entities funded through both RFPs will provide services to our most vulnerable children and families and to implement activities that address disproportionality in identified communities.

"Research shows that the existence of family opportunity centers in a community contributed to a 45 percent reduction in cases of child abuse and neglect,” said Commissioner Sheila J. Poole. “Investing in prevention can also reduce the need for more costly intervention services down the road resulting from abuse and maltreatment. As the number of adverse childhood experiences increase, the risk for numerous long-term health problems increases significantly. We are very pleased to offer funding for these family opportunity centers."

Funding for FOCs comes from Federal Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention (CBCAP) program funding – included in the American Rescue Plan – and State funding appropriated to SED.

More Than 160 Qualified Residential Treatment Programs Designated Since Family First Prevention Services Act implementation

In one short year since the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) was implemented, OCFS has overseen the designation of more than 160 programs as Qualified Residential Treatment Programs (QRTPs) as well as the development of a system to track children’s entry into QRTPs and monitor their length of stay.

Regional offices worked tirelessly with voluntary agencies to process all QRTP applications submitted through the 29-I portal.

To support the assessment of children in foster care for placement in QRTPs, OCFS has provided training and technical support to more than 265 clinicians to become qualified individuals (QIs). Our implementation team has published several guidance documents and forms to support the process, all of which can be found on our Family First webpage, which also lists QRTPs and QIs available statewide.

To support the LDSS and VA needs for data related to FFPSA, OCFS’ Bureau of Research, Evaluation and Performance Analytics developed a FFPSA Dashboard that LDSSs and VAs can use to track children’s entries into QRTPs and requirements, including the 30-day assessment and 60-day court reviews.

“Our goal is always to place children in the most appropriate level of care in the least restrictive setting, and when children need QRTP placement, we aim to discharge them to a family setting as soon as possible,” said Gail Geohagen-Pratt, CWCS associate commissioner. “To that end, we also track the number of children considered to be long-stayers in the QRTPs.”

The Bureau of Children’s Medicaid Management has created guidance documents and forms to support reviews of long-stayers. From February through September 2022, LDSSs submitted approximately 250 long-stayer reviews, and these are promoting concurrent planning for a child’s discharge from congregate care to a family setting.

To promote permanency, FFPSA also requires QRTPs to provide six months of aftercare services when children are released to help the child and family with more successful family, school and community reintegration.

Comprehensive information related to FFPSA can be found on our Family First webpage. We invite you to take a look.

OCFS’s Bureau of Domestic Violence Prevention and Victim Support Rolls Out New Training Program

We know that 40-60% of New York’s child welfare cases include an element of domestic violence.

With that critical fact in mind, OCFS’ Bureau of Domestic Violence Prevention and Victim Support (DV Bureau) has initiated a statewide training program to improve competencies and cross-system collaboration related to this overlap called the Safe & Together™ Model.

Field-tested and based on best practices, Safe & Together™ focuses on holding parents and legal guardians accountable for causing harm to children but remains child/survivor-centered and strength-based.

The model’s behavioral focus highlights practical and concrete changes in four key areas of case practice: assessment, interviewing, documenting and case planning. The framework integrates and supports the major child welfare practice models, such as Signs of Safety and Family Assessment Response (FAR) and other initiatives like trauma-informed practice change.

DV Bureau has partnered with the Safe & Together™` Institute and the state Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence (OPDV) to prepare certified trainers to lead the effort. Five staff have already completed the rigorous certification program.

OCFS plans to train all LDSS child welfare staff in Safe & Together™, and in January 2022, incorporated it into the Child Welfare Foundation training for all child welfare workers. Supervisory staff at the LDSSs and DV programs will continue to participate in the four-day CORE training as agencies begin implementation.

OCFS trainers Candace Calabrese and Bethani Whiting have partnered with several LDSS staff and DV service providers in multiple training deliveries, information sessions and coaching calls. Fifteen LDSSs have begun the implementation process with their DV programs and regional office staff. These include Warren, Washington, Herkimer, Madison, Essex, Niagara, Genesee, Cattaraugus, Allegany, Wyoming, Orleans, Seneca, Tompkins, Chautauqua and Suffolk counties.

DV Bureau Director Marie Limbach, said “This initiative is so important in all our work with families. It sends a clear message to perpetrators that their actions have consequences, and it lets survivors know that they’re supported. I am so proud of all the hard work Candace and Bethani, as well as our entire bureau, have been doing.”

Candance and Bethani have also partnered with other CWCS bureaus to share the model’s principles and competencies to support a more comprehensive approach to OCFS oversight activities. They’ve presented at the Grand Rounds, PCANY’s Home Visiting Coordination Initiative and the Child Justice Task Force, Healthy Families All grantees meeting. They’ve also attended multiple workgroups for other state initiatives and collaborated with the Bureau of Training, OCFS’ fatality reviewers and regional office staff members who provide oversight.

Introducing … The Bureau of Innovative Practices and Strategic Collaborations

bureau members
L to R: Jennifer Maurici, Louise Baldassano, Teresa Boykins and Tenisha Hope

As the saying goes, “There is nothing permanent except change,” and the Division of Child Welfare and Community Services (CWCS) is no exception.

CWCS has experienced significant changes recently and though change can be challenging, it also brings with it opportunity, such as the creation of the Bureau of Innovative Practices and Strategic Collaborations. The bureau will use data-driven strategies, cutting-edge research, and form the necessary partnerships to create innovative programs and practices that enhance the well-being of New York’s children, families, vulnerable adults and communities through a race equity and social justice lens. It is committed to breaking down silos and working across public and private sectors to improve access to resources to meet the needs of all New Yorkers.

The new bureau will function under the direction of Associate Commissioner Gail Geohagen-Pratt in the Office of Implementation and Accountability. Bureau staff members are Director, Jennifer Maurici, Program Manager Tenisha Hope and Senior Administrative Analyst Teresa Boykins. Louise Baldassano will provide administrative support to the team.

Grand Rounds Focuses on Engaging Fathers

Kelly Reilly
Kelly Reilly

Approximately 350 people from across the state attended OCFS’s September “Child Welfare Grand Rounds,” which focused on engaging fathers and other male caregivers to improve outcomes for children. Attendees were asked to reflect on the question “What about dad?” in every area of their child welfare work.

Kelly Reilly, a senior education specialist and professional development program regional office project associate, facilitated a review of best practices in engaging fathers and shared a case study in which the father was not initially engaged. She shared how a fresh casework perspective resulted in the child being returned to the father’s care and discharged from foster care.

At times, engagement and support remain unique for fathers, due to historical barriers related to culture, power dynamics and social conditioning. OCFS’ Tamara Rivers, children and family services specialist II and local district supervisor for the Buffalo regional office – as well as a champion of father engagement work – discussed ways in which OCFS has planned to position father engagement restoration across the state.

Tamara Rivers Simmons
Tamara Rivers Simmons

State and national reviews of case work practice continue to indicate the need for improvement in father engagement in child welfare. New York has committed to transforming the way in which we interact with and support these fathers.

The grand rounds model is based on one used in the medical field, in which practitioners present individual cases for study. Learning occurs as the grand rounds’ members discuss the strengths of the case, apply case circumstances to current research and best practice, share potential obstacles to best practice and work together to identify the best ways to achieve desired outcomes.

Attendees at the recent program included CPS and foster care caseworkers, supervisors and senior leadership from local districts and voluntary agencies as well as other community stakeholders.

Symbols Speak Volumes for Native Americans

November is Native American Heritage Month when we celebrate the rich and diverse cultures, traditions and histories of Native people and acknowledge their important contributions to the world around us.

Heritage Month is also an opportune time to educate the public about tribes and to raise general awareness about:

  • the unique challenges Native people have faced both historically and in the present
  • the ways in which tribal citizens have worked to conquer these challenges[1].

There are more than 570 Tribal Nations in the United States, and each has its own culture, language and customs. As an example, above is a symbol of the Haudenosaunee Creation Story. The tribe calls this the skydome. The bottom represents the water, the flower/plant under the dome represents the earth, and the tree on top represents the hole into which skywomen fell to mother earth from the skyworld.

The linked video provides education and history about the Haudenosaunee Creation Story. And to learn more about our state’s Tribal Nations, please check out the Native Hope blog.

CWCS and Community Partners Present Sessions at New York Public Welfare Association’s 153rd Annual Summer Conference

NWPA 153rd Annual Summer Conference
L to R: Maria Kenneally, John Quinan, Jennifer Maurici and Lisa Ghartey Ogundimu presented on workforce recruitment

This summer, CWCS staff and community partners had the opportunity to attend the New York Public Welfare Association’s 153rd Annual Summer Conference in Saratoga Springs! CWCS participated in four workshops this year including:

Changes to Administrative Appeals and SCR Reform – which reviewed SCR reform legislation provisions that went into effect on January 1. These provisions include changes in the standard of evidence to indicate a CPS report, the “not relevant and reasonably related after 8 years” provisions and the new Article 10 requirements. The session also covered county compliance issues and allowed participants an opportunity to ask questions.

Reimagining the Front Door of Child Welfare included information on the New York Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment’s (SCR) work to continually improve service provision and strengthen its commitment to the mission of protecting children. These projects include an action plan for reducing implicit bias at the point of child protective intake, updates to intake screening protocols for parent’s drug/alcohol use, and strategies being used to manage harassing callers making false reports. Informally known as the child abuse hotline, the SCR handles approximately 300,000 calls per year pertaining to concerns of child maltreatment/abuse.

Reimagine Workforce Recruitment provided participants an update on the work of the Workforce Recruitment and Retention Workgroup, which focused its efforts on broadening and diversifying the applicant pool by re-imagining the caseworker exam, finalizing the interactive map, and working with the Social Work Education Consortium (SWEC) to provide current caseworkers opportunities to earn their BSW or MSW.

Before the Call: Strategies to Support Families highlighted three innovative strategies – Guaranteed Income, CarePortal, and Mobile Response Units – to provide supports and services to families before a call to the SCR, helping to move the state from a ‘child welfare system’ to a ‘child and family well-being system’.

HEARS Line Off to a Great Start Supporting Families

HEARS info from local school
A Capital Region school district added information about the HEARS line to their newsletter.

Although initiated only six months ago, the OCFS HEARS (Help, Empower, Advocate, Reassure and Support) Line has already answered more than 450 calls from New Yorkers in need.

“The HEARS line is a new and valuable resource that will provide families with the services and supports they need to prevent child welfare involvement and improve well-being,” said Deputy Commissioner Lisa Ghartey Ogundimu.

HEARS representatives assist families by providing resources and referrals to support needs in a variety of areas, including food, clothing, housing, medical and behavioral health care services, parenting education, child care and more. So far, the greatest number of requests have been related to housing, parenting, child care and financial assistance.

“The Human Services Call Center team is proud to create a warm line that is dedicated to providing support to children and families in New York,” said Kathryn Shelton, associate commissioner.

Additionally, as part of the Safe Sleep Initiative, HEARS staff are able to provide a free Pack ‘n Play to any parent or caregiver in need of a safe sleeping environment for their newborn or infant. As more calls come into the HEARS line, staff continue to update resources to improve outcomes for families across New York.


More Than 300 Attend Annual Adult Abuse Training Institute

training participants
L to R: Participants Sanquanette Milligan, Deputy Director (APS Manhattan North Field Office); Chanda Levine, Case Manager (APS Queens Field Office); and Nicole McEwen, Nurse (APS Manhattan North/South Field Office).

More than 300 participants and presenters attended The Bureau of Adult Services’ annual Adult Abuse Training Institute (AATI) in Albany from October 12-14, 2022 – the first in-person AATI event since 2019. This year’s theme was Times Change but the Work Remains.

Attendees included statewide partners from local departments of social services (LDSSs), adult protective services units, New York State Office for the Aging and their network of aging service providers, members of various state and local Alzheimer’s Associations, county attorneys, law enforcement and representatives from New York City Elder Abuse Center and the State Judicial Committee on Elder Abuse.

“The energy of the event was uplifting and participants’ motivation, commitment and appreciation of an in-person gathering was evident throughout the entire of event,” shared Shelly Fiebich, director of the Bureau of Adult Services.

Keynote speaker the Honorable Deborah A Kaplan, deputy chief administrative judge for the New York City Courts, described the courts’ ability to continue elder and vulnerable adults’ access to justice during the COVID-19 pandemic. She shared staggering statistics of intimate partner violence, exploitation and other crimes that affect our elder adult population.

The Institute was a culmination of workshops and presentations highlighting and celebrating the need for transformation, resilience, equity and inclusivity required to successfully meet the needs of New York State’s vulnerable adults. Presenters shared information and experiences about Medicaid, housing, guardianship cases, formalized networking sessions for participants to share successful strategies that support challenging populations with multiple diagnosis.

Participants heard about new programs that support caregivers and provide in-home problem solving designed to reduce depression. Also on the agenda was information about the signs and symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s versus normal aspects of aging. The two days were infused with messages of worker wellness, self-care and strategies for developing and improving resiliency.

Don’t Miss Out on the Kids’ Well-Being Indicator Clearinghouse

The NYS Kids’ Well-being Indicators Clearinghouse (KWIC) debuted in 2003 as the first interactive, one-stop spot for a wide range of education, health and other well-being indicators for children and families in New York.

Users apply these indicators to support and inform policy development, planning and accountability. We invite you to explore this well-being data for your region, county or town.

Voluntary agencies can access data and information to connect families with services, view their community resources and see what other communities are offering. Anyone can search by zip code to access information on LDSSs and agencies to gather, plot and monitor services.

If you have additional data questions, please reach out to New York’s Council on Children and Families (CCF).

In Memory of…

The Division of Child Welfare and Community Services was saddened to hear of the passing of our colleague Jim Purcell, an associate commissioner in child welfare at OCFS and later CEO of the Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies (COFCCA).

With his passionate storytelling and unwavering advocacy, Jim dedicated his life to improving the lives of children and families across New York State. He will be remembered as a champion for children, families and the workforce that serves them, and he will be missed by all who knew him.

Jim Purcell Obituary