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Kathy Hochul, Governor
Dr. DaMia Harris-Madden, Acting Commissioner
November 2022 — Vol. 7, No. 11

Commissioner's Message

November at OCFS is a very busy time as we celebrate Adoption Awareness Month, National Runaway Prevention Month, Native American Awareness Month, Transgender Day of Remembrance and, of course, the Thanksgiving season.

We launched National Adoption Awareness Month in a big way this year! 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 kick it off on November 1.

It was an inspiring and wonderful occasion where Ms. Garcia and Mr. McDaniels shared their own adoption stories, and all adoptive parents and those involved in the process of adoption were thanked and honored. DMC’s generosity of spirit and time helped our agency bring incredible statewide awareness to this very important mission, which we are so grateful for.

I’m also thankful for all the families in New York State who open their homes and their hearts to welcome a child in foster care and to those who are able to create a permanent, loving adoptive home for a child. Please watch for our social media posts throughout the month highlighting special children who are waiting for their forever homes and help us spread the word by using #BeTheChangeNY.

For National Runaway Prevention Month, we’ve asked staff statewide to wear green on November 10 to “shine a light” on the experiences of runaway and homeless youth. Youth and young adults who are homeless or lack stable housing are always vulnerable – particularly those in the LGBTQ+ community who may have even fewer supports. This month OCFS encourages you to listen to related podcasts, donate care packages to local programs and educate yourself about how OCFS supports these youth. Also stay tuned to your email and our social media outlets to learn more about this population.

And as we gather with loved ones to give thanks for the many blessings in our lives this Thanksgiving, let’s also reflect on our unique opportunities to make a difference for working parents, vulnerable and aging adults, children in foster and kinship care, youth who have experienced trauma, survivors of domestic violence and the people we serve with employment and other programs through the Commission for the Blind and AmeriCorps.

Please also know how grateful I am to work with all of you and how much I appreciate your dedication to our incredibly rewarding and vital work. Happy Thanksgiving!

Sincerely,
Sheila J. Poole
Commissioner

Articles

Devine and Syed Join OCFS as Deputy Commissioners

Sharon Devine
Sharon Devine

Welcome and congratulations to OCFS’ newest deputy commissioners, Sharon Devine and Solomon Syed.

Sharon, our new deputy commissioner for administration, has extensive senior leadership experience in state government and most recently served as deputy commissioner for administration for the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD).

She also worked as the executive deputy commissioner for the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, overseeing day-to-day operations for a range of the state’s most important programs for low-income residents while also providing leadership, guidance and support.

In addition, Sharon held several pivotal positions within New York State Housing and Community Renewal, including deputy commissioner for administration, president of the Office of Professional Services, director of financial administration and chief of the Budget and Contract Unit.

In her new role, Sharon leads the Office of Administration, including the Bureau of Budget Management, Bureau of Financial Operations, Bureau of Contract Management, Office of Agency Performance Management, Bureau of Management Services, Bureau of Capital Projects and Bureau of Information Technology Management. She holds a master’s degree in public finance from Atlanta University in Georgia, as well as a bachelor’s degree from California University in Pennsylvania.

Solomon Syed
Solomon Syed

Solomon, our new deputy commissioner of public information, is an award-winning, experienced communications professional with more than 13 years in television news, marketing and government relations.

His wide-ranging communications expertise includes planning, producing and conducting interviews, as well as shooting and editing video content. Solomon also is well versed in coordinating and delivering creative and compelling content for television, digital and print media.

In his most recent position, he worked for WTEN as a news anchor and host of “Empire State Weekly,” a political affairs program. In his former position as assistant vice president of communications, marketing and government relations at SUNY Empire State College, he managed internal and external communications, developed branding and awareness campaigns, directed social media and digital strategies, and oversaw the development of messages, correspondence, speeches and other communications from the college and its leadership. In addition, he acted as the primary communications liaison across all college offices, ensuring consistent messaging.

In his new role, Solomon oversees the Public Information Office (PIO), which is responsible for coordinating the agency’s communication, media, public relations, marketing and digital presence. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in broadcast journalism from Boston University. He also earned a juris doctor degree from Quinnipiac University School of Law.

Updates from the Commission for the Blind (NYSCB)

NYSCB Celebrates LandPro Equipment as a Model Employer of People with Disabilities

In recognition of National Disability Employer Awareness Month (NDEAM) in October, NYSCB chose LandPro to receive its top statewide award for exemplary practice in hiring and supporting workers with disabilities.

Jane Sullivan, district manager, services for the blind, said she became acquainted with LandPro Equipment in 2021 when she took on a vocational rehabilitation job retention case at NYSCB. Her client, Mike, who disclosed his visual impairment at his LandPro job interview, not only was hired immediately, but was able to identify and receive the accommodations he would need to excel.

Mike’s job setting up tractors, snowblowers and lawnmowers requires detailed, close-range visual work, such as reading instructions, serial numbers and tags. It also requires using small parts and tools. LandPro provided Mike a large-screen computer monitor and special overhead lighting above his work area. Equally important, LandPro encouraged Mike to ask for additional support whenever he needed it.

Although the equipment provided by LandPro allowed Mike to complete most of his work, Jane said he decided to seek a specialized vision and technology assessment from NYSCB to enhance his independence. LandPro supported the onsite evaluation and allowed Mike paid time off to adapt to the equipment that was recommended – a specialized head-mounted electronic device housing a high-speed, high-definition camera that captures everything Mike looks at.

“In addition to supporting Mike, LandPro has accepted high school students with disabilities for internships,” Jane said. “Job coaches accompany them to the work site to support completion of various job tasks and to learn about functioning within a work environment. It has been a pleasure to work with LandPro every step of the way.”

Updates from the Division of Child Care Services (DCCS)

DCCS Staff Present on Simulation Training for Child Care Regulators

Tracey Turner, director of the Bureau of Regional Operations and Chris Coons, director of the Bureau of Operational Support Services, presented on simulation training for child care regulators at the recent National Association for Regulatory Administration (NARA) conference. This year, the annual conference focused on “Looking Ahead – The Future of Regulation.”

NARA is an international non-profit professional association representing all human care licensing, including adult residential and assisted living, adult day care, child care, child welfare and program licensing for services related to mental illness, developmental disabilities and abuse of drugs or alcohol.

DCCS’ presentation, “Wave of the Future: Simulation Training for Child Care Regulators,” highlighted the OCFS Human Services Training Center (HSTC), the benefits of simulation-based training and the New Regulator Institute. The presentation also included information about the child care landscape in New York, a virtual tour of the HSTC and footage of regulators in training and in the field.

The presentation was so well-received, participants from multiple states continue to ask for copies of the footage to share with their teams. They are eager to learn more about child care professional development in New York, with OCFS leading the way.

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

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.

Native American Services Joins Partners to Host Fourth Annual Indian Child Welfare Act Conference
two ICWA conference speakers
Jamie Jacobs (Seneca, Turtle) and OCFS Native American Services Director Heather A. LaForme-Maldonado (Onondaga, Beaver)

The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, in collaboration with the Court Improvement Project and OCFS' Office of Native American Services, hosted the fourth annual New York State Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) Conference in Syracuse on September 30. More than 140 people participated in person and virtually.

The conference began with a traditional Native American opening, known as the "words before all else," by Onondaga Chief Sid Hill, Tadodaho (Big Wolf).

The opening speaker, Jamie Jacobs (Seneca, Turtle) of the Tonawanda Band of Seneca discussed the importance of understanding the Haudenosaunee principle of the seventh-generation teaching. The principle is based upon the philosophy of decisions made in the present leading to a sustainable world seven generations into the future. Jacobs also told Haudenosaunee stories that reflected teachings within the community.

Chief Harry Wallace of the Unkechaug Nation conducted a traditional closing for the conference.

Other guest speakers included Pete Hill (Cayuga, Heron) of Native American Services. He presented and discussed the documentary "Unseen Tears." Kate Fort, director of clinics at Michigan State University College of Law, discussed the pending court case Brackeen vs. Haaland. Veronica Treadwell of Native American Services and Erie County Family Court Judge Patricia Maxwell discussed the importance of qualified expert witnesses in ICWA cases.

Introducing the CWCS 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 CWCS seems to demonstrate that point regularly! In fact, its new Bureau of Innovative Practices and Strategic Collaborations will be a source of ongoing positive change for the division and in the lives of the children it serves.

The bureau will use data-driven strategies and cutting-edge research – and will 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.

The bureau will examine existing and new practices and policies through a race equity and social justice lens. It is committed to breaking down silos and working across the public and private sector to improve access to resources for 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.

Congrats to the team!

DV Bureau Joins Two Large Campaigns to Raise Domestic Violence Awareness
dv staff
CWCS staff from across the division wore purple to help raise awareness of domestic violence.

In recognition of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October, OCFS joined two large campaigns: “Every1KnowsSome1,” spearheaded by the National Network to End Domestic Violence, and “Start the Conversation,” organized by our sister agency, the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence.

To support these campaigns, our Bureau of Domestic Violence Prevention & Victim Support (DV Bureau) organized a collection of self-care and empowerment packages for DV survivors and invited everyone to participate in National Wear Purple Day on October 20 to raise awareness of DV.

Although October brought extra attention to the DV Bureau’s work, it’s a busy place year ’round. It oversees services for DV survivors in both residential and non-residential programs, which include emergency shelters, crisis counseling, hotline assistance, information and referral, advocacy, counseling, community education/outreach, children’s services, support groups, links to medical services, transportation and interpretation/translation services.

The bureau currently has 92 DV shelters, 100 safe dwellings, two safe home networks and 82 approved non-residential DV programs under its review and administers more than 320 contracts/grants supporting 88 DV agencies to provide emergency shelter and related supportive services.

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

DEIA Hosts Webinar to Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month

DEIA celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month with a lively October virtual webinar. Topics ranged from professional development to favorite foods. Precious Riehl, DEIA program manager, moderated the program, and Rosalynn Duvall, co-chair of two DEIA subcommittees and an equal opportunity specialist 4, provided a historical overview of the meaning of the month.

Panelists included the Honorable Richard Rivera, family court judge and acting State supreme court judge; Laurie Bermudez, Esq., principal court attorney; and Christina Rodriguez, manager and advocate, Collins Children’s Home of Seneca, South Carolina. The panelists shared their definitions of unity and favorite cultural dishes as well as the role their heritage has played in their professional positions.

Stay tuned for the webinar recording, which will be available on the intranet.

New DEIA Guide Will Help Develop Policy with Equity in Mind

DEIA’s policy review and data analysis (PRADA) subcommittee has been working on a policy authors’ guide, set to be released soon! The guide is split into parts: part one focuses on DEIA-informed policy development and part two consists of an equity tracker.

OCFS recognizes the importance of equity as it relates to policy development. This guide will assist policy writers and reviewers within OCFS to assess policies through an equity lens. Part one of the guide focuses on resources, tip sheets and educational briefs intended to assist policy teams. Part two consists of the equity tracker, which is a set of questions for policy teams to assess the policy’s goals under an equity lens. Questions range from detailing stakeholder engagement to cultural competency and assessing the possible negative impact on specific communities.

A soft launch of the guide will take place this year to help policy teams become familiar with the document itself. The PRADA subcommittee will be available for assistance and will release training for part one of the guide. Next year, the equity tracker will become a requirement, and further trainings will be available. As always, the PRADA subcommittee is available to help bureaus with policy review, and you can request assistance at DEIA PRADA Assistance Request Form.

Second Season of DEIA Podcast Drops

Season two of OCFS Voices, DEIA’s podcast, is scheduled for release later this month and will feature episodes focusing on November’s Runaway and Homeless Youth Prevention Month.

This season, DEIA has partnered with Karen Chang from the office of Youth Development and Partnerships for Success (YDAPS), as well as leaders in the community, to discuss this very important topic. New episodes will be released later this month on Anchor, Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Stitcher. Don’t forget: season one episodes – which featured conversations about Pride Month – remain available on the same platforms.

 

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

Weatherization “Boot Camp” Prepares Finger Lakes Residents for the Job Market
Finger Lakes residents hands on vocational training
Al McMahon of NYSWDA demonstrates weatherization techniques as part of Finger Lakes’ vocational program.

Nearly 70 former and current residents of the OCFS Finger Lakes Residential Center have received an intensive four-day training required for certification to work in weatherization.

Offered by the Energy Efficiency Training Center of the New York State Weatherization Directors Association, the course educates trainees on the science behind construction and offers hands-on experience with air sealing, and dense-pack and loose-fill cellulose insulation installation.

Using simulated walls, ceilings and attics, participants learn techniques to properly protect homes from external elements. Instruction also introduces trainees to both NYS Homes and Community Renewal standards and Building Performance Institute standards.

“It’s a very thorough training and a great opportunity to learn some valuable skills and improve residents’ resumes for potential job opportunities,” said Thomas Murphy, vocational specialist 2.

Part of the facility’s vocational training program, the weatherization course has been offered twice a year for the last nine years (some sessions were suspended due to COVID).

Brentwood Residential Center Celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month
Hispanic Heritage Month posters
Teacher Karen Surgeary displays posters youth researched, designed and presented as part of the celebration.

On October 27, Brentwood Residential Center for Girls held its Hispanic Heritage celebration.

The facility’s residents conducted research on various Latin American countries and designed poster boards with important facts and information about each nation.

They also delivered presentations as part of the project, helping educate their peers on several prominent Latinx figures, including Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and iconic entertainer Jennifer Lopez.

The youth, staff and guests were then treated to a full meal featuring foods that are part of Latinx culture, including seasoned rice and beans, baked chicken and plantains. Both youth and staff were enriched by the day-long event.

 

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

YDAPS leads OCFS Initiative to Amplify Foster Youth Voices
Tanajah Malachi
Youth Advisory Board Member Tanajah “Tee” Malachi

In just 30 seconds, Tanajah “Tee” Malachi spoke volumes.

“There’s no greater happiness than to be listened to and valued,” said the OCFS Youth Advisory Board member in a 30-second video that’s part of YDAPS’ Foster Youth Voice Month project.

“Youth voices can challenge views and perceptions on change and adversity,” she said. “Foster youth voices are essential to social change and youth empowerment.”

In fact, the importance of young people sharing their own experiences in foster care is at the core of the multi-state initiative that established the month of October as National Foster Youth Voice Month.

“The goal is to shift the idea that youth with lived experience are seen as service recipients to them being seen as having valuable perspective to share,” said Galen Gomes, Sr., YDAPS associate commissioner.

Activities include the creation of 30-second videos by YAB members and a blog post by Peer Specialist Dana Barrett, who is a peer specialist and has her own experience in foster care. OCFS used social media to further spread the word and highlight the importance of youth voices in creating better experiences and outcomes within the foster care system.

The Selfless Love Foundation of Florida initiated the first Foster Youth Voice Month as part of its mission to improve the child welfare system, increase adoption of foster youth, enhance their chances of success in adulthood – and change the way the world sees foster kids.

Updates from the Council on Children and Families (CCF)

The Pyramid Model for Youth Parents in DJJOY Facilities
books
Just a few of the books and props sent to the youth parents taking part in the program. Each youth parent received a set to give their child at visits. Each family also received the full NYS “Birth through 5 Baby Bundle” from CCF partner Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oneida County.

This summer, CCF partnered with DJJOY to present a modified version of the Pyramid Model: Positive Solutions for Families program at select locations.

The collaboration focused on youth parents who reside in DJJOY secure facilities. The participants are 14-17 years old and have children of their own or are currently pregnant.

Designed to promote positive and effective parenting skills, Positive Solutions for Families focuses on children’s social and emotional development and addresses potential challenging behavior and mental health needs. All materials are available in different languages and presented at the fifth grade reading level.

DJJOY staff and administrators have provided positive feedback and encouragement for CCF to continue and expand the program to other sites.

The program aims to help participants develop a variety of positive life skills, including:

  • The importance of building positive relationships
  • How to avoid challenging behaviors before they start
  • Redirection and understanding logical consequences
  • Building an emotional (feelings) vocabulary
  • How to have fun with your child
  • How to replace challenging behaviors with new ones

The most compelling feedback, however, has come from program participants. One commented, “I never thought there could be other words, besides ‘no’ or ‘stop’ when I want [my child] to stop doing something. I learned some new ways to redirect him and ways to notice when he’s doing good [sic].” Another said, “I’m still her dad, even if I’m not in her life every day. Now I know what I can say when we have Zoom visits.”

“I find the workshops very rewarding,” said trainer Tracy Lyman. “Because I understand childhood trauma, I’m pleased to have the opportunity to support these young parents as they grow into their role. The youth [and their children] are the very most vulnerable children in our state, and we are helping them cultivate positive relationships and showing them how to use and value the time they do have together.”