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Kathy Hochul, Governor
Suzanne Miles-Gustave, Esq., Acting Commissioner
March 2015 — Vol. 10, No. 3

A Message from the Executive Office

Dear Colleagues,

I wanted to take the opportunity to talk with you about the Division of Juvenile Justice and Opportunities for Youth (DJJOY). The division has worked very hard on a strategic vision for the future, which includes priorities like enhancing safety, coordination and implementation of key initiatives, and data-informed decision-making. We're moving forward and continuing to work toward providing the best outcomes for youth in our care.

One thing that doesn't change: the incredible rewards of watching a youth succeed. DJJOY staff can have a lifelong impact on youth in facilities. Here is just one example of how a youth benefited from the empathy, caring, and attention of DJJOY staff. More than a decade later, a 31-year-old who resided in an OCFS facility reached out to a former facility staff member to check in and thank him for his help.

The staff member says that he told the young men with whom he worked that the best “thank you” he could ever receive is for them to call him in 15 years and say they are doing well. Below are excerpts from the former resident’s exchange.

“Can you believe it’s been 14 years since I saw you and the staff from the unit? ‘Til this very day I think about you guys and the place every day…

I graduated high school in 2003…I got my commercial driver's license and work...as a bus driver (full-time) for autistic children, and a bus driver (part-time) for [an assisted living facility] for senior citizens…

A lot of the staff up there (you included) had a positive and lasting effect on me for the better…

Not once for one second [did I forget] about our discussions on making the right choices, minor or major. I want to thank you for everything.”

I extend a heartfelt "thank you" to all OCFS staff who make a positive impact on New York's children, youth, families, and communities each day!


Roberto Velez

Acting Commissioner

In Brief

OCFS Contributes More Than $56k to SEFA

More than 323 OCFS employees statewide pitched in to benefit State Employees Federated Appeal (SEFA) this holiday season, contributing $56,500. Nearly 90 staff served as SEFA Employee Campaign Managers (ECM), coordinating the 2014-2015 campaign in OCFS offices and facilities.

Employees in the Capital Region alone raised $33,995 from 123 donors. Additionally, a pizza and bake sale helped raise $828 for Circles of Mercy.

Thank you to all who donated to their favorite charities through SEFA, to the ECMs for their hard work and dedication, and volunteers who took time to plan and staff the fundraisers!

Winter Blood Drive Benefits Red Cross

The OCFS winter blood drive on Feb. 11 was a success, with 58 staff stopping by Room 102 South to donate blood to the Red Cross. One donation can save more than one life.

Thank you to everyone who donated! 


Four DJJOY Facilities Receive ACA Accreditation

Four DJJOY facilities -- Columbia Secure Center for Girls, Taberg Residential Center, Goshen Secure Center, and MacCormick Secure Center -- were recently awarded their official Certificates of Accreditation from the American Correctional Association (ACA). Achieving accreditation is a rigorous and time-consuming process that requires teamwork and dedication. The standards of ACA represent best practices in the field of juvenile corrections and treatment, and with accreditation comes positive outcomes with respect to safety, security, and overall facility operations. Accredited agencies and facilities are often able to better maintain a balance between protecting the public and providing an environment that safeguards the life, health, and safety of staff and youth.

Founded in 1870, the ACA currently has thousands of members from all over the world. Its mission is to provide a professional organization for all individuals and groups, both public and private, that share a common goal of improving the justice system.

(Left: Facility Director Bobby Ray Smith (Goshen). Right: Facility Directors Jeff Calkins (MacCormick) and Suzanne Tulino (Taberg) receiving their certificates from R.J. Strauser, Agency Accreditation Manager. Not pictured: Dr. Patricia Fernandez (Columbia).)

OCFS, SUNY & CUNY Team Up to Make College a Success for Foster Youth

Foster youth in care need to be supported as they pursue post-secondary education, and they should be granted the opportunity to successfully enroll and receive services that support them throughout college. The "Making College Success a Reality for New York's Youth in Care” forum, co-hosted by OCFS on February 5 in New York City, focused on how to implement and coordinate initiatives to better improve educational opportunities for youth in care.

More than 60 attendees explored what funding, services, and supports can be targeted to and expanded for New York’s youth in care who are pursuing higher education in the State University of New York (SUNY) and City University of New York (CUNY) systems. Additionally, the group broke out into four workshops that reflected issues that foster youth face in relation to secondary education: applying to college, obtaining financial aid, preparing themselves before college, and succeeding once they are enrolled. Recommendations included raising awareness about application waivers and financial aid available to youth in care, and coaching and mentoring for foster youth who attend college.

Child Welfare and Community Services (CWCS) Assistant Commissioner Lisa Ghartey-Ogundimu delivered closing remarks. Co-hosting the event along with OCFS were the Fostering Youth Success Alliance and New York State Permanent Judicial Commission on Justice for Children. The forum was sponsored by Casey Family Programs, SUNY, and CUNY.

Guest Column: Digging Myself Out

The following was written by Betsy of Westchester County, a former foster youth. It was originally written for and published on the Youth in Progress website.

I wanted to dig a hole, a hole big enough to live in and store a few books. The night made me want to be left alone, isolated, and gone from the world. The first night away from my mother, in foster care, made me want to leave human civilization. If I could not be with my mother, then I did not want to be near anyone.

As I made the sharp turn to the front of our apartment I noticed many black garbage bags. The big, black bags used to put clothes in when you want to give them away to the Salvation Army. I neared, questioning why. I recognized my shirt and my mother’s purple shoes with the Velcro laces. Why are my things out on the street, where anyone can take them? At this moment I fell, tears falling from my eyes, knees on the dirty pavement. I did not want to create a scene, however, a woman in green scrubs asked, “What’s wrong?” Getting strength to stand proved hard but moving required more effort.

I don’t have a home, a bed to sleep in.

Breaking down again, I cried into my knees, clutching my blue denim jeans. I wiped the tears from my cheeks, plastered a smile on my face and left with some of my dignity. I thanked the nurse for her concern, reassuring her that I would be alright. I grasped my brother’s hand and departed.

My brother and I climbed into a van driven by a woman who introduced herself as the social worker assigned to our case. In the van she informed us our mother has too many problems and she physically cannot care for us. She said that my mother has many illnesses; since she could not care for herself, how did we expect her to care for us? I almost said, I can pay the bills, I know how to pay them. My brother could get a job. Living together is what matters most. But I did not have the energy to fight her, and around midnight she dropped me off at a residential group home. With the flick of a switch, a florescent bulb flooded my new bedroom as I lugged my garbage bag of belongings in. I fought the urge to break down again. Instead, I collapsed onto the stained mattress. Before slipping into a deep slumber, my mind replayed my mother’s last expression of love before we were taken: “Take care of your brother and always remember that I love you.” How could I ever forget?

I would never forget the love that motivated me to become successful in life. The opportunities I have been given could not have happened without foster care. Although I have not been unscathed, I count my blessings. As I get ready for my future, I plan on opening an advocacy group for foster children. I am all too familiar with the feeling of heartbreak due to separation from my mother so I want to be able to comfort the children going through similar tragedies.

Eight years later, instead of moving into a group home, I am moving into my first college dorm room. Instead of sadness, I am filled with excitement! I know that for the first time, I am safe. I can make the choice of what I want to do. My goal will be to graduate with two Bachelor’s degrees. My dream is to be a lawyer in a Family Court, protecting the community that gave me my life.

Throughout the years, I have been reminded of all the potential I hold, and finally I know that the hole I wanted to escape to was really a tunnel to the rest of my life.

OCFS Supports New Safe Horizon Child Advocacy Center in the Bronx

Safe Horizon this week opened a new Child Advocacy Center (CAC) in the Bronx to investigate and respond to serious cases of sexual and physical child abuse. OCFS is a source of funding for the new Safe Horizon CAC, in addition to 40 other CACs throughout the state that serve more than 17,000 children.

OCFS Assistant Commissioner Raymond Toomer delivered remarks, and was an honored guest alongside ACS Commissioner Gladys Carrión and representatives from the NYS Office of Victim Services, the National Children's Alliance, the New York Police Department, and elected officials.

With the opening of this center, Safe Horizon is now operating co-located CACs in each of the five boroughs. The impact of this CAC is expected to be tremendous: already, Safe Horizon anticipates helping thousands of Bronx children and youth within the next year.

(Bottom photo: ACS Commissioner Carrión is pictured holding the scissors at front; OCFS Assistant Commissioner Toomer is pictured at Commissioner Carrión's right in the back.)

PIO Launches "Resources" Intranet Page

The OCFS Public Information Office (PIO) has launched an intranet page that puts all of its important resources in one spot so employees can access need-to-know information easier.

Located on the left navigation bar of the intranet homepage, PIO Resources includes links and information about the following:

  • Branding Guidelines - New York State has created branding guidelines to establish a cohesive, standard look of logos and all communications across all state agencies, authorities, and programs. These guidelines are required and should be followed by every person issuing communications on behalf of the state and its entities.
  • Directory of Resources – This directory includes links to a wide variety of resources and information you may be asked for when the public contacts your office.
  • Language Assistance Resources – A guide to the interpretation services and requirements at OCFS.
  • OCFS Telephone Guide – This “desk aid” can be useful for staff who answer phone calls from the general public.
  • Quick Grammar Guide - To simplify writing and answer common grammar questions, PIO has compiled this brief style guide of generally accepted rules of English grammar and usage.
  • Spotlight on the Office of Communications – The spotlight includes a breakdown of the services provided by PIO and who is responsible for each component.
  • Voice Mail Protocol – This guide will help you develop and utilize professional, concise voice mail greetings that your callers will hear when you are unavailable to take phone calls.

Anyone with questions can contact PIO at (518) 402-3130.

OCFS Accepted as "Weather- Ready Nation Ambassador"

By: OCFS Emergency Management Coordinator Steven Taylor

OCFS was recently accepted as a Weather-Ready Nation (WRN) Ambassador. The WRN initiative is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) effort to formally recognize partners who are improving the nation’s readiness, responsiveness, and overall resilience against extreme weather, water, and climate events. As a WRN Ambassador, OCFS and its partners commit to working with NOAA and other Ambassadors to strengthen national resilience against extreme weather, which unifies efforts across government, non-profits, academia, and private industry toward making the nation more ready, responsive, and resilient against extreme environmental hazards.

As a WRN Ambassador, OCFS will serve as a change agent and leader in our community. We will inspire ourselves and others to be better informed and prepared. As an officially recognized WRN Ambassador, OCFS can engage with NOAA personnel on potential collaboration opportunities, WRN messages, and themes to their stakeholders. We can also share our success stories of preparedness and resiliency, and serve as an example by educating employees on workplace preparedness. NOAA can now support us by providing outreach content about creating a WRN and explore innovative approaches for collaboration with us.

Just think of the WRN Ambassador as another tool to add to our disaster preparedness arsenal. Going forward you can expect to see WRN messaging tied into our messaging for extreme weather preparedness. To get more information about the initiative, visit the Weather-Ready Nation Ambassador website or reach out to me by email.