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Kathy Hochul, Governor
Sheila J. Poole, Commissioner
July 2015 — Vol. 10, No. 7
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Message from the Executive Office

Memorial Day may be the unofficial start of summer, but for many of us in state government, summer officially begins with the hammering of the gavel that ends the state legislative session. With that behind us, it’s time now to reflect on the many accomplishments we’ve already made in 2015 and to balance our hard work with some down time with family and friends as we gear up for the second half of the year and the challenges ahead.

Once again, OCFS raised awareness of child abuse prevention with its Pinwheels for Prevention fundraiser in April, as well as a celebration of Healthy Families 20th anniversary of helping families in high-risk communities. Since 1995, home visitors have completed more than 1.1 million visits statewide!

The state budget provided us with more flexibility in hiring DJJOY facility directors and also extended our contract with BOCES for educational services. And, it included $365 million for continuing full-day Pre-K for four-year-olds and expanded Pre-K for three- and four-year-olds in high-need districts.

OCFS recognized World Elder Abuse Awareness Day June 15 with day-long learning in partnership with the New York State Office for the Aging, Albany County Adult Protective Services, the Albany County District Attorney’s Office and Equinox’s Elder Abuse program. And OCFS partnered with State Parks and the Natural Heritage Trust partnership to apply for a North Face grant that enabled us to provide 150 foster families with a free day at any NYS park. Families may enter a drawing to win a free multi-year/Lifetime Empire Passport by sharing photos of their experiences with us.

I hope that you will take time this summer to relax and enjoy time with your loved ones and also to reflect and be proud of our good work. I wish you all a healthy and safe summer!
 
Sincerely,

Sheila J. Poole

Acting Commissioner 

Articles

In Legislative OT, Blind Vendors Come to the Rescue

When the legislative session went to overtime last month, a near-constant stream of lawmakers, staffers, activists, reporters, and photographers skittered through the hallways of the State Capitol and the Legislative Office Building.

Working through lunch – and sometimes dinner – many of them relied on grab-and-go beverages and snacks to get through long hours on the job: a jolt of energy made possible by Angela Brooks and Brent Flagler.

“You’d better not run out of Red Bull,” Flagler said with a laugh.

Brooks and Flagler are licensed vendors in the New York State Commission for the Blind's (NYSCB) Business Enterprise Program. Brooks operates a newsstand in the Justice Building. Flagler operates one in the Capitol.

Their portfolios also include many of the vending machines that dot the halls of the Capitol complex. To the hurried masses, they are a lifeline in times of hunger and thirst.

Taste NY

Two vending machines stand apart from the others in style and selection. They’re stocked with beverages and snacks produced in New York State, branded and marketed as part of the Taste NY initiative.

“People stop at the machine because it’s a little bit different looking with the (Taste NY) logo,” Flagler said. “As I look for new products to put in it, I’m learning about products that are made in New York State that I didn’t know about before.”

On April 28 and June 17, several manufacturers – ASARASI Sparkling Tree Water, Cabot Creamery, Catskill Clear, Gourmet Nuts, Roni-Sue’s, Saranac, and others – offered free samples during promotional events at Empire State Plaza. 

“The events were really beneficial,” Brooks said. “They gave me a chance to see some other products that I could put in the machine.” 

Brooks also seized the opportunity to speak with visitors, asking how they liked the various cheeses, nuts, sodas, and water, and whether they would consider buying them from a vending machine.

(Clockwise from top left: the Taste NY promotional event on April 28; Angela Brooks samples a product; Brent Flagler's Taste NY vending machine; Flagler tries Saranac soda while talking with representative Derek Miller.)

Growing Program

There are 72 blind managers statewide in the Business Enterprise Program, according to NYSCB Business Services Specialist Andres Harnecker.  

Four managers – Brooks, Flagler, Richie DeGaetano, and Terry Duré – are currently participating in the Taste NY vending machine initiative.

"Taste NY vending machines are a new opportunity for blind vendors to expand their business,” Harnecker said. “They provide additional retail space for both novel and well-known New York products.”

NYSCB recently purchased Taste NY vending machines for the OCFS Home Office and other state buildings, Harnecker said. NYSCB is actively seeking additional sites.

The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets is supporting the program with a brand publicity campaign.

Another Month, Another Award for DCCS

The hits just keep on coming for the Division of Child Care Services (DCCS).

Just two weeks after the DCCS Lean Team received an award for streamlining the day care licensing process, a staff member earned statewide recognition for leading the fight against welfare fraud and abuse.

Rhonda Duffney, director of the child care subsidy program, received a 2015 Service Award from the New York Welfare Fraud Investigators Association (NYWFIA) at the group's annual summit in Binghamton.

"Rhonda is always a key player in planning our seminars," NYWFIA President John Melville said. "Her presentations have always been valued and well-received by our membership, and she is obviously a master of the subjects she presents."

(At left: Rhonda Duffney and John Melville.)

Melville lauded Duffney's commitment to educating investigators and implementing innovative resources to enhance the integrity of the child care subsidy system.

"I was very surprised and honored to receive the service award from NYWFIA," Duffney said. "OCFS and NYWFIA have formed a great partnership, and I look forward to continuing our work together."

The award, presented on June 1, was the second major honor for DCCS in the span of 14 days.

On May 18, the State Academy for Public Administration presented the DCCS Lean Team with a 2015 Public Service Excellence Award for reducing the day care licensing process from an average of 173 days to 90 days.

Dr. Aledort Goes to Washington

 

You’ll have to forgive Nina Aledort for missing your call on June 10. She was detained… at the White House.

Aledort, the Associate Commissioner for Close to Home Oversight and System Improvement, served as a presenter at the National Convening on Trafficking and Child Welfare. Aledort co-facilitated a discussion about the delivery of services to survivors and at-risk youth.

“It was a tremendous honor to be present among some of the leading policy makers, researchers and practitioners in the field,” Aledort said. “The Convening underscored the importance of this issue, and the critical role that the nation’s child welfare systems play in interrupting the cycles of abuse and exploitation.”

Aledort and her colleagues are collaborating on action plans to implement the federal Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act, which takes effect in September.

In addition, the federal Administration for Children and Families is launching a new office, the Office on Trafficking in Persons, to establish a national delivery system for victim services.

(At right: Nina Aledort. She is seated in the second row from the stage, wearing gray, in the above photo courtesy of the White House.)

At the statewide level, New York is on the leading edge in its approach.

Earlier this year, OCFS awarded $3 million to provide support services to commercially sexually exploited and trafficked youth across the state. A portion of the funding is targeted to programs serving runaway and homeless youth, who face a greater risk of falling victim to exploitation and trafficking.

“One of the presenters at the Convening left us with the charge that even one trafficked youth is one too many,” Aledort said. “We all have a lot of work to do together to address this widespread issue.”
 

Brookwood College Program Celebrates Success

They’ve done it again!

Two Brookwood Secure Center youths were named to the Dean’s List at Columbia-Greene Community College (CGCC) for the spring semester of 2015, marking the second time they’ve earned the distinction.

They are the 22nd and 23rd Brookwood youths named to the Dean’s List since the Brookwood College Program launched five years ago. During that time, two youths have also been named to the President’s List.

In addition to earning college credits through CGCC, the young men also completed the inaugural course in the “Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program,” a new partnership between Brookwood and SUNY New Paltz.

The youths are currently enrolled in Brookwood’s Summer I session, taking courses in history, political science, and sociology.

(Clockwise from top left: Two youths display their Dean's List letters; Carl Nabozny, a Brookwood College Program instructor since 2012, teaches Sociology 101 during the Summer I session; Danish students Maria Arnkilde and Camilia Bredhal meet with youth; Mette Christiansen (wearing lime green shirt) brings her therapy dog, Charlie, to a class.)

International Interest

Two students from University College Copenhagen in Denmark visited Brookwood on June 5 to meet with Summer I students and learn about the impact of the college program.

Maria Arnkilde and Camilla Bredahl, who are staying in Upstate New York for an internship at the Children’s Home of Poughkeepsie, were pleasantly surprised by the young men they met at Brookwood.

“Our expectations were really that we were going in and meeting some tough guys who didn't care about us and our presence, but we were proven wrong,” they wrote in a letter. “The youth were good at asking questions, and we shared a lot about our differences and our different cultures.”

Arnkilde and Bredahl praised the staff for being open and pleasant – “We got an impression that they really liked their jobs” – and they were generally impressed by the enthusiasm of the teachers and youth. They wrapped-up their visit with a lunch prepared by culinary instructor Frank Kearns and his students.

“It was a pleasure to be present at the Brookwood Secure Center,” they wrote. “We really think they do a great and very important job.”

Passionate Volunteers

Licensed Master Social Worker Mette Christiansen accompanied the young women on their visit. Arnkilde and Bredhal are studying to become human services professionals; Christiansen, the Director of the Concentration in Human Services at SUNY New Paltz, is their U.S. mentor.

Christiansen is also one of the Brookwood College Program’s dedicated volunteers. She brings her therapy dog, a one-year-old black Labrador named Charlie, to meet with youth twice each month.

“He promotes a sense of relaxation and pleasure,” said Jim LeCain, director of the Brookwood College Program. “In fact, smiles and pats follow Charlie from the minute he enters the gates of Brookwood.”

In addition to Christiansen and Charlie, other volunteers include Alexis Deeg, Lona Gabree, Sarah Jones, Margaret Ann Roth, and Zariana Vitti.

“These people give of their time and expertise -- which is extensive -- with no recompense except for our gratitude, and the spiritual meaning and rewards they receive helping our staff and residents,” said Patrick Haggerty, Brookwood’s Assistant Director. “It is amazing.”

Maximizing Financial Aid

 

New York State’s youth in care, and youth who were formerly in care, are now eligible to receive a NYS Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) award of up to $5,165 each year.

To be eligible, financially independent students must certify as a "ward of the court" on their TAP application, and supply the supporting documentation that will be separately requested by e-mail.

Income-eligible students attending SUNY or CUNY may have up to the full cost of tuition covered when TAP is combined with other programs.

For more information about tuition assistance from New York State, please e-mail scholarships@hesc.ny.gov.
 

Bureau of Adult Services Spotlights Elder Abuse

The numbers are staggering.

For every case of elder abuse that is reported in New York State, an estimated 24 cases go unreported. That means hundreds, if not thousands, of our older family members, friends, and neighbors are not getting the help they need. 

In June, the OCFS Bureau of Adult Services embarked on a campaign to educate the public about the warning signs of elder abuse, exploitation, and harm in the hope of reducing the number of unreported cases.

The Bureau’s effort was highlighted by a forum at Crossgates Mall in Guilderland on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, June 15. Alan Lawitz, Director of the Bureau of Adult Services, and Corinda Crossdale, Executive Director of the NYS Office for the Aging, delivered speeches.

“Seniors have the right to be safe,” Lawitz told the audience. “This is about living free from fear of abuse or neglect, with the help of your partners in the community.”

CBS 6 WRGB-TV and Time Warner Cable News covered the event in their midday and evening newscasts.

(At right: Lights, Camera, Lawitz! Alan Lawitz appears on CBS 6 News at Noon anchored by Liz Bishop.)

Elder abuse includes physical, psychological and sexual abuse; neglect by a caregiver; and financial exploitation. Victims may be fearful of their abusers, believing they have no option other than to continue in the abusive situation.

To report suspected abuse to Adult Protective Services in Upstate New York, call (844) 697-3505. In New York City, call (212) 630-1853. 

Until Next Time...

Thank you for reading the July 2015 edition of the OCFS Newsletter. If you have a story suggestion for future editions, email steve.flamisch@ocfs.ny.gov.