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Kathy Hochul, Governor
Suzanne Miles-Gustave, Esq., Acting Commissioner
September 2015 — Vol. 10, No. 9

Message from the Executive Office

Traditionally, we celebrate the New Year at midnight on New Year’s Eve. But I can’t help but think that the new school year holds a great deal more significance on our lives: kids go back to school to begin a new chapter in their lives, young adults begin college or settle into new jobs and parents get back into a routine after the carefree lifestyle of summer.

The new school year causes me to reflect on the many young people in our care and the opportunities available to them. This month’s OCFS newsletter highlights the accomplishments of students who have seized upon life-changing educational and vocational opportunities. It features success stories from youth in foster care who are graduating from our internship program and moving on to greater experiences that will set them on a course of independence and self-sufficiency. Their inspiring stories of overcoming adversity to achieve excellence fill me with pride in the work we do.

Other youth in our care have gotten their high school equivalency degrees, equivalent to earning a high school diploma. This achievement opens many doors to them that would have been closed without that credential. I am glad to know that there is opportunity in their future that may not have been there without the encouragement and support of OCFS facility staff.

I hope each one of you will mark the new school year by finding an opportunity to take on something new for your personal fulfillment or development: read a book that you’ve been wanting to read, register for a class, learn a new skill, take on a new project or sign up for an exercise class or new activity. The greatest investment is the one you make to enrich yourself. And, it is an investment that is not vulnerable to any external factor, but is yours to keep and treasure.


Sheila J. Poole

Acting Commissioner 


From In Care to In College: OCFS Interns Achieving Success

Entering foster care at age 10, Cheryl Osborne overcame numerous obstacles while growing up in a violence-prone section of Brooklyn. Through dedication and hard work, she achieved academic success.

Osborne recently earned a Bachelor of Science in Public Health from the University at Albany, an accomplishment that puts the 22-year-old in rare company. Studies show that only a small percentage of foster youth earn a bachelor’s degree.

“I strive to succeed and conquer all of the execrable experiences I have faced in life,” Osborne said. “I know I grew up less fortunate, but I won’t let those calamities define or defeat me. I hope to inspire youth in foster care to follow in my footsteps so we can start a new trend.”

Osborne was among the 17 participants in the 2015 OCFS Summer Intern Program, a partnership between the Division of Child Welfare and Community Services (CWCS) and University at Albany Professional Development Program (PDP).

The internship enables current and former foster youth to gain valuable on-the-job experience between semesters in college. And like Osborne, all of them have a story to tell.

(At right: Cheryl Osborne on her graduation day.)

Success Stories

Ban Ban, a Burmese native, grew up in a United Nations refugee camp in Thailand. She spoke barely a word of English when moved to the United States in 2010. By the time she graduated from Rensselaer High School four years later, she was fluent. 

Today, Ban, 18, is majoring in Accounting at Hudson Valley Community College (HVCC) and working toward a job with the state. In Thailand, that chance might never have come.”

"Only about half of the kids there go to school,” Ban said. “A lot of them were drafted into the military or human trafficking or sex trafficking. The great thing here is that, after you graduate high school, you can go to college. There’s much more opportunity.”

(At left: Ban Ban sits at her computer in the North Building. She hopes to work for a state agency after college.)

Ban’s HVCC classmate, Deloris Woodson, is helping to create opportunities for others. Woodson, 20, has volunteered for Stride Adaptive Sports for the last seven years, serving as a camp counselor and ski instructor for children with developmental and physical disabilities.

Woodson just completed her second internship at OCFS. The Long Island native is hoping to earn a degree in Psychology and return to the agency as a full-time employee.

“I like the social work aspect,” Woodson said. “I see now what it takes to be in this field, and I have a lot of empathy and compassion for the people who do it.”

“Amazing” Growth

Ban, Woodson, and two other interns were based at Home Office, while the rest were spread out among the Albany, Buffalo, New York City, and Rochester Regional Offices. They performed a wide range of tasks, from filing to note-taking. 

In addition to their office work, the interns participated in Foster Care Youth Regional Event Days and Speak Outs, NYS Youth in Progress Regional Meetings, and a Youth Meeting with Acting Commissioner Poole. They shared their life experiences for the betterment of others.

(At right: Deloris Woodson makes photocopies in the North Building. She would like to work for OCFS after college.)

“Working with a young person to develop their skills in a professional environment requires patience and understanding, especially since most of our youth have not had any office experience,” said Kristin Gleeson, who manages the intern program. “By the end of 2 ½ months, it is so amazing to see how far they have grown, both personally and professionally.”

And for Cheryl Osborne, who beat the odds to earn her Bachelor’s degree earlier this year, the journey of personal growth continues. After interning under Terri Beers in the Albany Regional Office, she entered graduate school at the University at Albany.

Now, the longtime foster care youth is working toward a Ph.D. in Criminal Justice, drawing inspiration from the people she met at OCFS.

“Everyone here cares,” Osborne said. “There’s not a person I’ve met who isn’t passionate about their job. They listen to people. They listen to the youth.”

(Above: OCFS interns attend a Foster Care Youth Speak Out at Herkimer County Community College on August 13. From left to right: Cheryl Osborne, Trishanee Blake, Ban Ban, Alexandria “Kat” Johnson, Deloris Woodson, and Student Assistant Raven Profit.)

YLA Celebrates First-Ever TASC Graduation Day

Wearing mortarboard caps and graduation gowns, two young men enter the gymnasium at Youth Leadership Academy to celebrate a milestone. Staff members rise to greet them with a standing ovation as the Graduation March amplifies the emotional scene.

The youths successfully completed their high school equivalency exam, the Test Assessing Secondary Completion (TASC), to reach this point. Now, they are moments away from tossing their caps in triumph.

“One of the ultimate accomplishments in our facilities is to graduate high school,” YLA Facility Director Todd Schraffenberger said. “This opens the doors to many possibilities for these young men when they return home.”

One youth completed the test at Riker’s Island – “not an easy thing to do” – before arriving at YLA, Schraffenberger said. The other youth began studying for the TASC at the urging of his administrators, counselor, and teachers. He took the test six months later and passed.

(Clockwise from top left: The graduates toss their caps; Facility Director Todd Schraffenberger, Recreation Specialist Ababach Smith, and Esteban Ramos of the Division of Juvenile Justice and Opportunities for Youth speak at the ceremony.)

“We all challenged him to do it,” Schraffenberger said. “This young man rose to the occasion.”

At the July 29 ceremony, both youths received Certificates of Recognition. When they finally tossed their caps into the air, YLA staff applauded with pride.

It was the end of a chapter in more ways than one. The youths have since left the care and custody of OCFS, embracing new challenges on the path to a brighter future.

“Both students are currently planning to attend college in the fall,” Teacher IV Betsy Tilley said. “The Education Department at the YLA is very proud of these two young men and hope they are the first in a long line of TASC graduates in the future.”

OCFS Kicks Off Labels for Education Collection Drive

Starting this month, saving the label on your favorite can of soup can help the youth in our juvenile justice facilities.

Staff members are invited to take part in this voluntary program by placing collection boxes in high-traffic areas and filling them with Labels for Education.

Participating products include BIC pens, Campbell’s soups, V8 drinks, and more. Click here to see a complete list.

Labels for Education should not be confused with Box Tops for Education, which is a separate program.

(At right: A collection bin in the South Building.)

For more information, please e-mail Yvette Dickson or Doug Holiday.

Farewell to the Fellows

One is going to the Administration for Children’s Services. Another is heading to a non-profit that helps youth transition out of foster care. Still another is staying right here in the Division of Legal Affairs.

The five members of the inaugural class of Excelsior Service Fellows at OCFS are branching off in different directions, concluding two years of state service that left a lasting impression on the agency and its leaders.

“We’ve had a remarkable experience with you,” Acting Commissioner Sheila J. Poole said at a reception last month. “The things you have done for us in our agency projects, we never would have had the capacity to take on without you.”

Fellow Myra Soto, who holds a Master of Public Administration, served in the Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Development. When New York State implemented the Lean initiative to streamline services, Soto and Associate Accountant Karen Williams became two of the agency’s first “Empire Belts.”

“We did a lot of traveling to the regional offices, doing ‘Lean 101’ sessions to get that buy-in we needed for the culture shift and the acceptance of Lean,” Soto said.

(From left to right: Acting Commissioner Sheila J. Poole reads Krystan Hitchcock's Certificate of Recognition as Myra Soto and Lisa Vasnani await theirs.)

Soto worked closely with the Division of Child Care Services to reduce the day care licensing process from an average of 173 days to 90 days. Their efforts earned a Public Service Excellence Award from the State Academy for Public Administration.

“It was a huge honor,” Soto said. “I was especially thankful that the team was recognized. The people here are devoted to making a difference, which makes you excited and enthusiastic to come to work every day.”

A Learning Experience

Two Fellows are legal eagles. Krystan Hitchcock and Lisa Vasnani had taken the Bar exam prior to beginning their service at OCFS. During their time here, both received word that they had passed.

Hitchcock worked in the Division of Juvenile Justice and Opportunities for Youth (DJJOY) and the Office of the Ombudsman. She achieved high visibility for scripting – and appearing in – a video that informs youth of their rights.

“Everybody really likes it,” Hitchcock said with a laugh, “but I hate seeing my face on there.”

Vasnani delved into the Division of Legal Affairs, working with counsel on issues ranging from child abuse and neglect to discrimination and employment law.

“It was a learning experience,” Vasnani said. “It was interesting to be able to work across different bureaus within the legal division. I’m grateful for the breadth of opportunities provided to me as a Fellow.”

(From left to right: Hitchcock, Vasnani, and Soto display their Certificates of Recognition during the ceremony in the executive conference room.)

Two Fellows, Joelle Held and Ismelda “Izzy” Rosario, were based in New York City. Held worked in the Division of Child Welfare and Community Services, while Rosario worked in DJJOY and served as a member of the Statewide Family Partnership Committee.

“Aside from the hard skills that I’ve learned while on the job, I’ve also learned to work dynamically with people from different professional backgrounds and in this, communicate and engage with staff and community service providers effectively,” Rosario said.

A New Chapter

Now that their fellowship has ended, new opportunities await all five women. Vasnani will stay in the Division of Legal Affairs, while the other Fellows will embrace challenges outside the agency.

Hitchcock will join the Administration for Children’s Services as an attorney on September 8. Soto will become a project manager at the Center for the Study of Social Policy, supporting educational and workforce opportunities for young adults transitioning out of foster care.

“It’s really been great, and we’re going to miss you terribly,” Acting Commissioner Poole said. 

OCFS Limited English Proficiency Update: New Translations Available

Looking for an OCFS form or publication in a foreign language?  The Public Information Office (PIO) has added several new translations to the OCFS website.


The following Child Welfare and Community Services publication is now available in Spanish:

Pub. 5176, Re-Homing: What Do Parents Need to Know About


The following Child Welfare and Community Services forms are now available in Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Haitian Creole, Korean, and Italian:

  • OCFS-3909, Request for Information Guardianship Form-For Court Use Only
  • OCFS-3937, Request for Information-Private Adoption
  • OCFS-4190, Inquiry Concerning Visitation/Statewide Central Register Database Form
  • LDSS-2221, Report of Suspected Child Abuse or Maltreatment
  • LDSS-3370, Instructions for Completing the Statewide Central Register Database Check Form
  • LDSS-3370a, Organizations Entitled to Conduct Database Checks Under Section 424-a of the Social Services Law
  • LDSS-3371A and LDSS-3371B, Notification of Social Services Law 424-a Procedures

The following New York State Commission for the Blind (NYSCB) forms are now available in Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Haitian Creole, Korean, and Italian:

  • OCFS-3440, Individual Services Plan
  • OCFS-3446, Release of Confidential Information
  • OCFS-4584, Application Form for Equipment Loan Fund for the Disabled

When feasible, NYSCB forms were completed in the preferred format to be read by software for the visually impaired.

We want you to be in the loop. Check our website often for an updated list of translations. For more information, please e-mail the OCFS Language Access Coordinator.

At Capital for a Day, Fighting Financial Exploitation

A contractor swindles an 85-year-old woman. A man writes checks in his 89-year-old father’s name. An accountant cheats his elderly clients out of their life savings.

These stories, pulled from the headlines of Mohawk Valley newspapers, only scratch the surface of financial exploitation in New York State. David Jordan, Executive Director of the Montgomery County Office for the Aging, knows many victims are reluctant to come forward.

“It’s often someone they’ve known and trusted for years, and they don’t want that person to go to jail,” Jordan said. “On top of that, there’s an underlying fear that, ‘If I report this, someone may swoop in and send me to a nursing home.’”

Jordan has long suspected financial exploitation to be far more common – and far more costly – than previously thought.

But he was shocked to learn just how costly.

(At left: Bankers, business owners, and county officials listen intently as the impact of financial exploitation in New York State is revealed.)

A groundbreaking study by the OCFS Bureau of Adult Services, unveiled by Acting Commissioner Sheila J. Poole at Mohawk Valley Capital for a Day on August 20, finds that financial exploitation of older and vulnerable adults has an estimated yearly impact of $1.5 billion in New York. 

“It’s astronomical,” Jordan said. “People may think it’s a misprint.”

Yufan Huang, Research Scientist II in the Division of Strategic Planning and Policy Development, and Alan Lawitz, Director of the Bureau of Adult Services, partnered with 31 Local Departments of Social Services and Lifespan of Greater Rochester on the study.

“This study provides important baseline cost data, as well as significant new demographic information about victim and perpetrator characteristics and outcomes, that will help inform future decisions to be made about how best to target resources for prevention and intervention,” Lawitz said.

Three state agencies are partnering with OCFS to combat the problem. Each dispatched representatives to the August 20 forum at the First United Methodist Church in Herkimer.

Anthony Albanese, Acting Superintendent of the NYS Department of Financial Services, discussed how his agency is working with the banking industry to educate tellers and loan officers about coerced transfers of funds and property. 

Phyllis Morris, Deputy Commissioner of the NYS Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, talked about how her agency is trying to protect seniors who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps.

And Corinda Crossdale, Director of the NYS Office for the Aging, described the pilot project in which her agency and OCFS are using forensic accountants as part of an enhanced multi-disciplinary team targeting financial exploitation.

All agreed there's more work to be done, but Montgomery County's David Jordan was encouraged by what he heard. “I think it was great,” he said. 

Remembering Paul Elisha

Paul Elisha, who handled communications for the New York State Department of Social Services (DSS) and the Division for Youth (DFY) in the days before OCFS, died last month at the age of 92.

“He was creative, a terrific writer, and a maverick at communications,” said OCFS Language Access Coordinator Mery Rosendorn, who worked with Elisha at DSS. “Paul was also a friend. He was personable and caring, an optimist, and a clear thinker with a sense of mission.”

A native of Asbury Park, New Jersey, Elisha served under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s son, James, in the U.S. Army during World War II, according to a story that appeared in the Times Union.

In addition to his state service, Elisha’s diverse and distinguished career included work as an advertising executive, professional conductor and musician, publisher, radio commentator and host, and a five-year stint as Executive Director of New York State Common Cause. He was even a published poet.

(At right: Paul Elisha in the studio at WAMC/Northeast Public Radio, where he hosted a long-running poetry show. Courtesy WAMC.)

Elisha is survived by his wife of 35 years, Jeanne, three children, and three grandchildren.

Until Next Time...

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