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Kathy Hochul, Governor
Suzanne Miles-Gustave, Esq., Acting Commissioner
July 2016 — Vol. 2, No. 3

Commissioner's Message

  Since July is when we celebrate America's independence, it's a good time to think of how we at OCFS help others achieve their individual independence. Our goal is to provide for children and families some of the same things our founders envisioned for future generations: the ability to pursue a safe, happy, and rewarding life.

  Think of youth in foster care who are offered the chance to learn from temporary parents who open their homes and their hearts to help a child grow. The need for foster homes is urgent, and OCFS is working every day to find permanency and improve safety and support for youth across the state. The Division of Juvenile Justice and Opportunities for Youth, too, plays a vital role in preparing youth for the day when they leave our care.

  Similarly, the New York State Commission for the Blind is providing the training and experience necessary to help New Yorkers gain meaningful employment and live independently. In a recent survey, nearly 90 percent of the commission's customers said they were happy with the results. Other aspects of our work also help New Yorkers take care of themselves in the long run, from adolescent services that include training and education to language assistance resources that allow all New Yorkers to conduct their state business directly with OCFS staff.

  As we keep up our important work into the heart of summer, we might think about the way historians characterize what the nation's founders were doing during the summer of 1776: setting the stage for independence. You might even say our mission of promoting safety, permanency, and well-being is revolutionizing the lives of children and families who will ultimately make it on their own.


OCFS to Begin Enforcing Tougher Daycare Regulations



  Because parents have a right to know their children are being well cared for while they are working, OCFS issued emergency regulations designed to keep children in child care safer.These regulations, which took effect on July 6, 2016, enable parents to make well informed decisions regarding their children’s care and better allow OCFSto take action to protect children from providers who act egregiously in licensed, registered and illegally operating child care programs.

  Specifically, the new regulations more clearly define the standard to close all or part of a licensed or registered child care program for serious health or safety violations.  The regulations will also require child care programs to post a notice in a prominent place informing parents if all or any part of a program is closed by OCFS. The regulations further increase the maximum daily fine that can be levied against a licensed or registered provider to up to $500 per day for serious or repeat health or safety violations. 

  Finally, the regulations take steps to protect children from providers who are illegally operating a child care program by authorizing OCFS to notify law enforcement of the existence of such programs and by requiring such programs to prominently post a notice and notify parents when OCFS directs the program to close. 

  OCFS regulates about 9,000 family day care, group family day care, and school-age child care programs in the five boroughs. There are about 2,000 day care centers regulated by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (NYCDOHMH).


NYSOCFS Releases Groundbreaking Study of the Cost of Financial Exploitation in New York

  Research done by the Bureau of Adult Protective Services finds the statewide impact of financial exploitation is at least $1.5 billion.

  That is one finding of The New York State Cost of Financial Exploitation Study, written by Alan Lawitz and Yufan Huang, with significant contributions from Rebecca Coleman and Lisl Maloney gathering data and supporting research staff. The study, designed as a measure of the impact of financial crimes against the elderly, was conducted with an eye toward prevention. The financial exploitation of older and vulnerable adults is a nationwide problem affecting New York State in a major way.

    The study was released on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, June 15, during an outreach event at Crossgates Mall. OCFS and partners from the Division of Financial Services and State Office for the Aging shared information and tragic stories from the field about older adults who have been financially exploited. One woman offered a glimpse at how she came to the aid of a 70-year-old woman whose family took advantage of her. "Pack your things, I will come and get you," Linda Comstock told her friend. 

   "I had no idea what I was going to do with her at the time, but I said, 'I've got to get you to a safe place." Just a day before WEAAD, Comstock was in a bank with her friend, helping to manage her affairs.
Among the other speakers that day were Amanda Kyle-Sprague, who spoke about the work done by the Albany County District Attorney's Office in stopping exploitation; OCFS APS Bureau Director Alan Lawitz; Jennifer Rosenbaum, Assistant Director of the New York State Office for the Aging; and Acting OCFS Commissioner Sheila Poole.


  L-R: Amanda Kyle-Sprague of the Albany County District Attorney's Office, Director of the Bureau of Adult Services Alan Lawitz, Presenter Linda Comstock, ActingOCFS Commissioner Sheila Poole, NYSOFA Assistant Director Jennifer Rosenbaum.

  Among the other speakers that day were Amanda Kyle-Sprague, who spoke about the work done by the Albany County District Attorney's Office in stopping exploitation; Alan Lawitz, one of the authors of the study; Jennifer Rosenbaum, Assistant Director of the New York State Office for the Aging; and Acting OCFS Commissioner Sheila Poole. OCFS's Bureau of Adult Services is working with partners in the financial industry, assisting them in knowing what to look for and how to report it.
  Commissioner Poole said, "New York is leading the nation with this research. “We are raising awareness through our research on the scope and severity of this despicable crime and through our pilot projects, we will gain knowledge to inform our statewide efforts to prevent financial exploitation of vulnerable and elderly New Yorkers."

  Professionals in the field who have seen the report praised its scope and expected impact. Jilene Gunther, author of the The 2011 Utah Economic Cost of Elder Financial Exploitation report, said the New York study is "incredible and will move mountains in this field."

  Igal Jellinek, executive director of LiveOn NY, says the report should focus attention on an enormous problem that "compels both government and community partners to develop a roadmap of solutions and a safety net of services and laws to ensure that seniors do not have go through this alone."

  An estimated 42 out of every 1,000 New Yorkers over the age of 60 fall victim to financial exploitation. According to the study, financial exploitation totals an estimated $1.5 billion each year in stolen cash and property, benefits paid to victims, and investigative costs statewide. About 60 percent of the time, the perpetrator is an adult child or relative of the victim.

  OCFS has been awarded a $300,000 federal grant to improve financial exploitation investigations and data collection in New York State. New York State is working with a forensic accountant to develop a document collection tool for use in financial exploitation investigations. A forensic accountant is also part of pilot programs in Onondaga and Queens Counties to help local APS investigators analyze potential criminal and civil court cases. And, grant funds are being used to enhance reporting and recording systems to better gather data on the costs of financial exploitation and the characteristics of victims and perpetrators. The enhanced system will also conform state data collection to the federal APS data system.



Website Launch Aims to Increase Recruitment of Foster Homes

  Quality foster and adoptive homes are key to achieving good outcomes for children in foster care. Finding and keeping these homes is an ongoing challenge for both agencies and communities. To help meet that challenge, OCFS is supporting a new website, Recruit4fostercare.org, where the focus is on revitalizing recruitment.

  Designed as a resource for local districts and agencies involved in recruiting foster homes, the website contains a wealth of information on existing approaches to recruitment and ways to meet common retention challenges. The hope is that child welfare professionals will use the site and forward the link to foster care supervisors, homefinders, directors, and partner agencies. The information is also available as a publication, Revitalizing Recruitment: Practical Strategies for Finding and Keeping Foster, Adoptive, and Kinship Homes. A hard copy can be downloaded from the site.

  The website was developed for OCFS by Welfare Research, Inc. as part of a diligent recruitment project funded by the Children’s Bureau, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

More Than 100 Attend Brookwood Secure Center's Commencement Ceremony

  Family members and staff from Brookwood were among the dozens who watched 14 Brookwood students receive Alternative High School Equivalency Program (AHSEP) diplomas on May 20. All but one of the graduates is enrolled in the Brookwood College Program, a program founded by James LeCain in 2010 and believed to be the only college program of its kind in the United States.
AHSEP is generally for students under 21 who are significantly behind in earning high school credits toward a regular local or Regents Diploma.

 During the ceremony, the first E. Patrick Sullivan Award for Citizenship was given to a student in recognition of his efforts as a constitutional scholar and his ability to live up to those ideals: someone who gives back to the facility by working at various jobs and being a leader to his peers, and whose exemplary behavior has helped him achieve the highest stage available at Brookwood. Former Brookwood Secure Center Director E. Patrick Sullivan devoted his life to Brookwood. His widow, Ms. Rachel Levinson, told the audience about her late husband’s passion and commitment to Brookwood residents, saying he valued them as people and as students, and continually promoted education as their pathway to success.

  The keynote speaker was Richard Smith, pictured above, someone who calls himself a healer and a motivator. He emphasized empathy for the students’ struggles and the value of therapy, life-long learning, and perseverance. A reception in the courtyard capped a happy celebration of youth who are headed for a brighter future. “This was the best thing that ever happened to me,” one graduate said. “If I was graduating at home I would be having the same feeling.”
Community Partnerships Downstate Area Manager Robert Ellis praised the event and its organizers, noting the trend regarding providing normative experiences to youth. “You were ahead of the game with this ceremony.”



Goshen Jewelry Enhancement Program Provides Structure, Pride, to Youth

  In the summer of 2012, when Youth Counselor Phyllis Brunson-Sutton asked Goshen Secure Center Director Bobby Ray Smith for permission to teach youth how to make rings, she never imagined the ring project would expand into bracelets, including one that would be worn by New York's Lieutenant Governor.

  Brunson-Sutton's idea was to help structure some of the youths’ leisure activities during summer. "What I did not know was the impact that jewelry-making would have on all of the facility's youth." she says, "those who participated and those who admired."

  Among the admirers is Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul. During a visit to the home office in March, she received a bracelet made by the youths.

  The program's goals were to teach planning and development skills, how to draw plans and manufacture the jewelry by hand and according to their plans. Youth also learned the names and uses of the tools required for the job and how to price the finished items for sale. It led to a rewarding sense of accomplishment and the production of tangible, beautiful items to cherish and share. Some might even choose a career in some area of the jewelry making business.

  The program also has a therapeutic aspect. "I have observed the calming effect that jewelry making has, both personally and empirically," says Brunson-Sutton. "Individuals articulate their 'need to bead' as a form of therapy; to remove themselves from undesirable stimuli and stressors and to achieve self-gratification by working on their projects."

Goshen Secure Center  has a display case where the youths’ work can be appreciated by facility staff and visitors. The problem is there are few bead-woven items that were made for show, since their creation is intricate and time consuming, and because of the beauty of items, the people who make them can be hesitant to put them on display after becoming attached. They don't want anyone to buy them!

 "Teaching jewelry making is just as satisfying to me as creating jewelry," says Brunson-Sutton. "I hope to create youth teachers out of the participating students so they can pass on the skills to others when I retire."