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Kathy Hochul, Governor
Suzanne Miles-Gustave, Esq., Acting Commissioner
October 2016 — Vol. 11, No. 6

OCFS Shares Services and Smiles at 2016 Great New York State Fair

   The 2016 Great New York State Fair presented OCFS with a fantastic opportunity to get the word (and sunglasses, modeled by Pat Belleman, right) out to the public about the many services it offers. OCFS staff who met fellow New Yorkers share some of their stories and impressions.

   Paul Piersma spoke with a young woman at the OCFS booth who worked at a congregate care facility in the Rochester area and was going to complete an internship at Industry. "It was nice to see someone new to the field of direct care with the hope of assisting youth and committing to make a difference in a young person’s life." Paul says. "I thought it was a really well-organized and enjoyable experience. Sign me up for next year, too!"

   Abby Rosenberg said, "We had several inquiries about foster care and adoption. We also were able to talk to several families about safe sleep for babies, so hopefully that information and the brochures will provide a safer environment for children."

   On Tuesday, August 30, Tom Mitchell had an experience he calls "priceless." He noticed a family near the booth. The father had a young boy of 3 or 4 years on his shoulders who appeared to be having a bad day. "I quickly grabbed a few pinwheels and the stylish OCFS “designer” sunglasses and bolted from behind the table to approach the family," Tom says. "I handed each kid a pinwheel and a pair of sunglasses. This one boy put the glasses on and looked at me with a cute little smirk, as if he suddenly felt he were rock star." Tom says after he gave the boy a “thumbs-up” the boy responded by giving him a "rock star" head tilt while pointing at Tom, even as his father carried him away.                                                                            
   "It was a pleasure working at the fair." says Joni Roberts-Palmer. "Those pinwheels and sunglasses were quite the hit - not only with the children but also the adults! We spoke to many folks who were interested in foster and or adoption. Some foster parents stopped by the booth as well. I look forward to volunteering next year!"

   "Always a favorite for me each day I work at the fair," says Bonnie Waite, "is how that little pinwheel or purple pair of glasses puts a genuine smile on almost every little person’s face and a lot of the big people’s faces too." Waite says a boy who was around 10 years-old approached the booth with a serious expression. "He asked, 'What is this booth all about?' He was very interested in learning about OCFS and what it means for people."

   Kelli Owens reports, "A young woman shared with me that she was in a number of our facilities over the years. She just wanted us to know that she made it through to the other side. She had a job, she had her GED and was starting classes at a community college the following week. Her story was moving and it made me very proud to work with all of you who work with families and children directly every day."

Lawitz Accepts President's Award From NAPSA

   Alan Lawitz (pictured here with Joe Snyder, director of the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging) accepted a prestigious award from the National Adult Protective Services Association during that group’s conference in Philadelphia last month.
   From the conference program: “Alan Lawitz is the director of the Bureau of Adult Services for the state of New York as well as serving as a regional representative for NAPSA. Alan was the driving force behind a ground-breaking research study called the (New York State Cost of Financial Exploitation Study). This continues Alan’s dedication to breaking down barriers with financial institutions which have traditionally not been cooperative with APS investigations. Alan is active with many related councils, coalitions and boards dedicated to fighting the abuse of vulnerable adults. 


Regional Permanency Resource Center Programs Approved

  The Division of Child Welfare and Community Services is pleased to announce that $4 million in adoption de-linking savings is being invested in new Regional Permanency Resource Centers (PRCs) across the state. The Bureau of Permanency Services developed the RFP and will oversee the Regional Permanency Resource Centers and is awarding $2.5 million of the funding in the first round. This funding stems from the federal Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-351).
  The goal is to improve the safety, permanency and well-being of children in adoptive and kinship caregiver families. The 2016-2017 New York State budget includes funds to provide post-adoption and post-guardianship supportive services that will keep children and families together. The PRCs provide services and programs designed to meet the unique needs of adoptive and guardianship families.

OCFS will fund the following programs:

Counties Served
Award Amount
Family Center, Inc.
All 5 Boroughs of NYC
New Alternatives for Children
All 5 Boroughs of NYC
NY Council on Adoptable Children
All 5 Boroughs of NYC
Albany, Fulton, Montgomery, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Warren, Washington
Hillside Children’s Center
Allegany, Steuben, Chemung, Tioga, Broome
Adoptive and Foster Family Coalition of NY
Tompkins, Chemung, Broome, Schuyler
Adoptive and Foster Family Coalition of NY
Greene, Columbia, Sullivan, Ulster, Dutchess, Delaware, Orange
Abbott House
Westchester, Ulster, Sullivan

   A targeted RFP will be issued soon for five additional post-adoption/post-guardianship programs which to serve Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Erie, Niagara, Orleans, Genesee, Wyoming, Livingston, Monroe, Wayne, Ontario, Yates, Seneca, Cayuga, Cortland, Onondaga, Oswego, Jefferson, St. Lawrence, Franklin, Clinton, Essex, Hamilton, Herkimer, Lewis, Oneida, Madison, Chenango, Otsego, Schoharie, Putnam Rockland, Nassau, and/or Suffolk counties. 

OCFS Releases New Guides for Child-Serving Professionals Responding to Human Trafficking

   Two new publications will improve the response to human trafficking of children across the service delivery system in new York State. The publications the share collective experience and best practices of county, state and voluntary agencies in building a seamless network for trafficking survivors.

   Trafficked Youth: A Blueprint for Systems of Care in New York State also includes guidance for legal and victim advocates, law enforcement, the court system and other organizations that work with trafficked, exploited and at-risk youth. It's like a playbook to help communities develop systems to recognize, respond to and prevent trafficking of youth.

   Responding to Commercially Sexually Exploited and Trafficked Youth: A Handbook for Child Serving Professionals contains practical guidance for professionals who work directly with survivors. It advises on how to talk to survivors, what terms and language to use and how to provide the best support.

   Acting OCFS Commissioner Sheila Poole points out these publications will set a new standard in addressing human trafficking and will fill an informational void in the treatment of children who have survived trafficking and sexual exploitation. “These documents continue the work we have done through the Safe Harbour Project to combat the trafficking and exploitation of children in New York State,” the commissioner said.

   OCFS Deputy Commissioner Laura Velez said, "Many of the populations OCFS serves are particularly at risk of trafficking, including children with histories of physical, sexual or emotional abuse; young people with substance abuse or mental health issues; youth in the foster care or juvenile justice systems; runaways and homeless youth; and lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender youth.”

Commissioner Poole Applauds Kinship Care

 When Acting OCFS Commissioner Sheila Poole looked out over the audience at the Kinship Navigator’s annual celebration in Albany on September 8, she saw the rewards of hard work and the promise of more to come. “Standing here in front of you is such an affirmation and motivation for us in state government to really pay attention and keep advocating for more support and services,” the commissioner said.” She praised the commitment of Director Gerard Wallace and the rest of his team. “They’re not a huge agency but boy, are they powerful and vocal. They speak on your behalf in a way that I think really reflects their passion for what we need to be doing.”  

   Among the awardees was a woman who has cared for her grandsons since they were born. State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo were honored as Kinship Care champions and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Orange County was recognized as an outstanding organization.

   September is Kinship Care Month, another reminder of New York's steadfast commitment to promoting the safety and well-being of children, part of which involves providing a stable household for them until they can succeed on their own. It's a time to recognize and ramp up the work done to help foster children find homes with grandparents and other relatives or family friends who step forward as caregivers to provide a sense of connection and security, and often tighten the ties to cultural heritage and community. 

   Recent figures show in 2015, the number of youth placed with relatives was 1,751 - an increase of 20 percent from the previous year and about on par with the results going back to 2012. More than 95 percent of kinship care is private care - not foster care. 2016 is the tenth year of the New York State Kinship Navigator, which provides an information and referral network for the state's kinship caregivers who might need guidance and for professionals looking for technical information.

Statewide Family Partnership Committee Presents Awards, Considers Site Visits

  The Statewide Family Partnership Committee held its 2nd Anniversary and Awards Luncheon on September 23. The committee is sponsored by the OCFS Division of Juvenile Justice and Opportunities for Youth. Its members work to promote and support the active involvement of families in OCFS facilities and community programs, and to provide more resources and opportunities to prepare youth for when they return to their homes. The committee believes in children and loved ones, and strives to help them achieve their highest potential in a variety of ways across the state. During the past two years, in collaboration with OCFS, the committee has met at various NYC Community Multi-Service Offices on a monthly basis to discuss concerns, achievements, to set goals and advocate for enhancing the delivery of services within DJJOY.

  In 2014, the SFPC held the first Juvenile Offender Families Meet and Greet Family Night event, where families heard from staff from the NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS). They heard what to expect when their loved ones come home on community supervision. In 2015, the committee held its first SFPC and OCFS Resource Fair for families with youth placed in secure and limited-secure centers. There were more than 40 community providers in attendance presenting and highlighting services available to youth and families.

   The SFPC members have provided outreach and encouragement for struggling family members, collaborated with Family Advocates on behalf of youth and families to ensure youth maintain family visits at least once per month, attended various trainings and conferences related to youth in juvenile justice systems, including a meeting in Albany to meet legislators in support of the governor’s Raise the Age legislation. 
   The committee is looking into visiting and touring OCFS secure and limited-secure residential centers and the home office. It is considering recommending the finalizing and distribution of a descriptive juvenile offender specialist brochure and family handbook for all facilities and Aftercare programs; and streamlining the family visitation procedure for all facilities.

   SFPC by-laws are in the works and the group completed an explanatory PowerPoint slideshow presented at the annual OCFS Facility Director conference on September 7. It was the first time current and former OCFS parents had an opportunity to discuss, as partners, their concerns and accomplishments with facility directors. OCFS recently assigned staff in Mid-Hudson/Albany and Long Island Community Multi-Services Offices with the goal of extending the partnership with families to all regional CMSOs.

Pictured L-R:  Family Advocate Akmeer Kahiem, Brooklyn CMSO Supervisor Ayana Foluke McKanney, OCFS Commissioner Sheila Poole, Associate Commissioner Derek Holtzclaw, Deputy Commissioner Ines Nieves

Basketball Wizard Makes Inspiring Visit to Youth Leadership Academy

  The appearance of a man who once suited up with the Harlem Globetrotters brought two days of excitement to some of the youth at YLA in August. "Mugsy" Leggett used to entertain crowds but these days he's coaching and taking time to stop by for a visit with youth and provide some inspiration.
   One day in late August, Leggett arrived to show the youth what determination and perseverance can produce, demonstrating his skills with a basketball and showcasing his high energy. It worked. "They wanted me to stay for the rest of the week!" Leggett said. 

   Leggett is from Middletown, a basketball veteran who says he joined the Globetrotters on the court for a couple of games and was also a member of the Harlem Rockets and then the Harlem Wizards until 2012.

   "This was a great experience for all involved as we learned about basketball, life and the skills necessary to achieve greatness in both," said YLA Director Bernard Smith. "Our youth enjoyed the rigorous training, hard work and the outcome of their efforts."  

   His message to the youth was essentially the same as the one he posts on his "Hoops Magicians" home page bio: "Follow your dreams. It might be hard sometimes, but you can't quit. Nobody likes a quitter."  

   Before he finished his two-day visit, Leggett presented an award that's sure to inspire the youth who were there to see it presented. Unbeknownst to them, Leggett had been keeping a close eye on those in the program and made mental notes about who showed the most leadership. The one he recognized as being the leader was surprised with the gift of a pair of Nike sneakers. 

   Leggett came to YLA after having met Director Bernard Smith when Smith was the director at Red Hook Residential Center. Smith had been giving a speech about perseverance and hard work. "This guy in the back was going, 'Yeah! Yeah!' you know, cheering me, and I thought, 'Is this guy crazy?" Smith sought the man out after the speech and found it was his old childhood friend whom he hadn't seen in about 25 years.

   As they caught up on each other's life, Leggett said he was at Red Hook because his son was planning to work as a YDA. Smith asked Leggett to come work with the kids at Red Hook, but Smith later transferred to YLA and the two lost touch. Then one day during a family function in New Jersey, Smith was talking basketball and mentioned Leggett. "I know Mugsy," one man said. He knew him well enough to make contact and this time Smith made sure his old pal came to see the youth at YLA. 

Long Island CMSO Team Goes to Extremes to Show Youth Consequences, Benefits of Life Choices

   In an effort to promote awareness of the consequences of poor life choices, members of the Long Island Community Multi-Services Office team, including Jennifer Whaley-Gundersen and Thora McKay, proposed a new project called “Avoiding the Gates.” Juveniles supervised by the CMSO would visit state prisons and learn about the adult criminal justice system. Through the efforts of Mario Franco and Bernard Johnson, a connection was made with Sing Sing Correctional Facility’s Youth Assistance Program, known as YAP. The program shows juveniles the inside of the prison and introduces them to inmates who share their stories of how they came to be incarcerated and the consequences of life in prison.

A Look Inside Prison
   On August 4, 2016, four Community Service Team staff members and nine youths participated in the YAP program at Sing Sing. Staff and youth were able to hear firsthand accounts of what prison life is like as they toured the auditorium, tier, prison mess hall, walked through the empty shower stalls and met some inmates serving sentences ranging from 10 years to life. Staff and youth also ate lunch there and later were part of a group discussion with some of the inmates. The experience afforded by YAP was both daunting and eye-opening and cultivated much discussion among staff and youth.

Other End of the Spectrum
   As an extension of this project, the team decided to visit institutions that can inspire in a different way. Suset Farro helped to arrange for youth to visit Yale University. They met a man who spent approximately 11 years in New York State’s correctional system and is now a graduate of divinity school and a minister. Given that youths would be visiting the prison and the university, the name ‘YAP to Yale’ seemed appropriate.


 Ivy League Role Models

    On June 27, 2016, six Community Service Team members and 14  youths made their first trip to Yale University. The youth heard  riveting stories from Yale students and administrators including  Assistant Director of Admissions Rev. Herron Keyon Gaston.

   Each story prompted questions and appreciation from the CMSO  youth. While in New Haven, staff and youth visited the Berkeley  Divinity School, the Divinity Library, Marquand Chapel and Yale Law  School. They also drove around the campus, saw where Bill and  Hillary Clinton met, and ate pizza. After a busy day, Yale's community  outreach officer presented the team with memorabilia, including T-  shirts, pins and pencils, and explained the process of applying to  and completing a degree at Yale. Touring Yale gave our youth a  different perspective on the choices they have after placement.

Bluebirds Nesting Comfortably Thanks to FLRC and MacCormick Youth

   This summer several OCFS staff and students at the Finger Lakes Residential Center and MacCormick Secure Center constructed and donated more than 2,400 Blue Bird Nesting House Kits to the New york State Fair. The project at FLRC was led by Vocational Instructors Stacy Hilliard and Mike Chaffee.

    At MacCormick, it was Steve Bruster leading the charge. The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (NY State Parks) donated the lumber and our youth and staff provided the labor. These bluebird nesting houses help safeguard and enhance the bluebird population in New York. The youth involved were not only learning valuable skills, they were earning Summer Youth Employment and OJT wages.

   On Monday August 29, a youth from Finger Lakes and three staff members attended the fair to help families construct the nesting houses from the kits we provided.  A donation of five-dollars was requested for each kit assembled. Store-bought birdhouses of this kind sell for between 10 and 30 dollars. The NY State Parks representatives at the fair expected all of the kits to be sold, and the proceeds go to NY State Parks. That’s approximately $12,000 raised for New York State's parks.