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Kathy Hochul, Governor
Suzanne Miles-Gustave, Esq., Acting Commissioner
March 2017 — Vol. 12, No. 3

Commissioner's Message

As this year’s budget process nears the April 1 deadline, we’re reminded of the crucial importance of the work done by the dedicated staff here at OCFS. Among the budget-related items under consideration is the proposal to raise the age of criminal responsibility. Amazingly, our state – progressive in many ways - has yet to stop assigning criminal responsibility to children who are only 16 and 17 years old.

We know from scientific research that adolescent brains are not fully mature; they’re impulsive and sometimes teenagers don’t realize what can happen when they make poor choices. That’s one reason youthful indiscretion should not lead to someone carrying the albatross of an adult criminal conviction for their rest of her life – especially if we hope to have a society that has more productive citizens and fewer who are incarcerated.

We are far better off, in most cases, when we treat the underlying problems that bring young people into contact with the justice system in the first place and rehabilitate youth. Most youth convicted of crimes have some kind of mental health illness, substance abuse issues, special education needs or developmental disabilities. Nearly all of them have experienced trauma. Almost none of them know how to cope properly with conflict and stress. There’s a better way, and part of the solution is rooted in the kinds of services we at OCFS provide across New York State every day.

From helping youth find opportunity, to overseeing child care services and finding adoptive families, OCFS is focused daily on doing the right thing. Services aimed at leading all vulnerable New Yorkers to a self-sufficient future are our specialty, and providing those services for as many people who need them as possible is the way we fulfill our mission.

As we welcome spring, I hope you’ll jump into our work with renewed energy and excitement that comes with this change in seasons. We truly make a difference here, and I look forward to working with you to improve the lives of our fellow New Yorkers.


OCFS Ranked Among Top Policymakers

A team of policymakers at OCFS worked closely with the governor's office over the past year to achieve the distinction of having New York ranked among the top 16 states in evidence-based policymaking in the Pew-MacArthur Results First report. New York placed solidly in the "established" category. The 50-state study,  How States Engage in Evidence-Based Policymaking, was the first of its kind to assess how states use research to incorporate evidence into their decisions. It categorized each state by its level of engagement in six key actions across four policy areas: child welfare, juvenile justice, behavioral health and criminal justice.

There were several conference calls with Pew-MacArthur and the governor's office where OCFS sought to understand Pew's evolving methodology and used creative arguments to make its case in child welfare and juvenile justice.

Tom Brooks, deputy commissioner for strategic planning and policy development singled out Roberta Upadhyay for praise saying, “Roberta worked very hard for months to lead this complex project and did a fantastic job, with support from the SPPD policy bureau.” Brooks is also thankful to everyone in the agency who went to meetings and brainstormed strategies, several of which succeeded.

In an August 2016 email to the governor's office, Elizabeth Davies of Pew Charitable Trusts wrote, "The state - and child welfare in particular -  has done very well, and it is particularly impressive the extent to which it was able to raise its score after most data collection was complete." Based on the number of points OCFS earned for New York with its revised submission in child welfare and juvenile justice last summer after the final OCFS brainstorming meeting, the agency succeeded in moving New York from the lower “modest” category (states ranked 17-43) to the “established” category (states ranked 6-16).

Red Hook Residential Center Earns ACA Accreditation

Red Hook Residential Center has been awarded a certificate of accreditation from the American Correctional Association (ACA), after a rigorous, time-consuming process that took teamwork and dedication. ACA standards represent best practices in the field of juvenile corrections and treatment. Accreditation means positive outcomes with respect to safety, security, and overall facility operations. Accredited agencies and facilities are often more able to 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 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.


L-R: Jennifer Gaffney, director of the Policy Development & Compliance
Unit, Massachusetts Department of Corrections; Dr. Farooq Mallick,
associate commisssioner in the OCFS Division of Juvenile Justice
and Opportunities for Youth; Thomas Stickrath, superintendent of the
Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation; 
David L. Thomas, MD JD Ed. 


Human Trafficking Services Team Published in New Book

A new book described as the first of its kind on human trafficking contains a chapter coauthored by Madeline Hannan and Nina Aledort. Described as a "clear-sighted reference" book, Human Trafficking Is a Public Health Issue addresses the public health aspects of sex and labor trafficking in the United States and the scope of the problem.

Hannan and Aledort were approached by the editors, Dr. Chisolm-Straker from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York, and Dr. Stoklosa from Bringham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School in Boston. They were asked to contribute a chapter regarding issues related to youth in foster care and trafficking. Their chapter provides an overview of the challenges and opportunities for foster youth and is geared toward assisting medical and public health officials.

According to Springer International Publishing, the book's "ecological lifespan approach globally traces risk and protective factors associated with this exploitation, laying a roadmap towards its prevention. Diverse experts, including survivors, describe support and care interventions across domains and disciplines, from the law enforcement and judicial sectors to community health systems and NGOs, with a robust model for collaboration."

The publisher describes the book as a sobering read and a call to action for public health professionals, social workers and health care practitioners who provide direct services. It also reaches out to advocates, prosecutors, and law enforcement agents.

Margeau Gray, a trafficking survivor and advocate, has been quoted as saying the book is “an extraordinary collection of knowledge by survivors, academics, clinicians, and advocates who are experts on human trafficking...a comprehensive offering in educating readers on human trafficking through a multi-pronged public health lens.”

OCFS-Developed Training Helps Child Care Providers Comply With Federal Requirements

This month, the Division of Child Care Services is notifying providers of the federal Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) pre-service/orientation health and safety training requirements for certain child care employees and volunteers.

In a letter to providers, DCCS says, "To implement this new federal requirement, OCFS developed an e-learning session that, once completed by participants,                                                                                                                                        will satisfy all required health and safety topics."

The training program is called Foundations in Health and Safety e-Learning

Child care employees and volunteers affected by this federal law are:
• caregivers in family day care and group family day care programs (providers, assistants, substitutes)
• caregivers in small day care centers (providers, assistants, and substitutes)
• directors in day care centers and school-age child care programs
• teachers and assistant teachers in day care centers and school-age child care programs
• substitute teachers and substitute assistant teachers in centers and school-age child care programs
• volunteers in all programs, who have the potential for regular and substantial contact with children at the child care program

OCFS Staff Present at Annual NYPWA Winter Conference

Several commissioners from OCFS were part of the New York Public Welfare Association's winter conference in late January.The Division of Child Care Services presented two sessions, one that focused on the reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant and another called Child Care Program Integrity Technical Solution Implementation. Deputy Commissioner Janice Molnar and Robert Korycinski, director of administrative operations, presented the first workshop; Jim Hart, director of program operations, participated in the second.

These two workshops presented an opportunity for stakeholders to discuss 1) the recently released federal Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) regulations and the potential impact they will have on families, child care providers, and existing statutes and regulations in New York State, and 2) a review and demonstration of how local social services districts implement child care programs.

Improving Outcomes through the Science and Art of County Planning outlined plans for year-long support aimed at improving child safety and permanency and included input from presenters Lisa Ghartey Ogundimu, assistant commissioner in the Division of Child Welfare and Community Services, and Director Claire Strohmeyer from CQI/Data.

Children’s Health Homes and Foster Care Managed Care was a workshop focused on licensing issues and the transition of children in foster care placed with voluntary foster care agencies. Deputy Commissioner Laura Velez from the Division of
Child Welfare and Community Services was a presenter.

Other works shops featured Associate Commissioner Nina Aledort discussing how the reasonable and prudent parent standard enhances care and supports youth; Assistant Deputy Counsel John Stupp on new regulations for cases involving Indian children and the Indian Child Welfare Act ; and Associate Commissioner Renee Hallock presented on tips for recruiting and keeping adoptive parents.

The assistant director in the Bureau fof Budget Management, Deborah Davis, was part of a discussion of the Governor's latest budget proposal and its fiscal impacts. Systems analyst Tina McCarthy presented an overview of CONNECTIONS.

African American History Month

The Black History Month observance in the home office in February was a standing room event, focused on the need to provide equity for African Americans in the education system. This year's theme was "The Crisis in Black Education." The featured speakers were Vice Chancellor Carlos Medina, chief diversity officer at SUNY, and Dr. Annette Johnson, who teaches in SUNY's African Studies Department and is on the faculty of the School of Public Health.

Dr. Medina leads SUNY's campuses in recruiting and retaining faculty, staff and administrators from groups that are underrepresented in higher education. In his prepared remarks he said, "We all know that at-risk youth are the ones most in need of high-quality workforce development services because general education is not enough. More importantly, we know that staying out of trouble is not the same as being fully prepared and ready to enter and compete in today’s employment market – particularly for youth of color."

Dr. Medina worked at the New York State Division for Youth in the late 70s, including service at Oneida Secure and MacCormick Secure. He told the youth who were visiting from residential centers, "I know that life has not been easy for you, but the fact that you’re here means you’re doing something right. Stay focused, take pride in who you are and know that anything is possible no matter how difficult things get." He said it's important for black students to develop a positive self-image to overcome risk factors such as living in poverty and hopelessness.

Dr. Johnson told the same youth there are no limits. "No matter what's going on you can keep going forward," Johnson said, "and as I teach at SUNY, I tell students all the time who are about to give up, 'No. No, no, no. Think about the generations who suffered to get you here through the education system. Now it's your job to come out the other end and give shoulders for the next generation moving forward."

The event also featured performances by youth from Columbia Girls Secure Center, Highland Residential Center and the Youth Leadership Academy.