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Kathy Hochul, Governor
Suzanne Miles-Gustave, Esq., Acting Commissioner
May 2017 — Vol. 12, No. 5

Commissioner's Message

   OCFS constantly works to fulfill our mission, and as we strive to produce positive outcomes during this National Foster Care Month, I’d like to remind every member of our staff what a difference your dedication can make in the life of a vulnerable child, for a family under stress, and for vulnerable adults.
   The work we do in partnership with local departments of social services, the court system, and community non-profits and advocates helps to provide a home away from home, where the value of a foster family can be immeasurable. Supportive foster parents can mean a world of difference for the children who need them. This year’s theme for National Foster Care Month, “Empowering caregivers, strengthening families,” echoes the spirit of our own mission statement, and should remind us that when we are at the top of our game, children and families are the winners.
   In the last several weeks, we have seen major changes in policy that will benefit juvenile justice-involved children who are 16- and 17-years-old; Raise the Age was signed into law last month, promising a better future for youth in New York State who face serious and difficult challenges. We look forward to supporting them in finding a brighter future. We have also just announced an ad campaign for the Healthy Families New York home-visiting program that puts families on the right track, right from the start. The ads are already on our social media outlets.
   OCFS also salutes relatives caring for youth through Kinship Care placement with relative foster parents. We also recognize that youth require support after aging out of our foster care system. Through the Bridges to Health program for foster children with special needs, we connect youth with enhanced, medical supportive services while they are in care and after they are released. Part of preparing for independence includes services from the Education and Training Voucher program. Youth in Care Corner supports foster children who want to go to college (please join in that spirit by wearing to work your favorite college apparel on National College Signing Day, May 5th); and our Youth in Progress program features adults who mentor youth leaders during retreats and other events and activities.
   These programs and services - and many others provided by OCFS - give children options where none existed before, but the programs are only as good as the people who administer them; the service providers whose attention to detail make them a success; and the family members whose love and affection make it all gel. As we work together toward changing lives, please know I am truly grateful for all that you do improve the lives of our fellow New Yorkers.


OCFS Announces HFNY Ad Campaign During Prevention Event in Albany

 The Healthy Families New York home visiting program is getting a boost this summer from an ad campaign announced in April, during Child Abuse Prevention Month.
“Healthy Families connects expecting parents or those with newborn babies with supports and services in their own communities,” acting OCFS Commissioner Sheila Poole told a crowd in Albany’s Academy Park. Looking on were Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, Tim Hathaway, executive director of Prevent Child Abuse New York, Assemblyman John McDonald of Cohoes, and many children who planted a pinwheel garden.
   Some of the HFNY ads began appearing on social media in late April. HFNY is an evidence-based, free, voluntary program with proven results in strengthening families and giving children a strong early start in life.
The program serves families from pregnancy until it’s time for children to go to school. Videos that describe the program and feature some of the participants and family support workers are posted on the OCFS website. ocfs.ny.gov/programs/prevention/home-visiting.php

OCFS Staff Present at 21st Annual Child Abuse Prevention Conference

   Kathleen McGarry, the coordinator of the OCFS Children and Family Trust Fund, presented during a workshop at the 22nd Annual Child Abuse Prevention Conference in Colonie on May 10. The Trust Fund partnered with Prevent Child Abuse New York, welcoming hundreds of participants. McGarry helped lead a discussion about the Standards of Quality for Family Strengthening and Support, along with Anna Steinkraus, program coordinator of Family and Community Development with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Tompkins County. Participants learned how standards are designed and used by all stakeholders across various programs.
   “A minimum quality indicator is a when a program solicits input from families,” McGarry told the workshop attendees. “That could be a suggestion box that’s used at some programs, or evaluations that parents fill out. A high-quality indicator could be a program that’s designed to let the family have an active role in the development and implementation of the program; formal structure and family partnership. So the next year, they would reevaluate what they’re doing in that area; that might be an area where they want to take it to a different level, maybe having parents be on an advisory board instead of having an informal meeting each quarter.”
   These tools for planning, providing, and assessing quality practice create a common language and expectations in the field, in Family Resource Centers, home visiting programs, and child development programs.

State-Approved Child Advocacy Centers Apply for Funding to Provide Positive Outcomes

   Ten million dollars in federal funding made available in April will go toward enhancing services for children who are victims of crime, including abuse. Eligible Child Advocacy Centers (CAC) may apply for funding to help offset the cost of video recording equipment and specially-trained staff to interview young victims of sexual and physical abuse. The announcement of the funding coincided with Child Abuse Prevention Month. The grants are expected to be announced late next month. CACs may receive up to $75,000 annually over two years, and may also receive up to $50,000 for the installation of the video equipment.
   Acting OCFS Commissioner Sheila J. Poole said, “New York State’s Child Advocacy Centers serve more than 19,000 child victims each year. While the need for them is a painful reality, the success of the programs is poignant. CACs put victims at ease, bring them comfort and let them know it’s not their fault. This funding opportunity will further enhance the remarkable work they do for child survivors.”
   New York State has authorized 36 service providers to operate CACs across New York. CACs allow multidisciplinary teams of law enforcement, child protective services professionals, prosecutors, medical and mental health providers, and victim advocates to partner with CAC staff and respond to allegations of child abuse. The idea is to reduce the trauma children experience and assist their families, and to allow for thorough investigations that will hold offenders accountable.

NYSCB Welcomes Inspiring Mother to the 2017 Vision Rehabilitation and Employment Institute.

   Holly Bonner, a mother who lost her vision five years ago, was the keynote speaker at the 2017 Vision Rehabilitation and Employment Institute in Colonie. Bonner is the creator of Blindmotherhood.com, a blog.

   Ms. Bonner (seen here with Associate Commissioner Brian S. Daniels, New York State Commission for the Blind) is a Staten Island mother of two young daughters who lost her vision in 2012 and later developed her website where she demonstrates that those who are blind and visually impaired are able to be good parents who keep their children safe. The blog has more than 50,000 subscribers in 24 countries. Bonner is a peer advisor with the American Foundation for the Blind and the coordinator of that foundation’s Blind Parenting series.

   At this year's Vision Rehabilitation and Employment Institute, May 16-17, Bonner used her keynote address, “Never Losing Sight of Life, Love & Laughter,” to relate her personal story of vision loss and the surprise pregnancy that came soon after. Ms. Bonner discussed how she prepared for motherhood while coping with many of society’s negative stereotypes of blind parenting, and described the need for services directed solely toward visually impaired parents. Bonner's presentations also address organizational and policy-related changes to enhance accessibility and increase support for all blind parents.

   She said she was happy her address was so well-received. "Some of the people I spoke with were excited to be going back to share the story with consumers, including sighted parents of blind children, to give them hope."

Bonner recently accepted the Soroptimist International Ruby Award, and the Staten Island Woman of Achievement Award for her work with the blind community. Bonner holds a Bachelor of Professional Studies degree in Human Services from Audrey Cohen College; a Master’s degree in Public Administration from Metropolitan College of New York; and a Master’s of Social Work from Columbia University School of Social Work.

Goshen Got Game as Harlem Wizards Take Center Court

   Goshen Secure Center had a visit from the Harlem Wizards basketball team on May 6th. The Wizards had some fun playing their brand of ball with the residents, then each team member spoke about the challenges he faced along the way and how he overcame obstacles. "We truly appreciated the time this team took from their busy schedule to visit us," said Gail Sullivan, a vocational instructor. "We couldn't be more proud of our residents - their behavior was perfect and a fun time was had by all."
   The Harlem Wizards story goes back to 1962 when the team was created by sports promoter Howie Davis. Unlike most basketball teams, the Harlem Wizards are not primarily focused on winning games. Instead, their aim is to entertain with a variety of basketball tricks. The audience becomes part of the show, and often children are on the court to help entertain the team's audience.
   The Wizards perform for fundraisers at local schools and have helped to raise millions of dollars for charitable organizations, schools, and foundations.