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Kathy Hochul, Governor
Suzanne Miles-Gustave, Esq., Acting Commissioner
June 2017 — Vol. 12, No. 6

Commissioner's Message

One year ago, OCFS released The New York State Cost of Financial Exploitation Study, a groundbreaking report investigating and quantifying the effects of financial exploitation of elderly and vulnerable persons. June 2017 brings news of a new tool called FEIST that the Bureau of Adult Protective Services (APS) has commissioned to protect vulnerable adults from falling victim to financial crimes. The Financial Exploitation Investigation Suite of Tools employs a forensic accountant, and is designed to assist APS in several aspects of providing protections for the vulnerable. As FEIST trainings get underway, OCFS is looking forward to evaluating how well this tool could be used across the state.

This is just one example of the fine work we do daily to improve the lives of vulnerable New Yorkers of all ages. We are always looking for ways to support the well-being of children and families, striving to protect those who cannot protect themselves, seeking positive outcomes and permanency all children deserve.

In the next couple of months, we'll be spreading the word about other good works we are doing at OCFS. During this time of year, many other people will be getting outdoors, too, often finding something to celebrate, whether it's the nation's independence, fatherhood, or just warmer temperatures. I hope you enjoy a fun, prosperous summer, and I truly appreciate the dedicated effort that OCFS staff puts in to serve our fellow New Yorkers every day. 


Empire Belt Drive Succeeds in Identifying Next LEAN Team

The OCFS Office of Agency Performance Improvement (OAPI) is introducing a new team of Lean Empire Belts. OAPI's Lean projects identify areas where workplace processes can be streamlined for efficiency. The idea comes from the philosophy that was first used to find better ways of doing business at the Toyota Corporation.

On May 1, an informational meeting at the home office introduced the program to those who were curious about how it works.

"We had a great response," said OAPI Director Barbara Kruzansky. "The next step is to send qualified candidates to attend a two-day Empire Belt boot camp run by the New York State Lean office." Kruzansky said there are plans for a Lean project that could streamline the hiring process.

The OCFS Lean team has been recognized for its dedicated efforts and hard work, including projects that applied Lean principles to work done at  the Office of the Ombudsman and the OCFS Office of Youth Development. 

OCFS, NYSED Seeking Proposals for After-School Programs

OCFS and the New York State Education Department have invited eligible school districts to submit proposals for the development or expansion of quality after-school programs for the Empire State After-School Program (ESAP). OCFS encourages school districts to collaborate with not-for-profit organizations for this program. A request for proposals was issued May 30.

Eligible school districts will be located:

• in municipalities identified in the Empire State Poverty Reduction
 Initiative (ESPRI) pursuant to Chapter 55 of the laws of 2016; or
• in counties with a child poverty rate in excess of 30 percent as
determined by the 2015 Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE)
produced by the United States Census Bureau; or
• in a school district with a child poverty count greater than 5,000 but
less than 20,000, as determined by the 2015 SAIPE; and
• will have a child poverty rate in excess of 30 percent as determined by the 2015 SAIPE.

The ESAP seeks proposals that integrate what happens during the school day and less formal learning experiences. The idea is to encourage active participation of children, youth, and families in the design and delivery of program activities. The ESAP program is expected to provide tutorial services, especially to help students who attend low-performing schools in meeting New York’s academic standards. It will also offer students youth development activities, service learning, nutrition and health education, drug and violence prevention programs, counseling programs, arts, music, physical fitness and wellness programs, technology education programs, financial literacy programs, environmental literacy programs, mathematics, science, career and technical programs, and internship or apprenticeship programs. The ESAP will offer students’ families opportunities for active and meaningful engagement in their children’s education, including opportunities for literacy and related educational development.

OCFS Expected to Award Funding for Assisted Technology Centers RFP Next Month

The New York State Commission for the Blind (NYSCB) anticipates awarding contracts that will further NYSCB's goals of enhancing employability, maximizing independence and assisting in the development of the capacities and strengths of people who are legally blind. Awardees will assess the assistive technology needs and abilities of NYSCB consumers, recommend assistive equipment configurations that meet consumers’ individual needs, and provide comprehensive training to assist consumers in becoming proficient in the use of the recommended equipment in the workplace to improve their job performance and/or during their educational or vocational training. Awards are expected to be announced on or after July 17, 2017.

Human Services Call Center Celebrates Four Years, Earns Top Workplace Designation

Four years into the operation that serves thousands of New Yorkers daily, the Human Services Call Center in Schenectady is being celebrated as one of the capital region's "Top Workplaces," as designated by the Times Union newspaper. When New Yorkers need to find information and services related to human services, the HSCC is one place they look.

Since taking its first calls in 2013, the center has received about 2.2 million calls. Staff direct callers to services from ten state agencies. On May 12, call center employees enjoyed cake and prizes for that those who answered that day's 4th, 40th and 400th calls. Representatives answered the first calls in May 2013 for one line of business for the Department of Health. By autumn 2014, the call center was handling an average of 1,500 calls per day. Today they answer as many as 4,000 in a day.

One Monday after a three-day weekend, Mike Clough (left) and Mike Demars found a way to ease the return to work by initiating “Chocolate Milk Monday,” going from desk to desk with a cart loaded with treats. It’s just one of the fun things management does from time to time to show appreciation for hard work.

The statewide Call Center Consolidation (CCC) project is an initiatives aimed at improving the consistency and quality of information and customer service provided to all New Yorkers by state agency call centers.

The call center is a customer-focused operation committed to providing consistent and high quality services to all statewide callers. HSCC business analysts work with the program units within each agency to define calls for transition to the HSCC and to build a statewide knowledge base with clear and consistent content. The relationship with the agencies’ program units continues after the transition with weekly, monthly and quarterly reports and status update meetings.

The HSCC has outperformed the goal of answering 85 percent of all calls within five minutes, and responses from the customer agencies confirm the HSCC is providing excellent service while allowing the agency staff to focus on their core mission.

Youth in Progress Planning Summer Event, Speaking Out on Foster Care

The mission of Youth In Progress is to enhance and advance the lives of today’s and tomorrow’s youth by enhancing their sense of self and responsibility. To do this, we pledge to educate everyone involved in the various systems Youth In Progress members represent to the realities of this experience.

Gloria Moran is a youth engagement specialist in YIP's Region 4. She says that region is planning its annual Youth Speak Out event that is expected to happen in mid-August in Queensbury. "This event is sponsored by the Professional Development Program and the New York State Office of Children and Family Services as an opportunity for youth in care across the state to speak out about their experiences to policy makers and implementers, judges, child welfare agency directors and others whose work affects their lives," said Moran. "One youth at our last planning meeting was recently accepted into Plattsburg University's social welfare program, and volunteered to speak to all the youth who attend the event in August." Moran says that youth has been in care since age 13 and used program supports to change her perspective and her life.

"We do lots of team- and skill-building activities," Moran said. Most recently, the group explored the importance of communication, respect, and working with others. They did this through an emotional awareness exercise were the youth get to sculpt something that represents them. "Then, in silence, they are asked to change seats so that they are sitting in front of someone else's sculpture. Without talking to the artists, they are asked to "improve" their sculpture. This leads to a whole host of emotions that can be unpacked and explored," Moran explained. This same activity is used in the "Principle of Partnership Trainings" given to OCFS and child welfare staff. At the end, the youth wrote some thoughts about what the exercise showed them.

- “Someone might have something important and if someone else sees it they might not get it because it's from a different point of view.”
- “Can't fully understand someone and who they are without communicating with them.”
- “Not to pre-judge people without knowing them.”
- “If you don't quite understand someone it can't be your place to change them.”

Region 4 is starting a new youth advocacy board that is a smaller branch of Region 4 Youth in Progress, and is dedicated solely to empowering youth in care to get involved in policy and decision-making that affects their lives, while developing their leadership skills and advocating for themselves and others. There is a need for a youth representative to join the board from each participating agency and county. The group will work directly with the OCFS regional office in Albany and the home office staff in an effort to have the voice of youth in care taken into consideration when designing policy, programs and curriculum.

During the latest meeting, youth were asked, “May is National Foster Care Awareness Month - based on your experiences, what is one thing you want people to know about foster care?” They responded:

“Foster care is not as bad as you think.”
“They take care of you!”
“It will never be home. But it can be better in some ways.”
“Some people really care. Find them!”
“It is not a bad thing - can be a good thing - can actually help you.”
“You just have to know to keep your head up. And always listen to your peers + your adults.”

Division of Child Care Services Says "Thank You" to Providers

The Division of Child Care Services spread a thank-you message for child care providers far and wide on May 12, and had some help from a capital region newspaper columnist and the governor.

That day is Child Care Provider Appreciation Day, a day when the division traditionally sends a thank-you to those who care for children. This year was different. The division placed messages in places other than email and the agency's website. With some assistance from the Department of Motor Vehicles and the New York Thruway Authority, DCCS saw a short video play every 15 minutes on monitors at thruway rest stops across the state.

The Office of Communications was happy to share a Facebook post of an article that appeared in the Troy Record, written by John Gray. "I had no idea such a day even existed but now that I do I’m glad it does," Gray wrote. "This is one day a year set aside to honor the people who take care of our children when we can’t."

OCFS Staff Run Hard in 2017 CDPHP Workforce Team Challenge

About 34 OCFS staff represented the agency in this years CDPHP Workforce Team Challenge in Albany. The 5K race attracts thousands of runners from around the capital district. Matt Sikora was the first from OCFS to finish with a time of 19:70. Deputy Commissioner Ines Nieves (pictured below with team captain Holly Blaise) was the first woman among the government department chiefs to finish. 

The CDPHP® Workforce Team Challenge is a 3.5-mile road race. Each year, teams of workers from businesses, government and various corporations and institutions, promoting goodwill and camaraderie among the workforce.

CWCS Book Drive Benefits Children, Promotes Reading

The Division of Child Welfare and Community Services is thankful for the assistance it received with its May book drive that collected 448 books for school-age children and for preschoolers/toddlers. The books were delivered to the Rensselaer Boys and Girls Club and to the Commission on Economic Opportunity’s Family Resource Center in Rensselaer. The books that were donated to Head Start are being used to enhance their lending library for families. The program received enough books to add some to the classrooms that serve infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.

The Rensselaer Boys and Girls Club is expanding its library. Jessica Rowell, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club, expressed their gratitude in a letter stating, “your donation of reading material on every level was a welcome surprise for our kids and inspired may to jump into reading.”  The children and staff at both programs were delighted with the books and were eager to begin reading about new adventures.

Artwork at Highland Residential Center Highlights Students' Creativity

Students at Highland Residential Center are once again firing up their creativity. One project that was a great success at Highland was a woodworking class exercise that introduced residents in the vocation department to the concept of “Pallet Art.” Having been instructed in the safe operation of both power tools and hand tools, they deconstructed the pallets, removed nails and fasteners from the separated wood, smoothed every edge, and determined the size of the reconstructed “mini-pallets” using a tape measure and simple math. The students marked the wood using a pencil, speed square, and tape measure, then cut the wood pieces to the determined sizes using a compound miter saw. They fastened the pieces after drilling holes to prevent the fasteners from splitting the dry wood, and were then ready to project a transparency onto the pallet to trace the images in preparation for painting. The project demonstrated the students’ care and pride in their work. A picture of the art is posted in the vocational building for all to see, and Highland is pricing display cabinets so that it might gain wider appreciation. Vocational Specialist Aleese Cody said, “We are excited to be offering art classes this summer and looking forward to inspiring and encouraging artistic creativity in our youth.”





 It's been a colorful and imaginative spring at Highland, where students spent time in April coloring eggs, taking part in Highland's own carnival at the facility, and creating a mural that is part of the center's enhancement program. “Our art program is designed to engage the youth and use art as a therapeutic tool,” said Kelly Hicks, a youth recreation specialist. “We combine our Dialectical Behavior Therapy and counseling services with the art program and create murals and paintings that represent the core values and beliefs of the programs. The owl represents the “wise mind” practice seen in DBT.