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Kathy Hochul, Governor
Suzanne Miles-Gustave, Esq., Acting Commissioner
July 2017 — Vol. 12, No. 7

Commissioner's Message

This summer, OCFS is doing the work necessary to prepare for a major change in the way we provide services for youth who are involved in the justice system. The passage of the Raise the Age legislation three months ago is one of the most important bills to come out of the just-ended legislative session. It will raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction from age 16- to 17-years-old beginning on October 1, 2018, and from 17- to 18-years-old on October 1, 2019. The law creates a new level of specialized, secure detention and an adolescent offender facility for youth convicted of serious crimes and sentenced before their 18th birthday.

The law provides $110 million dollars for capital projects associated with developing bed capacity, and requires that the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) create one or more “adolescent offender facilities.” These facilities will incorporate OCFS programs and services, and representatives from OCFS will be part of a council that oversees them.

OCFS will also expand eligibility for the Supervision and Treatment Services for Juveniles Program to include youth who are alleged to be, or are convicted of being, adolescent offenders or youthful offenders.

There will be regional stakeholder meetings over the summer as OCFS continues to work with DOCCS, the New York State Commission on Correction and the Division of Criminal Justice Services on implementation planning. OCFS will also partner with the Council of Families and Child Caring Agencies to convene voluntary agencies across the state for Raise the Age Workshops.
Scientific research shows us adolescent brains are impulsive, sometimes leading teenagers to make poor choices without understanding or even considering the consequences of their actions. Youthful indiscretion should not necessarily mean a criminal conviction will be an albatross for the rest of a youth’s life.

In most cases, treating the underlying problems that bring young people into contact with the justice system is the far better solution. Many youth convicted of a crime have a history of mental health illness, substance abuse issue, special education needs or a developmental disability; almost all have experienced trauma, and often do not know how to properly handle conflict and stress. As the Governor put it on the signing of the bill, it’s a great program. It will mean young New Yorkers who don’t belong in adult prisons will have a better opportunity to pursue a happy, productive life, and part of the solution will be rooted in the kinds of services OCFS provides every day across New York State.


Foster Families Highlight Rewards of Fostering Futures

  When a local volunteer group called Fostering Futures New York visited OCFS in May as part of National Foster Care Month, its members brought inspiring stories that prompted some OCFS staff to assemble volunteers to join in the group’s efforts. Fostering Futures New York is a non-profit group that recruits teams of volunteers to provide support to foster families. Each team receives training and members meet with the family once a month to hear how they can help with things such as preparing a meal, providing respite care, helping with everyday tasks, or whatever the foster family needs. Fostering Futures New York helps foster families avoid the burnout that can sometimes lead families to stop fostering children.
  Jim and Liz Macris heard about it from the program’s director one Sunday after church. “I said to myself, ‘This is what I’ve been waiting for,” Jim said. “This is how I can demonstrate my belief system. I felt so strongly about it I volunteered on the spot. I said, ‘I’m on the team, I’m ready to go.”
“We’re not doing any of the functions that a caseworker does, said FFNY Director Meredith Osta. ”We are there to listen carefully to what foster parents want and need and see if the team of volunteers we recruited can help them.”
  At least one OCFS team is forming now. No child welfare experience is necessary, nor any background in social work - only a giving spirit and a desire to help others. Each team member does something to help the family once a month. OCFS staff who would like to be part of a team may contact Lori Lehner: lori.lehner@ocfs.ny.gov.

OCFS Youth Achieve Education Goals, Earn Diplomas

  Eight young men graduated at Brookwood Secure Center on June 9, all but one having completed their TASC (Tests Assessing Secondary Completion) and AHSEP (Alternative High School Equivalency Program) diplomas. The eighth young man earned the majority of his high school credits from Brookwood and earned his high school diploma from the Poughkeepsie City School District. These young men had to work hard for this achievement and were celebrated by members of their families, Brookwood staff, and staff from the OCFS home office, including acting OCFS Commissioner Sheila Poole. In addressing those gathered, the commissioner congratulated the graduates and expressed thanks to all who contributed to their success.
  On June 20th, the fifth Brookwood resident to earn an associate’s degree from Columbia-Greene Community College was honored. He completed his entire collegiate studies in the Brookwood College Program. Dean Phyllis Carlito and Dean Carol Doerfer were present to confer the degree on an incredibly proud young man. Also, the ceremony was hosted and emceed completely by Brookwood College Program students.

 One youth at Red Hook Residential center (above left ) also earned his diploma, as did one at Goshen Secure Center (right). Over the past two years, Goshen Secure Center has seen 18 residents receive TASC and high school diplomas from schools across the state. Congratulations to all of these hard-working and determined students!


East Greenbush Schools Participate in NYS Mentoring Program

Seven eighth-graders at Goff Middle School have found mentors in a group of Columbia High School students as part of the New York State Mentoring Program. The students have been meeting to get to know each other through activities designed to inspire the mentees and help them transition to high school.

This year, the New York State Mentoring Program became part of the New York State Office of Children and Family Services. The program is school-based, and benefits from the resources of communities, schools and businesses in matching youth with volunteer mentors who are screened and trained; they are dedicated people who know how to guide youth in building positive relationships.

Former New York First Lady Matilda Cuomo chaired the committee that established the nation’s first school-based, one-to-one mentoring program, which operated from 1987 until 1995. In 2015, New York State reaffirmed New York’s commitment to children and mentoring by reinstating the Mentoring Program. Chaired pro bono by the Mrs. Cuomo, the program includes weekly, one-hour sessions over the course of an academic year. A typical session features mentors and students playing board games, sharing stories, working on arts and crafts, or just talking.

OCFS Expected to Award Funding for Assisted Technology Centers RFP Soon

The New York State Commission for the Blind (NYSCB) anticipates awarding contracts in July 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.

APS Observes World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, Gets "FEISTy"

  June 15th saw the OCFS Bureau of Adult Protective Services observing World Elder Abuse Awareness Day at a home for older New Yorkers in Albany. Bureau Director Alan Lawitz read from the governor’s proclamation which read, in part, "...each year thousands of elder New Yorkers are the victims of neglect and/or physical, sexual, emotional abuse and financial exploitation...because elder abuse is often unreported, it is critical that we renew our commitment to increasing awareness of this problem…”
  Because one important measure of a society is how it treats its vulnerable population, the bureau urges all New Yorkers to take steps to become more informed about elder abuse, to recognize and prevent it, and to report it.
  The “Gatekeepers” program is designed to help people who have frequent contact with older adults recognize when those adults need more support. 

  Participants will be trained in how to better connect older adults to services and open a gate to help in the community.
  Lawitz said, “When Gatekeepers see that a client, friend or neighbor needs help, they will know how to open the gate to vital services and supports that vulnerable adults need to maintain their dignity and independence.”
  Another project underway to protect older New Yorkers is being piloted in Onondaga and Queens Counties. The Financial Exploitation Investigation Suite of Tools (FEIST) is designed to enhance the quality of client interviews and help adult protective services staff collect the documentation and financial records for forensic accountants. It also assists in providing documentation for potential civil or criminal proceedings. At the end of the pilot project, OCFS will assess the training’s effectiveness to determine if it should be used statewide.

Howard University Visit Offers Youth Inspiration

  In their continued effort to promote growth, success and infinite possibilities, members of the Long Island Community Multi-Services Team (Mario Franco, Kate Reece, Felipe Davis, Mary Padilla, Kimberly Carrozzo, Suset Farro and supervisor Ivan Johnson) took 18 youth and two parents on a tour of Howard University, an historically black college located in the heart of the nation’s capital. The tour was made possible through the resourceful efforts of Long Island CMSO worker Bernard Johnson. The tour is an expansion of the Long Island CMSO’s “Avoiding the Gates” initiative and the “Yap to Yale” concept that was developed as way of helping youth steer clear of poor choices.
  The college tour was held on April 27, 2017 and led by a Howard University student who shared her first-hand experiences. The tour provided youth and their families with invaluable information about the college’s history, student life, the culture on campus, housing options and the vast number of academic programs offered. Staff, parents, and youth also visited the university’s museum, saw the football field and ate lunch on campus. This experience prompted the youth to envision themselves in a place of higher education and exposed them to a new atmosphere.

Minnewaska State Park Trip Introduces Highland Youth to Natural History

  On June 1, 2017, five residents and five staff from the Highland Residential Center spent a great day enjoying the outdoors at Minnewaska State Park. After many days of rain, they were fortunate to have a day of gorgeous sunshine.
The group met with park ranger Laura Conner in the nature center. The residents looked at stuffed animals, snake skins, animal skull models and made animal footprints in the sand table. They learned about the park, what to bring on a hike and how to read the park map.
The hike took the group to the cliffs overlooking Lake Minnewaska and on the nature trails and carriage roads along the escarpment. Residents learned how lichens form soil and how plants help to prevent erosion, and they saw evidence of the glaciers that once covered the area.
  After a relaxing lunch with a view from the cliffs, the group walked to Awosting Falls. Thanks to the previous day’s storms, the falls were roaring - a great way to end a fun day of adventure and learning.