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Kathy Hochul, Governor
Dr. DaMia Harris-Madden, Acting Commissioner
December 2017 — Vol. 2, No. 12

Message From the Commissioner

   The holiday season is upon us once again. As we celebrate our blessings with family and friends, let’s also take time to reflect on the many people who face significant challenges during this time of year. For those of us dedicated to serving fellow New Yorkers through our work at the Office of Children and Family Services, that might include waiting children hoping for a family, youth in our residential centers who are steering their lives in a new direction, or vulnerable adults who may be anxious about their health and safety.
    Each of us here at OCFS does work that supports families that need child care so they can go to work. Our effort protects our most vulnerable fellow citizens, provides opportunities to the blind and visually-impaired, and serves in many ways to make life better for the people of New York and their families. I am deeply thankful to work with a team that does so much positive and impactful work to improve the lives of others; you truly make a difference.
   As you celebrate, I hope you remember that there are many New Yorkers who will never know you personally, but are no doubt thankful to be affected by the good work and the good will that drives our mission at OCFS. I wish each and every one of you a peaceful, joyous and truly happy holiday season.


OCFS Steps Up in the Season of Giving


OCFS staff at the home office have an opportunity to brighten the day for boys and girls identified as being in need this December. A tree decorated with lights and gift ideas stands in the lobby in South Building. Staff may take a gift idea from the tree and put that gift under the tree. The recipients are families and seniors identified by the Albany County Department for Children, Youth and Families, and the Rensselaer County Department of Social Services. Those agencies will pick up the unwrapped gifts and distribute them to nine families and more than 30 seniors during the week before Christmas. They will also receive wrapping paper so they can wrap the gifts themselves. Wrapping paper and tape are also needed and can be left under the tree. Gift cards for food and miscellaneous may be left with Beth McCarthy by December 18.


Americorps Kickoff Event

   OCFS and AmeriCorps volunteers worked hard gathering and packing donations to help human services workers in the wake of Hurricane Maria. The gifts include 2,000 backpacks containing materials that will help the workers to help others. The project began with a request from the federal Administration for Children and Families (ACF) and Casey Family Foundation. Many of the service workers suffered the same losses as those they are helping. ACF staff visited the OCFS home office November 13 to see first-hand the results of this impressive effort.

L-R: Gina Wickham and Irene Urbanski (OCFS), ACF staff, including Alfonso Nicholas, Renee Hallock (OCFS)

A few days before the visit, the Commission on National and Community Service (CNCS) fired up hundreds of AmeriCorps volunteers at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center. They are embarking on a year of service helping fellow New Yorkers through social service programs across the state.

  “A few years ago, our state was impacted by Hurricanes Irene, Lee and Sandy within one year,” said Linda Cohen, executive director of CNCS. “Many people from across the country pitched in to help us out during those difficult times. Today it’s our turn. We’re going to do our part for our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands by packing as many relief supply kits as we can.”
   The keynote speaker was Dr. Guillermo Linares, acting president of the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation, and former member of the New York State Assembly. His story of humble beginnings and community-oriented service was an inspiring presentation for the gathered volunteers. In the past 23 years, nearly one in 10 AmeriCorps members who served did so in New York State.

Minnewaska Outing an Educational Experience for Youth

  Five residents and three staff members from Highland Residential Center joined Janice Miller on her annual autumn trek to Minnewaska State Park. Accompanied by a park ranger and her assistant, the group had a sunny sky and perfect weather for a hike.
  The residents enjoyed looking at and touching things in the nature center including snake skins, porcupine quills, and various types of tree bark. They learned what it meant to walk through a carry in/carry out park, and used the park map to find the trail.
The views from the cliffs overlooking Lake Minnewaska and the scenery to the east, were beautiful. Fall foliage was not at its peak, but had started to change to yellow and orange. At one point, a bald eagle circled overhead.
  After lunch on the cliffs and a walk down to the waterfall, the group headed back to Highland. Residents and staff had a wonderful time and slept well that night.

Yoga Benefits Youth and Staff at Red Hook

   Every Friday afternoon for one hour, Red Hook Residential Center engages in its facility-wide yoga program. The time is dedicated to the youth and is focused on meditation and relaxation. Though the program has been developed and is practiced with a youth-first emphasis, it is not uncommon to see staff engaged in the program. Youth and staff do an exceptional job at utilizing the time for reflection. At the conclusion of each session, it is clear that all residents and staff who participated are much more relaxed and prepared to take positive steps to accomplish their goals.

Adoption Awareness Month, Facebook Highlight Need for Adoptive Families

In November, we celebrated National Adoption Month and New York’s proclamation of Adoption Awareness Month, shining a light on the need for caring, “forever families” to adopt children who have been freed for adoption in New York and across the country. During this month, OCFS promoted adoption on its social media pages such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Photos and personal profiles taken from the OCFS Photolisting reached a wide audience through the sharing of social media posts, introducing more families to the OCFS photolisting of waiting children. In some cases, these posts have reached thousands of people. In New York State, more than 4,100 children in foster care will never return to their birth families and are eligible for adoption; nearly 810 of those children are awaiting an adoptive placement. Last year, 1,923 children were adopted from foster care in New York.

Bill of Rights for Children in Foster Care Available in Multiple Languages

    In November, local departments of social services and voluntary agencies were notified that the OCFS publication My Rights in Foster Care: An Activity Book for Young Children in Careis available in English and Spanish. It’s designed to assist younger children in foster care in learning about their rights. The information in the book corresponds to the rights outlined in the New York State Bill of Rights for Children and Youth in Foster Care. Children in care who are   14 years old and older must be given a copy of the bill of rights, have their rights explained to them, and sign a statement acknowledging they received it. The activity book was designed for caseworkers to use with children in foster care whose age or developmental level makes it difficult for them to understand the bill of rights.

   Since effective communication is crucial in establishing trust and building successful relationships with youth in foster care, this written, visual tool is expected to be especially helpful to children. Activities in the booklet offer a way to engage children in foster care and help them identify emotions, explore aspects of their personal lives that serve as coping mechanisms, and provide valuable resource information.