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Kathy Hochul, Governor
Suzanne Miles-Gustave, Esq., Acting Commissioner
January 2018 — Vol. 3, No. 1

Message from the Commissioner

Happy 2018! As we begin another January, I wish you and your family a happy new year full of health, happiness, peace and joy. This is a great time to refocus and commit to achieving your goals and making a change for the better, whether that means choosing to be optimistic, being healthier, more productive or driving down a debt - it's all within your grasp.

2018 will be the year that OCFS continues the critical work of transforming the state's service to minors who become involved in the criminal justice system. Nine months from now, the Raise the Age legislation will take effect for 16-year-olds; a year later, it will take effect for 17-year-olds. Children of those ages who commit non-violent crimes will receive the intervention and evidence-based treatment they need. Instead of adult jails and prisons, youth will be placed in specialized juvenile detention facilities certified by our agency in conjunction with the State Commission of Correction and in OCFS and foster care facilities. Families and their children placed with OCFS or local departments of social services look to us for programs to guide them toward changing their lives for the better and improving their mental and behavioral health. Our local agency partners have been and will continue to be an important part of this effort.

This month at OCFS will also highlight one if the areas where we do critical work daily: preventing human trafficking and serving its victims. January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, a time when we can remind professionals who serve survivors about our work in the Safe Harbour: NY program, the availability of our Blueprint for Building a Child Welfare Response to Commercially Sexually Exploited and Trafficked Youth, and our guide for direct-care professionals who serve these vulnerable New Yorkers.

Let's all resolve to keep up the positive energy in the new year to open new horizons, do great work, and inspire others to follow our example.


DJJOY Youth Display Their Wares in Holiday Kiosk Sales

   Of all gifts delivered last holiday season, few reflected the determination and potential of OCFS youth better than the ones that were available at the home office in November. Among them were masonry works created at Highland Residential Center.

   From start to finish, the masonry program at Highland provides residents with solid skills. The youth there learn skills that incorporate hard work, patience, teamwork, concentration, artistic expression, assembly, and commitment.       Students learned how to work independently and as a team as they applied their skills to a stepping stone project. The youth first saw examples of completed stepping stones, then got busy mixing cement, choosing molds, spraying the molds with oil to prevent sticking, and using a trowel to put the mixture into the molds. After curing, the students chose their paints, and while they were at it, learned the difference between transparent and opaque paints.

OCFS Staff Step Up To Brighten the Holidays for Others

OCFS staff at the home office delivered hundreds of holiday gifts for families and older adults in need during the holidays. Local departments of social services near OCFS’s home office identified families who might otherwise not have gifts. Several carts loaded with toys, blankets, and supplies rolled out of the North Building December 19. They had been placed under trees at the home office and collected each day leading up to the delivery. The Albany County Department for Children, Youth and Families, and the Rensselaer County Department of Social Services picked up the unwrapped gifts and distributed them to nine families and more than 30 seniors during the week before Christmas. Families also received wrapping paper so they could enjoy wrapping the gifts themselves. 

Brookwood's "We The People" 2017

   Youth from Brookwood, Goshen, and Columbia Girls joined students from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice for this year’s “We The People” event, gathering at Brookwood Secure Center on December 7th. The “We The People Student Congressional Hearing” has taken place since 2008. 2017 was the first time Goshen and Columbia participated, and the first time a program from outside OCFS has participated.
   Since 2016, OCFS has been part of the James Madison Project, a five-year, multi-million dollar program funded by the U.S. Department of Education that is designed to help teachers introduce at-risk youth to student congressional hearings, civic competence, and responsibility.
   The team at Brookwood considers itself the model for teaching juvenile justice youth in New York State. The work done there has been recognized for its excellence, including the prestigious Howard A. Levine Award for Excellence in Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare that was presented to Jim LeCain, founder of the Brookwood College Program.
   LeCain started the college program in 2009. It was fully operational by autumn 2010. The Brookwood satellite campus of Columbia-Greene Community College has offered 37 courses. Four students have earned full A.A. degrees. This year, for the first time, a female student earned a degree through the program.
   During the hearings on the 7th, students debated democracy, free speech, unreasonable search and seizure and judicial review. Team Jefferson from John Jay narrowly edged out OCFS’s Team Madison by two points, the closest contest in the history of the event.
   This year’s event was a step closer to the realization of Jim LeCain’s vision: to have agency-wide participation and to compete against scholars from outside the system. An event like this had not happened before in OCFS. Kudos to all involved for making it such a success.

Heart Gallery Project Highlights Need for Adoptive Families

OCFS is working with the team at Heart Gallery New York to promote adoption. The gallery is a collaboration with the agency and includes the participation of five heart galleries throughout the state. It features photos of New York children who are in foster care and freed for adoption and need loving, permanent homes. The goal is to raise awareness of New York’s waiting children and secure permanent, loving “forever families” for them. Online visitors to the gallery may also find access to the OCFS photolisting that presents more children who are freed for adoption.

Lean Team Earns Award

   For the third year in a row, OCFS has won a New York State Lean award. Congratulations to CWCS, the Domestic Violence Unit and the OCFS Office of Agency Performance Improvement (OAPI) for receiving a 2017 Lean Project Impact Award.      The project dramatically reduced licensing timeframes – from 105 days to a mere 7 days -- for agencies that provide residential services to victims of domestic violence. As a result, facilities can more quickly open their doors and provide a safe haven to those in need.
   OCFS Lean projects focus on the effective and efficient use of personnel and technology to best serve the children, families and communities of New York State. Since the program began four years ago, Lean has led to improved performance in state agencies. To date, 38 agencies have completed nearly 400 projects with more than 8,500 state workers participating in Lean.
   Pam Jobin, a co-sponsor of the Residential Domestic Violence Shelter Certification project, has said the team’s Lean experience is challenging but well worth the effort. “We were able to address system issues that we knew to be problems but had no way of addressing before the Lean project,” Jobin said. “The project gave us the permission to look at our day-to-day processes with a critical eye and work together to make improvements with the help of other agency staff. Without Lean, we would not have had the agency-wide buy-in we needed to make these changes. We have dramatically reduced the number of days that a domestic violence shelter certification takes!”

Horticultural Programs Yield Much More Than Vegetables

Toward the end of last fall’s harvest season, some OCFS staff reflected on seeds - of all varieties and forms - sown through the programs offered by OCFS for the youth in the agency’s care. Those seeds have yielded vegetables and so much more.
A significant number of the young people in OCFS’s residential facilities have never experienced gardening, nurturing something from seed to harvest, or even tasting a fresh vegetable. There is something restorative and therapeutic about placing the seed in the soil, watering and fertilizing that soil, and developing faith that something good will eventually come from it. That’s what Jillian Naveh brings to the teenagers who participate in her “Learn to Grow” and her microgreens programs at Goshen Secure Center and Highland Residential Center.
   Following her graduation from the State University of New York at Delhi with culinary arts and business degrees, Jillian became active in food justice and supporting local food initiatives. She brought that passion with her to OCFS and the youth housed in juvenile justice facilities.
   Horticulture therapy connects the youth with something that is alive, something that needs to be nurtured, and something that will feed and nourish others. There is a noticeable calming in the demeanor of participating youth when they get to spend time outdoors, tending their crops and harvesting their food. The vegetables they grow end up in their meals.
   Youth in horticultural programs are enriched by the food they eat, and also by the experience of growing it. Through nurturing, caring, feeding and harvesting, they benefit from the connection they make to the seeds, the sun, the rain and the earth. They somehow emerge richer for the harvest and more prepared to settle into the calming space of winter, preparing for a new season, a new year and a new beginning.

FLRC Youth Tours School, Considers Future

   On Tuesday, December 12, an OCFS youth was treated to an up-close look at what his future could hold for him during a visit to SUNY Cortland. Accompanied by Maurice Kearney, SUNY Cortland’s admissions advisor and assistant men’s basketball coach, the youth visited the admissions building, classrooms, lecture halls, dining options and the athletic facilities, including the Park Center and the new Student Life Center. Touring the heart of the campus, he saw the dorms and the sort of activities that one usually sees a college campus. He was introduced to the men’s basketball coach, the team captain, and the admissions director. The youth received information about the college application process, financial aid, and various opportunities for growth. He was overwhelmed by the experience and conducted himself extremely well asking many mature questions.
   “Before we left, we spoke with Coach Kearney about how to grow the relationship between SUNY Cortland and Finger Lakes,” said Vocational Specialist Tom Murphy. “We discussed inviting some current players to our facility over the winter break to meet with our youth, and possibly scheduling a trip for a couple of our youth to see a Cortland home basketball game.”
   Youth Division Aide Edmonds accompanied the youth. It’s important for youth to share this sort of experience with a staff member with whom they have forged a meaningful relationship during their time at FLRC. When YDAs form good relationships with youth it can go far in helping youth to achieve a positive outcome.


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