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Kathy Hochul, Governor
Suzanne Miles-Gustave, Esq., Acting Commissioner
February 2018 — Vol. 2, No. 1

OCFS Supports NYS Youth Across the State

Youth Advisory Board 

The New York State Office of Children and Family Services Youth Advisory Board (YAB) met for a two-day forum, November 17-18, 2017 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Troy, New York. It was a powerful experience involving energetic conversations focused on sibling reunification, normalcy, transitional housing and education within the foster care system. The 11 YAB members range in age from 19-24 and represent all six regions throughout NYS. They were selected from numerous applicants because of their expertise and willingness to make a change in the foster care system. The YAB will meet quarterly to inform leadership, provide insight on foster care policies and collaborate with the executive staff at OCFS. The board’s mission is to make a difference for youth in care by giving them the voice to help create positive changes in the foster care system. 

47th Annual Youth Development Training Conference  
The Association of New York State Youth Bureaus partnered with OCFS and the Partnership for Children, Youth, and Families in October at the 47th Annual Youth Development Training Conference in Syracuse, with over 275 attendees.
Incorporating suggestions from youth bureaus around the state, this year’s conference provided a structured opportunity for members of youth bureaus to network with their colleagues who have similar budgets and who deliver similar services. Roundtable Discussion: Brainstorming with Youth Bureaus allowed for more dialogue and networking between municipal and local youth bureaus. 




Above, L-R: Sean Paul Wade, CAPP Project coordinator, Mt. Vernon Youth Bureau
Rachel Wilson, executive director Orange County Youth Bureau
Raymond (Coach Ray) Rodriguez, facilitator of MyFOURmulaTM - Self Health for Providers
June Ellen Notaro, director of Dutchess County Youth Services
Danielle Satow, director of the City of Peekskill Youth Bureau. 

A new feature for this year’s conference included the video recording of a workshop that was co-facilitated by OCFS and ANYSYB. The video is available for youth bureaus to use for the ongoing training of staff, board members and funded programs. The workshop included review of the definitions of the eight features of a positive youth development setting as proposed on the OCFS application. Interaction among attendees allowed for valuable input about how to better review and approve applications and decide whether programs are describing their environments appropriately when applying for OCFS funding.

In addition to the number of high quality workshops facilitated by youth bureaus, youth development community based organizations, and OCFS, the conference included a keynote address from Tonier Cain, a speaker and educator. Ms. Cain shared her personal story of two decades of homelessness, multiple incarcerations and emerging from drug addiction to become a tireless advocate and educator on the devastating impact of childhood abuse, and the need to rethink how we treat the shattered youth and adults that severely traumatized children can become.

OCFS Hosts Supervisor Symposium

On October 24, 2017 child welfare supervisors from districts across New York State gathered at the Desmond Hotel in Albany for networking and skills building. The theme of the symposium was “Transformational Supervision - Empowering Change.” Deputy Commissioner Laura Velez welcomed attendees and thanked them for their efforts in building a competent workforce.

The keynote address featured Denise Schaller, a performance consultant, providing reminding the audience how far we have come in moving away from telling workers what to do, to asking questions of our staff; a change that fosters critical thinking and improved outcomes for families. Her presentation was called “The Evolution of Our Supervisory Practices.”

Claire Strohmeyer, OCFS’s CQI/data director and Kelly Varamogiannis, an implementation specialist from the Center for Development of Human Services provided a joint presentation on the use of data and how the CQI process can inform and strengthen casework practice.

Supervisors selected from four additional workshops that offered tools they can use with their staff: Supervising to Safety, Family Empowerment, Cultural Considerations, and Family Engagement and Casework Documentation. With 97 people in attendance, the symposium was a great success.

Heart Galleries Promote Adoption

OCFS and its partners are working to promote and encourage adoption, including a new website and the recent Heart Gallery WNY presentation in Buffalo. The western region of New York has more than 1,200 children in foster care who need permanency. For two weeks in December, photographs of waiting children circled the Christmas tree in the lobby of the Ellicott Square building in Buffalo, a display that received local news coverage.

Heart Gallery New York is a new website and a collaboration with OCFS that 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.

State Agency Partnerships Promote Safe Sleep

In New York State, nearly 100 infants die every year from being placed in an unsafe sleep environment.  OCFS meets monthly with the New York State Department of Health (DOH) and the New York State Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) to develop strategies and initiatives to prevent such deaths. These initiatives include providing education and outreach about the “ABCs of Safe Sleep.” The acronym stands for Alone, Back, and Crib, a sleep practice that can save lives. It’s the best way to reduce the risk of a sleep-related injury or death.

Infants should always sleep Alone; co-sleeping, pillows, blankets, bumper pads, siblings, pets, sleep positioners, and toys in an infant’s sleep area can cause strangulation and suffocation.

Infants are less likely to choke when they sleep on their Back, and they need safety-approved Cribs with a firm mattress and tight, fitted sheets every time they sleep, including naps.  Sofas, chairs, futons, waterbeds, and air mattresses are not safe places for an infant to sleep and can increase the risk of suffocation. During the last year, OCFS distributed more than 5,000 safe sleep kits for parents and caregivers. The kits include a tote bag that carries the message “Follow the ABCs of Safe Sleep,” a doorhanger, magnet, brochure, window cling, and a book titled Sleep Baby: Safe and Snug.  The kit also includes a sleep sack. OCFS plans on distributing 5,000 more kits throughout New York State in 2018.

The agency also distributed more than 500 Pack ‘n’ Play portable cribs with safe sleep kits to all local departments of social services, including those in New York City and several Native American tribal nations. In the coming weeks, OCFS will provide more than 800 of the same items to community-based organizations and to child fatality review teams. To help get this message out, the OCFS Human Services Call Center produced a recorded message that is being heard by thousands of people who call the agency. Social media is another avenue OCFS is using for safe sleep education, and we are producing videos in English and Spanish that will be posted on the OCFS internet site and shared on social media. You can help in our effort to prevent these tragic deaths by ‘liking’ and sharing our safe sleep messages on social media. For more information about safe sleep practices, please visit the OCFS website:

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