Child Welfare News And Notes

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

Child Welfare News And Notes

 OCFS Staff Promote Child Abuse Prevention

National Child Abuse Prevention Month, each April, is a particularly important time for OCFS. The agency commemorated it by working with its local partners to educate the public about preventing abuse and improving the safety and well-being of children in New York State.

On April 2, OCFS joined Prevent Child Abuse New York (PCANY) at the steps of the Capitol to kick off the month and raise awareness of child abuse prevention efforts. Acting Commissioner Sheila Poole detailed OCFS’s prevention efforts, alongside Tim Hathaway, the executive director of Prevent Child Abuse New York, Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan and Assemblymembers Patricia Fahy and John McDonald.

On April 5, OCFS hosted an informational session on the Enough Abuse Campaign, an OCFS- supported PCANY initiative to develop a community response for preventing child sexual abuse.

On April 9, OCFS staff and the City of Rensselaer planted the annual Pinwheels for Prevention garden in Huyck Park to raise awareness and create a visual reminder of the important role we all play in preventing child abuse and allowing children to have a happy, carefree childhood. To illustrate the far-reaching effects of child abuse and neglect, OCFS staff collected and displayed 182 pairs of children’s shoes at the pinwheel ceremony. That represents the average daily number of indicated child maltreatment reports called into the New York Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment. Joining Commissioner Poole at this ceremony were Theresa Beaudoin, commissioner of the Rensselaer County Department of Social Services, Tim Hathaway and Colleen Pidgeon, program coordinator at CoNSERNS-U, a family-serving nonprofit organization in Rensselaer. The shoes that were collected will be donated to CoNSERNS-U and St. Catherine’s Marillac Family Shelter in Albany.

OCFS hosted a lunchtime viewing of the film, Paper Tigers, a poignant story about how one caring adult can break the cycle of adversity in a child’s life. OCFS also developed a public service announcement that offers tips on how anyone can support overwhelmed parents. The announcement plays on the call waiting lines at the New York State Human Services Call Center.

OCFS Highlights:
Victims Assistance Center of Jefferson County, Inc.

Child Advocacy Center of Northern New York
120 Washington St, Suite 406
Watertown, NY 13601


The Child Advocacy Center of Northern New York (CAC of NNY) opened in 2006 as a program of the Victims Assistance Center of Jefferson County. In 2016, the program expanded to also provide services to neighboring Lewis County and St. Lawrence County. CAC of NNY has offices in Watertown (Jefferson County), Lowville (Lewis County) and Potsdam (St. Lawrence County). It partners with Fort Drum and serves children and families from the military installation. The region it serves has expanded to over 5,900 square miles. The small, dedicated, staff of seven provides services to the entire region.



CAC of NNY has some exciting projects in the works for this year. The program director, Amy Quonce, is working with the Long Island chapter of Canine Companions for Independence to start a dog program. The facility dog will interact with children and families in the waiting area and serve as an icebreaker for children who may feel nervous when they arrive. The dog will also be there with children during forensic interviews. The long-term goal is for the facility dog to accompany children in court when the child has to testify.


To make the court system more trauma sensitive for children in the region, CAC of NNY’s lead advocate, Kiley Hilyer, is developing a Kids in Court program. The program will initially focus on educating court personnel, attorneys and advocates on how to make the court process sensitive to the needs of traumatized children. The program will cover educating the child and family on the court process, Grand Jury and trial preparation, and having an appropriate waiting area at each court house.

The Victims Assistance Center, the umbrella organization for CAC of NNY, recently hired a coordinator, Erin Fazio, who is working to develop a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program to serve all of the hospitals in Jefferson County and Lewis County. The program is expected to be operational by the end of the 2018.

CAC of NNY participates in outreach and awareness activities throughout the year. In April, staff planted pinwheel gardens in all three counties for National Child Abuse Prevention Month; this year, 552 pinwheels were planted to represent the 552 new children served by the program this year. The number of children served is expected to continue to increase as CAC of NNY looks at even better ways to bring services to this rural region of New York State.

CAC of NNY also hosts two fundraising events each year; the Storybook Stampede in April and the Night of Heroes Masquerade Ball in November. Both events help bring community awareness to not only the prevalence of child abuse in our region, but also to the efforts of people who work hard every day to investigate and provide services to children and families.


CAC Staff - L to R: Amy Quonce, Christine Kennedy, Brittney Eiklor, Detective Taylor, Kiley Hilyer, Chelsea Bango, Morgan Kitto




The CAC of NNY offers several programs for outreach and education in the region. It was selected by Prevent Child Abuse New York as a site for the Enough Abuse Campaign and offers numerous training topics including the protective factors, Darkness to Light Stewards of Children, and Less is More. CAC of NNY is also working with Prevent Child Abuse NY on educating the community on the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study by offering screenings of the film Resilience.

OCFS Partnership for Permanency

In January 2018, OCFS began to collaborate with Heart Gallery New York, a program that includes the participation of five “Heart Galleries” throughout New York. Featuring photographs of New York children who need loving, permanent homes, the mission of Heart Gallery New York is to raise awareness of New York’s waiting children and to help them secure permanent, loving “forever families.” 


Changing the Angle of the Permanency Lens

Every day, OCFS works to facilitate lasting permanency for every child in foster care. This is complex, around-the-clock work involving counties, courts, agencies and other stakeholders. OCFS’s Continuous Quality Improvement/Data Unit works to help reach the goal.

“The image of the fundraising thermometer is a classic image,” says Claire Strohmeyer, the director of the CQI/Data unit asserted. “I know my local library is making progress toward its fundraising goal because I see the thermometer go up week after week. I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be impactful to use the incredibly rich permanency data we have and create something similar.’ Something that would communicate in a relatable, visual way our progress towards permanency.”

Over the past few months, the unit worked with the Division of Child Welfare and Community Services to design and customize a display highlighting the state’s permanency performance. On April 12th, staff from the division gathered excitedly at OCF’s home office during their management team meeting to create the display.

The exhibit spans about 40 feet; the centerpiece is an image of a house representing permanency for children in two cohorts: Admissions and In Care.

Within the house, bar graphs show how many of these children have exited to date via the four permanent exit types: reunification, release to relatives, KinGAP, and adoption. It also shows the number of children who have aged out of care. Demographic information and interactive “drill-down” questions surround the houses, until the viewer’s eye arrives at a target for each. The targets represent the percentage of these children OCFS would like to see reach permanency by year’s end.

Division staff involved in the exhibit expressed its value throughout the event. “There’s just something about seeing the number of kids in care like that…it took my breath away,” said one child and family services specialist. “I was so happy to see that we’ve already made such progress in adoptions. This display really made me think!”

Each regional office will receive an exhibit kit that will include customized, regional data and will be optimized for easy installation at local regional offices. The data will be updated and disseminated quarterly; the closer OCFS gets to its goals, the closer the house will move toward the target, and the higher the bar graphs inside the house will climb.


Permanency Super Heroes

In November 2017, the Buffalo regional office sought nominations for the Permanency Superhero Award that recognizes staff and coworkers who demonstrate exemplary dedication to permanency work. Nominees were described by their peers as people who “live and breathe permanency.” These are the people who take the lead and work tirelessly with youth and caregivers to ensure no stone is left unturned, and a sense of urgency around permanency is sustained. The qualifications of a permanency superhero include the following:

• Respects and honors family connections
• Seeks to identify and locate relative resources with a sense of urgency
• Works closely with children and youth to identify potential relative caregivers and involves them in their search for permanency
• Maintains an overall sense of urgency with regard to permanency
• Often goes above and beyond what is expected of them on behalf of children
• Has a sensitivity and understanding of the dynamics of relative caregiving
• Has strong engagement skills and provides exceptional support to relative caregivers

The Buffalo regional office recognized four outstanding permanency superheroes: Brandy Freitas, Debra Stephenson, Cathy Brown, and Amy Szyszkowski. The awards were presented during an office ceremony open to staff, family, and friends.


Brandy Freitas, Chautauqua County Department of Social Services caseworker

I was very honored to receive the Permanency Superhero award. There are many days that are very draining, very demanding and I wonder if I’m making an impact at all on these juvenile’s lives. Receiving the Permanency Super Heroes award has allowed rejuvenated me.”





Debra Stephenson, Niagara County Department of Social Services caseworker

Receiving the Permanency Superhero Award was a tremendous honor for me. I felt pride in showing my own children that hard work, investment in goals, and helping others is rewarded. In terms of my career path, I am happy to have had a wide range of experiences leading up to becoming a caseworker (retail, teaching, and being a mom). It has given me the flexibility in thought and planning that leads to successful permanency work.”




Cathy Brown, Genesee County Department of Social Services adoption supervisor

I have worked in child welfare for 29 years. As supervisor, I have been blessed to have great folks in the homefinding position and great foster care caseworkers who truly take an interest in the kids and families with whom we work. I was very appreciative of the recognition as a Permanency Super Hero, because I felt that I was receiving that honor on behalf of my entire unit, and on behalf of the other child welfare supervisors and caseworkers who help kids and families in our agency.” 

Coming Events

On June 12, 2018, the OCFS Bureau of Permanency Services will welcome its New York State Permanency Resource Center (PRC) community partners for the annual gathering. Topics to be discussed include: identity development, navigating relationships with biological parents, race equity, and working with the school system to meet children’s needs. For a list of PRCs, go to Stay tuned for exciting updates on the work of the NYS Permanency Resource Centers!