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Kathy Hochul, Governor
Suzanne Miles-Gustave, Esq., Acting Commissioner
September 2018 — Vol. 3, No. 9

Message From the Commissioner

During September, I hope you will join me in reflecting on OCFS’s efforts to reduce foster care and help all at-risk youth find positive outcomes. It’s Kinship Care Month, a time when we recognize families whose care for children makes a critical difference in their lives, and a time to honor those in government who work to support the program. The 22 kinship caregiver programs across New York State help to improve the well-being of children and reduce the effects of trauma on kinship children and families. One of our key goals is to get more children enrolled in the Kinship Guardianship Assistance Program (KinGAP) and connect kinship families to services.
This year, new state law expanded eligibility for the KinGAP program to support the state’s work in finding permanency for children and youth who do not see adoption or reunification in their future. Prospective relative guardians no longer need to be related by blood, marriage, or adoption to any child in a sibling group; that means permanency options for children in foster care have increased. New York State has reduced the number of children in foster care by almost 70% since the mid-90s, and we anticipate reducing it even more.
We also look forward to part of the new Raise the Age law taking effect next month. Under current law, New York automatically processes all 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system, no matter their offense. The new law raises the age of juvenile delinquency from age 16- to 17-years-old beginning on October 1, 2018, and will raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18-years-old on October 1, 2019. It means young people in New York who commit non-violent crimes will get the intervention and evidence-based treatment they need. It means we can focus on treating the underlying problems that bring young people into contact with the justice system in the first place and rehabilitate them.

Thanks to our team at the Office of Management Services, regional staff in the New York City office will soon be moved into their new space in the Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. State Office Building. My thanks to all staff who have been preparing for this move, including James Carey, John Chrzan, Justin Craig, Stephanie Donato, Beth Goyer, Anthony Green, Mike Mahoney, Pete Whitford, and Gina Wickham. Thanks, too, to the staff who worked behind the OCFS table at this year’s Great New York State Fair and all who kept up our efforts in every region of the state. It’s your dedication that moves us ever upward in fulfilling our mission!


OCFS at the Great New York State Fair

OCFS staff in the Science & Industry building welcomed visitors to the Great New York State Fair and shared useful information about the agency’s services. The fair promotes New York’s agriculture, food, recreation, entertainment, and services. Fairgoers had the opportunity to learn about child abuse prevention, foster care, adoption, child care and other services that contribute to the safety, permanency and well-being of New York’s families. Hundreds of children walked away from the OCFS booth with sunglasses, pinwheels and smiles. OCFS also had a presence elsewhere at the fair, with the NYS Department of Parks and Recreation, which helped young visitors build more than 1,600 bluebird nesting kits that OCFS youth had produced.

This year, OCFS enhanced its video presentation, providing more highlights of services: safe sleep videos; the first three installments of The Best of OCFS; the first-ever Energy Warriors competition for youth in our care who are learning about solar-power and building trades; and testimonials from New Yorkers who have been in foster care and share with prospective foster parents how much foster parents can mean to a child who needs them.


OCFS Helps Send Kids Back to School Packed and Ready

In August, OCFS staff stepped up to help children start the new school year with the school supplies they need. The agency donated crayons, notebooks, backpacks and other items to the Henry Johnson Charter School in Albany, where 389 students are enrolled in kindergarten through 4th grade. Deputy Commissioner for Administration Derek Holtzclaw joined Deputy Commissioner and General Counsel Suzanne Miles-Gustave to present the donated items to very grateful parents, staff and students. Thank you for your generosity in donating and for living our mission of promoting the well-being of New York State’s children and families.



FLRC Summer Youth Employment

Through the youth employment program at Finger Lakes Residential Center, seven residents earned money this summer landscaping, gardening, restoring camp grills, and building Adirondack chairs and bluebird nesting kits.
One youth was at the state fair showing younger children how to assemble bluebird nesting kits; several worked on landscaping projects at Cayuga Medical Center and at Kings Cemetery in Ithaca, and around the FLRC facility and Lansing Residential Center.

Students in the auto shop refurbished grills to be used by visitors to Tunkhannock Falls State Park. On August 21st, three staff accompanied two youth to the park to reinstall the grills and cooked on one of them. Many of the youth helped in cultivating the FLRC garden and learned about preparing the food they grew in the garden. Brian Lasda, Jay Cook, Jeff Williams, Consuelo Bernard, and David Chafee worked with the youth on building maintenance, welding, woodwork, horticulture and landscaping.

Highland Residential Center Offers Opportunities For Youth To Learn How To Grow Food With a Microgreens Program

Learning about nutrients and how to grow nutrient-rich food is what Highland’s microgreens program is all about. Youth in this program built the racks, equipped them with lights, learned about germination, watched seeds sprout and grow, and learned watering techniques. While doing so, they learned about the value of air circulation, temperature control, and the precise harvesting process. The beauty of microgreens is that the process only takes 10 days start to finish. The product has as many nutrients as the full-grown plants. The youth can watch their seeds become edible food in a short time. The hope is that residents are inspired to start gardens in their home communities, feed their families nutrient-rich foods, and incorporate plant-based foods into their diets. The microgreens program may inspire them to purchase and consume fewer processed foods. Natural food shops have increasingly been offering sprouts and microgreens for sale. The microgreen program at Highland also includes lessons about business and business ownership.

Homefinding Summit Highlights Need for Foster Parents

OCFS demonstrated its ongoing dedication to improving foster and adoptive parent recruitment, licensing and oversight by convening a two-day homefinding summit in Albany. The conference brought together staff from local departments of social services and voluntary agencies whose work includes homefinding. They recruit, certify, approve, retain, and support foster/adoptive homes.

OCFS Deputy Commissioner Laura Velez gave an overview of the importance of the program, which is aimed at improving the quality of foster boarding homes and keeping children in care safe

Attendees focused on recruitment and retention strategies to help find, develop, and support foster/adoptive families. Embracing the expertise that already exists in the field, OCFS created an opportunity for participants to influence guidance and shape best practice. Participants were encouraged to partner with OCFS when workgroup opportunities arise. Through a collaborative effort known as table talks, participants provided feedback and suggestions on the specific agenda items introduced during the summit. OCFS collected feedback, suggestions and next steps to send to participants.

OCFS Multicultural Day Celebration

The 2018 OCFS International Day celebrated the diversity of staff and those the agency serves. The event is organized by theOCFS Diversity Committee and is an opportunity to join colleagues and coworkers in a celebration of the diverse cultures represented by OCFS employees. It starts with cuisine from various nations and stretches over performance and folk art.

Kinship Awards Luncheon to Honor Families, Supporters and Commissioner Poole


On September 18, acting OCFS Commissioner Sheila Poole will be honored at the New York State Kinship Navigator’s 2017 luncheon in Albany. The event recognizes families who care for children and make a critical difference in their lives.

The Navigator team has renamed its award for Assemblywoman Barbara M. Clark, who authored the first Assembly Kinship Care Month Resolution and was a legislative Champion for kinship families. Commissioner Poole will be the first to receive the newly-named Barbara M. Clark Kinship Champion award. In bestowing the award, Kinship Navigator noted Commissioner Poole’s steadfast leadership at the state level and vigorous work to help kinship families, as evidenced by the dramatic reduction in foster care placements and increased support for Kinship caregivers.

The Kinship Navigator team is one of OCFS’s valued partners and is a bridge between kinship programs and regional permanency resource centers, whose services support families who have a newly-adopted child or have become guardians of a relative’s child.


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