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Kathy Hochul, Governor
Suzanne Miles-Gustave, Esq., Acting Commissioner
November 2018 — Vol. 3, No. 11

Message from the Commissioner

November is an especially busy month at OCFS. We recognize National Adoption Month and National Runaway Prevention Month while we prepare to celebrate the season of Thanksgiving. We are celebrating Adoption Month by honoring families from OCFS who have adopted children from foster care, and using the OCFS social media pages to highlight youth who have been freed for adoption from across the state. This year’s Adoption Month theme, “In Their Own Words - Lifting Up Youth Voices” is fitting, given our work with foster youth. Lifting voices is exactly what OCFS is doing through the OCFS Youth Advisory Board (YAB). The board is comprised of young adults who have experience in foster care. They help shape state policies affecting foster care and assist in crafting new initiatives. YAB members have collaborated with policy and decision makers at several conferences, including the New York Public Welfare Association’s biannual meeting and the Homefinding Summit that brings together staff from local departments of social services and voluntary agencies - staff whose work includes recruiting, certifying, approving, retaining, and supporting foster/adoptive homes.

For National Runaway Prevention Month, staff statewide wore green on November 6 to raise awareness. Youth and young adults who are homeless or lack stable housing are highly vulnerable. OCFS oversees programs and services to help meet the needs of this population and to help keep them safe.

And as we gather with loved ones to give thanks for the many blessings in our lives this Thanksgiving, let’s also reflect on all the lives we touch through our work here at OCFS. We have all been granted the unique opportunity to make a difference for working parents, vulnerable and aging adults, children in foster and kinship care, families adopting children, mentoring, traumatized youth who need our help putting their lives on a successful track, survivors of domestic abuse, and the people we help with employment and other service through the Commission for the Blind and AmeriCorps. Please also know how grateful I am to work with all of you and how much I appreciate your dedication to our good work.


Backpacks Delivered for Domestic Violence Survivors

OCFS staff generously contributed to a collection of items for domestic violence survivors in a campaign called "A Backpack of Care." The backpacks were delivered to Equinox in Albany, the YWCA in Schenectady and Unity House in Troy, where services are provided for those who have fled domestic violence. The goal was to help survivors feel cared for while having their immediate needs met in the aftermath of leaving home. The supplies included toiletries, clothing, notebooks, and day planners.













                      Above: OCFS Staff delivering backpacks in Troy; home office staff on “Purple Thursday;” some of the HSCC staff who contributed


Waiting Children Promoted on Social Media During National Adoption Month

November is National Adoption Month, which highlights the need for caring, “forever families” to adopt children who have been freed for adoption in New York State and across the country. This month, OCFS is promoting adoption on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Photos and personal profiles gathered from local departments of social services reach a wider audience through the sharing of social media posts, introducing more families to waiting children. The posts typically reach thousands of people. In New York State, more than 4,000 children in foster care will become eligible for adoption; several hundred are awaiting an adoptive placement.






Former OCFS Youth Returns After 23 Years to Inspire Others

A former Goshen Secure Center resident, John Bunn, who spent decades as a wrongfully-convicted inmate, returned to Goshen Secure Center, where he was placed in 1992 at age 14 to serve a sentence for a crime he did not commit. When he arrived at Goshen, Bunn could not read or write. But he found a staff of people there who cared about him and who taught him the importance of education. He learned to read and earned his GED before being transferred to Elmira State Correctional Facility.

Bunn’s visit had a dual purpose of inspiring the youth who now reside at Goshen to make the most of their time there and to thank the staff who encouraged him when he was at Goshen. He fondly remembered how the staff went so far as to make sure he had visitors during visitation hours.

Bunn spent the remaining 17 years of his sentence in prison and 10 years on parole, all for a crime he didn’t commit. His conviction was finally overturned in May of 2018. Following his exoneration, Bunn created a book drive to provide reading materials for people in prison, and has provided thousands of books for the incarcerated.

A teacher at Goshen who saw Bunn’s story in the news invited him back to speak to the residents. He was delighted to do so, but he asked if some of the former staff would join him so that he could thank them in person. Most had retired, but some came back to say hello to the free John Bunn.

On his website, A Voice 4 the Unheard, Bunn talks about the value of education. “I know there are a lot of individuals that might not be fortunate enough to have anyone that’s on the outside to send them any literature to read. It might keep them going. It freed my mind and opened my thoughts.” 

Million Dollar Investment in Apprenticeship Programs

The New York State Office of Children and Family Services is seeking organizations that have a successful history of working with youth who have been disconnected from school and the workforce, youth who are at risk of joining a gang or are already gang-involved, or youth who are currently involved in the criminal justice system to develop apprenticeship programs and provide intensive skills development, job training, and job placement services. The two-year, one-million-dollar Workforce Development Demonstration Project will serve up to 100 at-risk youth.

These organizations will have the capacity to provide these specialized services and/or work with other groups that can provide educational programming, workforce development training, and social support services, such as mentoring.
The recruitment pipeline for gangs like MS-13 relies heavily on their ability to prey on at-risk youth who have become disengaged from their communities. To cut off the pipeline, strategic investments such as this must be made to connect vulnerable youth with the critical life skills and job training necessary for building a career and re-engaging with their communities.

This funding will create an opportunity for youth to receive on-site job training and apprenticeships, new educational and community service opportunities, and counseling services, while also helping develop leadership and civic engagement skills.

Goshen Graduates Three Youth

Goshen Secure Center and residents’ families are celebrating the graduations of three residents who earned diplomas and certificates of educational excellence on October 5. Their parents were thrilled to be in attendance along with Facility Director Bobby Ray Smith, who spoke to the graduates about what it means to have the keys to success, and how happy he was to be a part of their day. He spoke about each student individually and encouraged them to continue on a productive path. One student is receiving college credit and made the dean’s list. In delivering the invocation and benediction, Rev. Dr. Michael Gerald, the director of the Bureau of Ministerial Services, noted that youth should view the time spent at Goshen as a short time, in contrast to the many years ahead for them in their communities. He advised the residents to not let their stay at Goshen define them, stressing that “change comes from within.”  Goshen's education supervisor, Dr. Hilda Galvez, offered words of inspiration in the stories of Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohammed Ali, describing them as audacious people who were captains in their lifetime, men who may inspire today’s youth to be agents of change.

OCFS Language Assistance Continues To Reach More New Yorkers Who Speak English as a Second Language

OCFS continues to see increasing demand for language access services. The agency provides language assistance to persons with limited English proficiency via telephone interpretation, in-person interpretation, and written translations.

This includes data provided by vendors approved by the Office of General Services and data compiled by language access liaisons representing various OCFS divisions, offices, and bureaus throughout the state, including the New York State Commission for the Blind, the Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment (SCR), and the Human Services Call Center.

The Office of Communications translated 150 documents in-house (129 English-Spanish and 21 Spanish-English) and coordinated the translation of 132 documents into the following languages: Chinese, English, French, Haitian Creole, Italian, Korean, Russian, Japanese, Somali, Swahili, Urdu, including translations from Czech to English.

The SCR coordinated the translation of 119 documents, mainly letters translated from Spanish to English, as well as translations into Bengali, Chinese, Russian, and Spanish. The languages covered in over-the-phone and in-person interpretation assistance included the following: Arabic, ASL, Bambara, Bengali, Burmese, Cantonese, Farsi, French, Fukienese, Fulani, Gujarati, Haitian Creole, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Karen, K’iche, Korean, Mandarin, Malay, Mindat Chin, Mixteco, Nepali, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Russian, Somali, Spanish, Swahili, Tigrinya, Twi, Urdu, Uzbek, Vietnamese, and Wolof.

For additional information on language access at OCFS, see our language assistance resources on the OCFS website.

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