Child Welfare News And Notes

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Kathy Hochul, Governor
Suzanne Miles-Gustave, Esq., Acting Commissioner
November 2018 — Vol. 2, No. 4

Child Welfare News and Notes

Youth Making a Difference
Joseph DeBiew and Bianca Bennett

The New York State Office of Children and Family Services has been partnering with FosterClub since 2008 by sponsoring two young adults from New York State to participate in the FosterClub All-Star Internship Program. The program involves people 18-24 years of age who have had experience in foster care and provides them with leadership opportunities, public speaking experiences, advocacy skills, and a seven-week summer residence internship at FosterClub headquarters in Seaside, Oregon.

Cody Rivera

The 2018 New York State All-stars are Joseph DeBiew and Bianca Bennett. You can read Joseph’s blog on th FosterClub web site. Each sponsored All-Star serves a one-year term, allowing them to build on the skills and knowledge they gained over the summer and an opportunity to give back to their own communities and states.

The application process consists of youth submitting an online application to the All-star program. The application includes essays from the youth about their time in foster care and why they want to be an all-star. After the application deadline, generally in April, the FosterClub program will work with staff from OCFS’s Bureau of Vulnerable Populations (BVP) to set up phone interviews. The top two candidates are then selected by OCFS BVP staff.

New York State foster care youth have the opportunity for even greater representation with the recent appointment of Cody Rivera to FosterClub’s board of directors. Cody is a former All-Star and recently partnered with OCFS during Foster Care Awareness Month 2018, sharing his experiences during May’s social media campaign to encourage people to become foster parents. Read Cody’s story.

OCFS Hosts 2018 Home Finding Summit

Home finders and supervisors from across the state convened for two days in August at the Desmond Hotel in Colonie, New York to network, hear from their peers about promising practices and receive first-hand feedback from members of the OCFS Youth Advisory Board.

More than 200 local district, voluntary agency and OCFS staff attended the summit. Deputy Commissioner Laura Velez provided an overview of the safety and permanency work that has progressed over the past year; new federal legislation that will increase the need for foster, therapeutic and kinship homes while reducing congregate care; and the need for a workforce that is culturally competent and understands the importance of race and cultural equity. Over the course of two days, participants experienced modified TED Talks presented by their peers addressing promising recruitment and retention practices, innovative ways to support foster and adoptive parents through social media and paid family leave for foster/adoptive parents.

OCFS provided a resource table with materials on CONNECTIONS, safe sleep, kinship, adoption, paid family leave, OCFS policies, frequently asked questions and staff members ready to fill in the gaps. Participant feedback was positive and suggested a continued need for more race equity work across the state, an appreciation for the insight provided by Youth Advisory Board members and the utility in training that is geared toward difficult conversations with prospective foster and adoptive parents.

Permanency Resource Centers Support Positive Outcomes

Among the many examples of adoption changing lives is the story of a grandfather who’s been raising his adopted, free-spirited, smart and outgoing 8-year-old grandson after his own son passed away when the grandson was a toddler. He contacted a permanency resource center to obtain post-adoption services for his son, and for himself and his partner. He was at first uncertain about receiving mental wellness services, but a social worker who developed a strong rapport with the family showed him the value of those services through psychoeducation and literature. This led to services that helped him understand his grandson’s needs and, in combination with therapy for his family, improved their lives.

One woman who adopted three elementary school-aged daughters five years ago is especially grateful for the emotional support she found through a permanency resource center. Social services providers helped her through difficult times after her husband’s death and during her daughter’s surgery. The program provided opportunities for her children to volunteer, and for her to network with other parents. The program director told us her team is “fortunate to be able to work with and assist such resilient families. We always appreciate hearing first-hand from the families about how our efforts have benefited them.”

Imagine the pride and joy of a grandmother and legal guardian to a girl who was adopted at four-months-old. Workers from a Permanency Resource Center came to her assistance after the girl had behavioral issues at school prompted by a long-absent mother re-entering the picture. It led to the student’s school day being cut in half until after social worker began meeting with her and her grandmother to teach coping skills to reduce anxiety, and help the girl express her feelings, understand her emotions, and build self-esteem. In the end, the girl went back to her full-day schedule at school and onto the next grade level. These stories demonstrate the value of New York State’s investment in Permanency Resource Centers to support families with newly-adopted children and families who have taken in relative children. 

OCFS would like to thank the Children’s Home of Jefferson County, the NAC Family Permanency Center, and the Abbott House HEART Permanency Resource Center for their assistance.

A Backpack of Care
OCFS's Peter Ashley delivers backpacks with Unity House's Kim Mayo.
OCFS's Peter Ashley delivers backpacks with Unity House's Kim Mayo.

In recognition of October being Domestic Violence Awareness Month, OCFS staff collected personal care items for domestic violence survivors. One in three women and one in 17 men will be a victim of domestic violence. OCFS-licensed programs provide safe shelter for more thousands of adults and children.

The filled backpacks were distributed to domestic violence shelters in the capital district as a small gesture of caring for victims as they flee a dangerous situation. The personal care items included will help comfort victims as their immediate needs are addressed.

Backpacks contained towels, washcloths, T-shirts, sweatpants, notepads, pens and pencils, snacks, water bottles, toiletries, day planners and journals.

For the hotline number of your local domestic violence program, call the New York State Domestic and Sexual Violence Hotline at 1-800-942-6906, English and Español/multi-language accessibility. Deaf or hard of hearing: 711. In NYC: 1-800-621-HOPE (4673), or dial 311. For TDD: 1-800-810-7444.

National Electronic Interstate Compact Enterprise (NEICE)

Recognizing the importance of an expedited and more efficient Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) process, New York State went live in the NEICE database on August 9, 2018, joining many other states that use NEICE to ease workloads and create better outcomes for children. In 2013, The Association of Administrators of the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children announced the development of this real-time, on-line data system for states to share records and exchange information. When a state receives an ICPC request, the receiving state will study the placement resource for appropriateness and safety of the placement. ICPC requests also identify the supervision requirements that will be required upon the child's arrival in their new placement.

Kinship Navigator Grant

On September 7, the Administration for Children and Families notified OCFS of a $637,194 grant award to support development, enhancement or evaluation of kinship navigator programs. This one-year funding would be used to implement and enhance practices of the New York State Kinship Navigator and kinship caregiver programs. The goal is to strengthen the state’s unified kinship navigator continuum of care with the intent to qualify as an evidence-based model pursuant to the Family First Prevention Services Act.

Spotlight on Columbia

In July 2018, Columbia County underwent an Ongoing Monitoring Assessment (OMA) review that included a review of their Family Assessment Response (FAR) practice. FAR is an alternative CPS response available to families with low to moderate safety concerns regarding certain allegations. The FAR approach emphasizes family engagement and solution-focused casework as the primary means of identifying a family’s strengths and needs and catalyzing change.

As part of the review, the county worked with OCFS’s regional office in Albany to examine 10 FAR cases and 10 investigation (INV) cases for comparison. OCFS is delighted to report that the county’s FAR OMA review results were exceptional. Every case examined showed a complete and prudent 24-hour and 7-day safety assessment. The review also revealed several examples of excellent family engagement practice, such as the appropriate use of tools and techniques such as Three Houses, Genograms, Miracle Questions, and use of the Life Wheel in conjunction with the FLAG. Furthermore, the INV cases reviewed displayed “FAR-like” features in their documentation, such as the use of non-confrontational language, and instances of FAR and INV workers teaming up to conduct field visits together when a tracking decision was proving especially difficult.

Beyond these tangible successes, there was a clear sense during the review that both the FAR and INV caseworkers at Columbia County felt good about their jobs, and were deeply connected to the work. One OCFS staff member was struck by how much they knew about the families on their caseloads, and the compassion and hope they displayed when talking about them. “I’ve never seen such a happy group of caseworkers,” she said. “This is the most fun I’ve had in this job!”

Sonoma Pelton, the regional office lead for Columbia County, is extremely proud of the work they have done in improving FAR case practice and attributes their success to a few key things. First, Columbia County sought help. Seeing a need to re-evaluate screening practices, the county reached out to the regional office in 2016 and received monthly coaching. This led to the intentional use of the full seven days allotted to them to assess safety before making final decisions. This simple tweak that focused on how best to serve families resulted in more cases being screened into FAR. Sonoma also highlighted the county’s display of commitment to FAR and to good case practice in general at all levels of their organization, which makes it easier to drive positive change. “It’s not just one champion on the floor,” she noted. “It’s a district-wide commitment to doing this work right.”

If you are interested in highlighting the exceptional work of Family Assessment Response in your county, please contact the FAR program manager, Amy Papandrea:

New York Paid Family Leave – Support for Working Families

On January 1, 2018, New York State launched Paid Family Leave, a landmark benefit that provides job protected, paid time off to eligible, working New Yorkers to bond with a new child, care for a family member with a serious health condition or assist loved ones when a family member has been called to active military service abroad.

Eligible parents can take Paid Family Leave within the first 12 months of a birth, adoption, or foster placement of a child. This includes children born, adopted, or fostered in 2017 as long as leave is taken and completed within 12 months of the qualifying event.

The benefits of bonding with children are enormous, and the needs and abilities of children vary. New and exciting situations that are positive can also be jarring and may require an adjustment period. OCFS encourages voluntary agencies, foster agencies, adoption agencies and Family Court to share information about Paid Family Leave and encourage eligible families to consider it.

Strong benefits and protections

In 2018, eligible employees can take up to eight weeks off at 50 percent of their average weekly wage, capped at 50 percent of the Statewide Average Weekly Wage (SAWW). In 2019, the benefit grows to 10 weeks off at 55 percent of their average weekly wage, up to a cap of 55 percent of the SAWW. Benefits will continue to increase until 2021 when Paid Family Leave is fully phased in, at which time eligible employees will be able to take up to 12 weeks off at 67 percent of their pay up to a cap of 67 percent of the SAWW. Benefits are based on a rolling 52-week period.

In addition to wage replacement and time off benefits, Paid Family Leave has strong protections against discrimination or retaliation for requesting or taking Paid Family Leave.

Most employees who work in New York for private employers are covered and eligible once they meet the minimum time-worked requirements of 26 consecutive weeks for full-time employees or 175 days for part-time employees. Citizenship and/or immigration status is not a factor.

Public employees may be covered if their employer voluntarily opts in to provide the benefit. Public employees represented by a union may be covered if the benefit is negotiated through collective bargaining.

Available Resources

As you think about your role in informing individuals and families about New York Paid Family Leave, there are many resources available in multiple languages to assist you at These resources can be shared with those you work with and include the following:

The state has set up a toll-free Paid Family Helpline at (844) 337-6303 to assist with callers’ questions, in any language. The Helpline is available Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Paid Family Leave is now in effect in New York and is here for employees to use when they need it – when their families need them.