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Kathy Hochul, Governor
Dr. DaMia Harris-Madden, Commissioner
May 2017 — Vol. 2, No. 2

National Foster Care Month Empowering Caregivers, Strengthening Families

 This month finds us focusing attention on the more than two million children across the nation who need a caring family home. Foster parents play an essential role in providing temporary, safe, and nurturing homes to children when their parents are unable to care for them. This month, the OCFS website includes a listing of Foster Care Awareness Month activities. 

  One example of how the need for foster families is being met is a family from Ballston Lake. Caelin Bethel and Lindsay Ciocco (left) have cared for 22 children, most of whom returned home. They adopted three (pictured) and plan to adopt two more. Caelin is a registered nurse. Lindsay is a respiratory therapist. They were inspired to become foster parents several years ago after seeing babies in the neonatal intensive care unit, some of whom had no home. Bethel explains, “We just figured, we’re able to do it, so why not?”
  New York State continues to be a leader in finding permanent safe and nurturing homes for our children. The number of children in foster care in New York State has decreased from 53,902 children in 1995 to approximately 17,000 in 2017.
  The OCFS website contains detailed information about New York State's foster care system and the needs of children in temporary out-of-home placement. The resources and publications show how to become a foster or adoptive parent.
  We must remain ever vigilant to give our children the best care and support possible, while working to bring permanency and stability into their lives.
For more information about foster care and adoption, please call 1-800-345-KIDS.

Pinwheels, Blue, and Dedication on Display for Child Abuse Prevention Month

  As part of last month’s Child Abuse Prevention Month highlights, acting OCFS Commissioner Sheila Poole announced a media campaign designed to achieve OCFS’s core mission: the support and protection of children and their families. Social media postings have begun to spread the word about a successful program that can offer even more to the people it serves – Healthy Families New York.
  “Healthy Families connects expecting parents or those with newborn babies with supports and services in their own communities,” the commissioner told a crowd gathered in Albany’s Academy park on April 24. “The program is evidence-based, and has proven results in strengthening families and giving children a strong early start in life.” HFNY is a free, voluntary home visiting program that serves families from pregnancy until it’s time for children to go to school. Videos that describe the program and feature some of the participants and family support workers are posted on the OCFS website.
  The event included Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, Tim Hathaway, executive director of Prevent Child Abuse New York, Assemblyman John McDonald of Cohoes, and many children who planted pinwheels – a symbol of the happy, carefree life all children deserve.
  In the audience were members of the OCFS staff including Bernadette Johnson, who was part of the team from the Division of Child Welfare and Community Services that worked to produce the promotional materials for the Healthy Families New York campaign, Executive Director Paige Pierce from Families Together in New York State, and commissioners of local departments of social services, including Paul Brady of Schenectady County and Theresa Beaudoin of Rensselaer County.

Statewide Partnerships Support Kinship Care

  OCFS recognizes the importance of placing children with relatives when those children cannot safely stay in their homes.
  Beginning in April, 2017, as a result of a partnership between OCFS and the Statewide Implementation Team, local departments of social services and voluntary agencies received packets from Deputy Commissioner Laura Velez containing numerous resource materials for caseworkers, supervisors and for potential kinship caregivers. The packet includes an executive summary of the survey, and practice recommendations, as well as the 2017 Kinship Tip Sheet for caseworkers. The tip sheet provides strategies to locate and inform family of the process and different kinds of kinship care as well as links to other resource and reference materials. Inside the packet is a brochure and booklet for caregivers that outlines the different placement options and what permanency options look like based on the selected placement option. 
  The packets came to be after OCFS and representatives from local departments of social services, voluntary agencies and advocate groups who are part of the implementation team had prioritized kinship care as a key strategy. In many cases, it can expedite permanency. Over the past year, the implementation team and OCFS staff analyzed data and the recommendations from the most recent New York State Kinship Survey Report, along with best practice recommendations from around the state. The findings from the survey indicated that caseworkers needed more training to help locate and support caregivers and caregivers needed clearer information about their options. Recommendations included providing practical resource materials for caregivers and caseworkers and identifying barriers to supporting kinship placements. More than two million children in the United States are being raised solely by their grandparents or other relatives.


Mindfulness Seminar Focuses on Bias, Disparities

  On March 20th and 21st, OCFS hosted a conference called "Mindfulness and the Mind Science of Bias: Addressing Racial Disparities Across Systems." The target audience for the conference was primarily child welfare and court officials. More than 100 people attended.
 The deputy commissioner for the Division of Child Welfare and Community Services, Laura Velez, outlined the work her division has done over the past few years, all designed to provide positive outcomes for children and families. Featured speakers included Dr. Vajeera Dorabawila from the OCFS Bureau of Research. Dr. Dorabawila and Trista Deame, of the Department of Criminal Justice Services, presented on the racial disparities at the county level for child welfare and juvenile justice decision-making. Commissioner Jim Czarniak, of the Onondaga County Department of Social Services (pictured above) focused on how best to use data in providing services. During a break, he talked about what attendees might take away from the seminar. "I think it's going to be engaging the community and looking at the data they have,” Czariak said. “This room is great - there are a lot of great minds in here, but we're missing a really large segment of people who really know the story of why the data looks the way it does. I'm hopeful they're going to leave here understanding their limitations as leaders to bring in more people on the front lines who can really tell them what’s going on so they can go back and make the changes they're able to as leaders: funding, policy, supports, court timelines - all those sorts of things that are really what our job is."  

  One of the presenters was Gregory Owens, director of the OCFS Bureau of Strategic Partnerships & Collaborations.  "Hopefully, they'll take back the business and human case for becoming more mindful, more present in the work, particularly around racial and ethnic disparities," Owens told an observer, "and also realize there are biases that we're not even aware of that get in the way of the outcomes that we seek. If they will go back and be more cognizant of that, it will probably move us forward."

  Rick Seikaly, owner and founder of EnVisions Consulting LLC spoke to attendees about the business benefits of becoming more mindful in our work. One key strategy he recommends is to forget the notion that multi-tasking increases performance. He calls multi-tasking a myth, arguing that the human mind cannot do more than one thing at a time. He suggests what multi-taskers do is something more like "serial-tasking," and that it does not contribute to good outcomes.

  On the second day, acting OCFS Commissioner Sheila Poole congratulated the attendees and confirmed OCFS’s commitment to continuing to focus on racial and ethnic disparities in our systems, and to work to find ways to improve outcomes for all families. Participants broke into groups for brief workshops designed to drive home the importance of eliminating racial disparities as a means of properly serving vulnerable populations.
  The conference was funded by OCFS and supported by New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, the Council on Children and Families, The Franklin H. Williams Judicial Commission, and the Child Welfare Court Improvement Project, with support from Casey Family Programs.

Social Workers "Stand Up!” During National Social Workers Month

  This year's theme for National Social Workers Month was "Social Workers Stand Up!"
Every day, social workers stand up for millions of people, including people who are experiencing devastating illnesses; mental health crises; our veterans; children, and families In recognition of the many social workers employed by OCFS, acting Commissioner Sheila Poole issued a proclamation celebrating their dedication and community service, and acknowledging “OCFS social workers…make a critical impact on adolescent and youth development, aging and family care-giving, child protection, and family services...”

  On March 30, 2017 the staff from Child Welfare Community Support at the New York City regional office came together to celebrate social work, Women’s History Month, and Employee Appreciation Month. Angela Reshard-Player, deputy director of the institutional abuse unit was acknowledged for her 25 years of service with a certificate signed by the commissioner.


In Our Next Issue

The New York State Child Abuse Prevention Conference - May 9-10, Albany

  This conference inspires and equips participants with skills and strategies to strengthen families, prevent child abuse and ensure the healthy development of children. Prevent Child Abuse New York offers workshops that focus on advancing the knowledge, skills and expertise of practitioners in today’s complex environment through the lens of addressing root causes of maltreatment. Presentations engage the audience and leave participants with new skills and learning they can immediately put to use in their organizations, homes and communities. 
   Attendees include service providers, program supervisors and administration, representing a variety of roles, skills and education levels from a variety of sectors including child and family serving programs, health promotion, early childhood programs and advocates, as well as parents and other caregivers. The work of these providers gives strength to the children and families they serve and inspires action in their communities. They work in varied settings including parenting education, family support, child abuse prevention, intervention and treatment, early childhood education, domestic violence, health care, mental health, legal services, child protective services, schools and in the home, as parents.