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Kathy Hochul, Governor
Suzanne Miles-Gustave, Esq., Acting Commissioner
August 2017 — Vol. 2, No. 3

Third Annual Child Fatality Review Team Event in Colonie

  The Child Welfare and Community Services’ Child Fatality Review and Prevention Unit hosted its third annual Child Fatality Review Team (CFRT) event in Latham on June 13 and 14. Deputy Commissioner Laura Velez welcomed team members and noted in her opening remarks that the use of CFRTs is nationally recognized as being among the most promising approaches for accurately counting, responding to, and preventing child abuse and maltreatment fatalities and OCFS funds and supports 18 CFRTs in 19 counties across the state. CFRTs are multidisciplinary teams whose members are community leaders in medicine, law enforcement, child welfare, public health, and behavioral health. Their work includes various initiatives to prevent child fatalities, such as child abuse and maltreatment prevention, infant safe sleep environments, water safety, distracted driving, DUI, teen suicide, toy safety, and carbon monoxide safety.
  Among those gathered were OCFS staff from five of the agency’s regional offices. Presentations included some from representatives of the Office on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (opiate/heroin prevention), and Prevent Suicide NY (child suicide prevention). The Office of the Onondaga County Medical Examiner presented on doll reenactments that help an investigator learn crucial information about the discovery of a body. Deputy Commissioner Velez expressed OCFS’s commitment to preventing child fatalities in New York State and looked forward to continuing to support the vital work CFRTs do in helping to keep children safe.

Foster Care All-Stars

  Two young adults sponsored by OCFS are in the midst of a seven-week summer residence internship at the Seaside, Oregon headquarters of a group called FosterClub. Pearlie Massey (left) and Kaseem Johnson (below) each have experience in the foster care system that’s helping them succeed in the FosterClub All-Star Internship Program. The program provides interns between the ages of 18 and 24 with leadership opportunities, public speaking experiences, and advocacy skills. Internships last one year, allowing each member to build on the skills and knowledge they gain during summer and then give back to their own communities and states.
  Massey is a 20-year-old Buffalo State College student from Rochester pursuing a degree in social work. She was in foster care for 12 years. Her faith is a large part of her character because it is the source of her strength. Her goal is to become a social worker who listens and cares about the well-being children.
  Johnson is a senior at Alfred State College where he is studying Business Administration. After 15 years in foster care, he aged out when he turned 21.
  When potential interns apply, they include essays about their time in care and their passion for being an All-Star. FosterClub staff gather applications in early spring and work with BVP staff to coordinate phone interviews that lead to BVP selecting the top two candidates.
  The program was founded on the belief that young people who have successfully transitioned from foster care to responsible young adulthood are best suited to affect the transition of younger children in foster care. Since 2008, FosterClub and OCFS have been providing a way for young leaders to reach out to other youth through teen conferences. Each year, 12 former or transitioning foster youth are selected for a summer internship with FosterClub, to assist in planning, facilitating, and evaluating the events at FosterClub’s Teen Conference U.S. Tour. The All-Stars represent a diverse array of foster care experiences, education, goals, race and ethnicity, and geographical location. Each All-Star demonstrates leadership skills and an ability to connect with peers.
  The young leaders of FosterClub are determined to eliminate the stigma that can be associated with youth in foster care. They provide real-life examples of inspiration and motivation for other young people. 

OCFS, Permanency Resource Center Partners Focus on Adoption's Ongoing Journey

  On June 14, the OCFS Bureau of Permanency Services gathered with its partners who make permanency resource centers (PRCs) work in New York State. These regional centers help to prevent post-adoptive and post-guardianship dissolutions and disruptions; assist families so that children may be cared for in their own homes with their adoptive parents or legal guardians, and avoid foster care and other out-of-home placements. Suzanne D’Aversa, LCSW from the Parsons Child and Families Center led a discussion of current post-adoption service needs, and described adoption is an ongoing journey. David Wallace LCSW-R, associate executive director at LaSalle School, led the group through the Adverse Childhood Experiences survey and discussed neuroscience and brain development as they relate to trauma. After a rich discussion on how it affects the way one perceives life events and the ways people respond to trauma, the group left with tools for working with families in a trauma-informed model of care. New York State Kinship Navigator Director Gerard Wallace, Esq., and Ryan Johnson, regional kinship specialist, shared legal guidance on the differences between custody and guardianship.
  The post-adoptive families served by PRCs are families who have finalized the adoption of their child, and include any adoptive family member, whether the adoption was through a public or an authorized voluntary agency; a private placement; or an international adoption. Post-guardianship families include families with legal guardianship of the child. Post-guardianship families may or may not have an approved KinGAP agreement. PRCs provide supportive services and connect families to resources such as parent training, peer support, mentoring, navigation for cross-system needs, therapeutic services referrals, counseling, respite care, or other supports to help families address issues as they arise.
Laura Velez, OCFS deputy commissioner for the Division of Child Welfare and Community Services, and Renee Hallock, an associate commissioner in that division, thanked the attendees for their hard work in supporting the children and families of New York State.
  OCFS staff and their community partners left the meeting excited about their work supporting families who face unique challenges on their post-adoptive and post-guardianship journeys. For a list of the PRCs, click this link:, and stay tuned for exciting updates on the work being done at PRCs!

OCFS/State Parks Project a Success for Foster Families

  500 foster families from New York helped make an OCFS/State Parks project a success, receiving gift cards and Empire Passes to enjoy New York State parks this summer and fall.
  The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (State Parks) and OCFS announced the project in May, National Foster Care Month. Since then, every available pass and gift card has been claimed by an eligible family, giving them an opportunity to explore the outdoors by visiting parks throughout the season and enjoying overnight camping.
  Upon announcing the opportunity, State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey pointed out that finding new ways to connect families to state parks is always a goal. “We are happy to help foster families connect with the many exciting adventures our parks have to offer while showing our appreciation for caring for children who need them,” she said.
  In New York State approved foster parents receive training provide a safe, stable and nurturing home away from home for thousands of children who often feel personal loss when separated from their own families. Activities such as camping can help foster parents help foster children cope with stress. The Empire Pass provides for day-use vehicle entry to the state parks and many other state recreation facilities for the calendar year. OCFS acting Commissioner Sheila J. Poole said, “It’s been a joy to be able to have the chance to give back to our foster families. I hope their time spent in the great outdoors will always be a great memory for them.”

Fostering Futures New York Joins OCFS for Team-Building Project

  A volunteer group called Fostering Futures New York has been working on a project with OCFS since visiting the home office in May as part of National Foster Care Month. After FFNY members inspired a gathering of staff, deputies, and the commissioner, the agency began looking for volunteers within OCFS to join in the group’s efforts to provide support for foster families. Fostering Futures New York is a non-profit group that recruits teams of volunteers who receive training and meet with a family once a month. Families let the teams know how the teams can help with things such as meal preparation, respite care, and daily tasks. It helps foster families avoid burnout.
  One day after church, the program’s director mentioned it to Jim and Liz Macris. They liked it immediately. “I said to myself, ‘This is what I’ve been waiting for,” Jim said. He felt so strongly about it, he volunteered then and there. I said, ‘I’m on the team, I’m ready to go.”
  FFNY Director Meredith Osta says the group doesn’t do any of the functions that a caseworker does. “We are there to listen carefully to what foster parents want and need and see if the team of volunteers we recruited can help them.” Volunteers who form a team need not have any child welfare experience, nor any background in social work. All that’s required is a giving spirit and a desire to help others.