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Kathy Hochul, Governor
Sheila J. Poole, Commissioner
March 2021 — Vol. 6, No. 3

Commissioner's Message

March is National Social Work Month, and we at OCFS celebrate this great profession and the positive impact social workers have on New York’s children, families and vulnerable adults.

This year’s theme is Social Workers Are Essential. We already know this to be true and have witnessed firsthand the vital work they have done over the past year especially in addressing personal and systemic barriers to optimal living; effecting positive change with individuals, families, groups and communities; and promoting community well-being. Throughout the pandemic, social workers have been on the front lines with other essential employees, including by working in hospitals to help patients get the best quality care and services they need once they return to their families and communities.

Social workers have had a powerful, positive impact in our nation for generations. Social reformer Jane Addams, former Labor Secretary Frances Perkins and civil rights leaders Dorothy Height, Whitney Young and Ida B. Wells helped Americans secure voting rights, equal rights, Social Security and unemployment insurance.

Social workers have a profound impact on millions of people each day, protecting children from abuse and neglect, providing mental health and substance use disorder treatment, working in schools, community organizations and in government.

At OCFS, social workers make a difference in nearly every division. Their role unifying social relationships by building on safety and security is essential to help families keep their children in their homes and help those placed outside of their homes to achieve permanency. They provide leadership for key statewide reform efforts on youth justice, runaway and homeless youth, trafficked youth, older youth in foster care and juvenile detention. They write legislation, regulations and develop policies; synthesize social science and practice knowledge to improve outcomes for youth, young adults, families and communities; and work to identify and address racial, ethnic, gender, gender identity and sexual orientation inequities. They also provide direct care to youth with treatment services and conduct outreach to families of the youth in our care.

Social workers help shape our society for the better, and we’re thankful for their role in providing services to empower our youth and families.

Let’s spread the word about the social work profession and the impact social workers have on New York State and beyond. We celebrate and salute our OCFS colleagues who serve in this role.

Sheila J. Poole


Commissioner Poole Delivers Budget Testimony

Child Care is a Focus

On February 9, Commissioner Poole fielded questions about the OCFS 2021-22 Executive Budget from the Legislative Fiscal and Children & Families Committees during the Human Services budget hearing (see the commissioner, top left above). The proposal includes $832 million in child care subsidies that serve more than 100,000 low-income families with 169,000 children. Additionally, it invests $40 million to eliminate child care co-pays for 32,000 low-income working families.

And with all the fiscal challenges the state has, the budget is able to balance ongoing support for OCFS’s core child welfare, child care and juvenile justice programs, Commissioner Poole said.

Many have focused on child care during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even before the virus took hold, 64 percent of New York families lived in child care deserts where there are not enough child care slots to meet demand. To broaden access to child care, this year’s budget proposes $6 million to provide start-up grants for new child care programs and wage supports with existing programs.

When asked about how to speed up the process of distributing supplemental federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) funding to eligible families and providers, the Commissioner responded that OCFS has made great progress by simplifying the process. “We are pushing those dollars out the door as quickly as we can.”

Child Care: An Engine of The Economy

COVID-19 shone a spotlight on the child care industry – on both those who run it and those who rely on it. When the pandemic forced many people to work from home, hundreds of child care programs closed either permanently or temporarily. Agencies, advocates, parents and providers all did their best to adapt to fewer child care slots. Working parents were especially strained, particularly women, and many had to quit their jobs to stay home with their children.

Child care is an essential service and an engine that drives the economy. The pandemic has underscored and made obvious the critical nature of affordable and accessible child care.

OCFS continues to support child care providers and parents. The agency has administered federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) child care funding, issued guidance for parents and child care providers and continued to investigate child care complaints.

The federal government has now allocated an additional $469 million in emergency child care funds to New York State through the Consolidated Appropriations Act enacted at the end of December. OCFS has submitted its plan to use those funds to the federal government and will work to expedite the distribution of the funding.

Commissioner Poole co-chairs the Governor’s Child Care Availability Task Force, which will soon issue its final report on approving access to quality, affordable child care in New York.

Growing Up In The Pandemic Doesn’t Mean Aging Out of Foster Care

New York State Receives Additional $14.7 Million in Funding For Foster Care Resources

OCFS is getting the word to foster youth who may be close to aging out of the system, or who have already aged out, that options and new resources are available.

December’s federal stimulus bill included $400 million nationwide to provide states with resources and flexibility to meet the immediate needs of transition-age foster youth during the pandemic. The law

  • places a moratorium on automatic discharge from care at age 21 in New York State,
  • allows re-entry into foster care up to age 22,
  • expands funding eligibility through age 26 and
  • increases Education & Training Vouchers from $5,000 to $12,000 per person per year.

New York State’s supplemental allocation for Education and Training vouchers is $1.8 million and $12.9 million for the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program, a federal grant to support youth 14 and older in foster care to achieve independence and stability in care and after leaving.

OCFS has been working with local departments of social services to identify, communicate with and provide financial support to youth who left care or aged out since last summer, explained Deputy Commissioner Nina Aledort, who heads the Division of Youth Development and Partnerships for Success. Districts and agencies cannot require a youth to leave at age 21 if they have not achieved permanency.

“This funding will help young adults who were in foster care who have been struggling during COVID and without supportive family,” she said. “All districts have been reaching out to youth in care aged 18 and older and to those who aged out since August of 2020. Youth eligible for increased educational supports through the Education and Training Voucher funds will also be notified of their options.”

OCFS has also informed its network of runaway and homeless youth providers of the new provisions in the law, so that they can help any eligible youth re-enter care and receive supports. Additionally, the OCFS Youth Advisory Board – meeting virtually through the pandemic – has been working to develop youth-friendly materials to provide to districts and agencies and to conduct outreach through social media.

Child Welfare and Community Services Division Issues Joint Guidance with the State Education Department on Navigating K-12 Pandemic Educational Challenges

OCFS’s Division of Child Welfare and Community Services and the State Education Department recently issued joint guidance on processes both school and child welfare personnel should undertake in response to concerns about educational neglect in remote, in-person or hybrid learning settings.

The pandemic presents unprecedented challenges for educators, child welfare personnel and the children and families both systems serve. Communication and collaboration between education and child welfare systems have never been more important to keep the children of New York State safe and their families supported.

Pandemic-related school closures in March 2020 exacerbated student attendance issues, which have continued into the current school year. Remote instruction did not work for everyone.

In many schools, multiple students have not logged on or participated in online learning. The reasons for this are complex and numerous and at times connected to the issue of inequity – difficulty in understanding or accessing technology and the internet; caregivers caring for multiple children while working one or more jobs; older youth assisting or caring for younger siblings in the home during their own school day; communication challenges such as language barriers; and children residing or sheltering in locations other than their known addresses, resulting in missed school or missed correspondence with their school.

These challenges and barriers to remote learning highlighted the need to re-evaluate and question the necessity of making educational neglect calls to the New York Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment, or Child Abuse Hotline.

In this difficult time, everyone is concerned about the potential adverse consequences for families, children and communities resulting from lack of participation in remote instruction, whether by choice or by circumstances. Providing clear opportunities for equitable instruction for all students is paramount. The OCFS and SED guidance is available here: on.ny.gov/2OdJcsi.

A Look Behind the Scenes at the OCFS Bureau of Classification and Movement

Commissioner Poole recently visited the Bureau of Classification and Movement in the Division of Juvenile Justice and Opportunities for Youth (DJJOY). The 24-hour operation touches every area of the division. The unit coordinates youth placements and movement, issues warrants, works with the legal department and the courts, and keeps abreast of all the incidents happening with youth – whether the kids are out in the community or in placement.

Did you know that Classification and Movement staff are DJJOY’s only non-facility staff that did not work remotely through all the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic? We appreciate their efforts!

MacCormick Youth Celebrate Black History Month

Science & Celebration and Social Justice are Emphasized

The teachers and students at MacCormick Secure Center found a creative and unique way to celebrate Black History Month and future cultural celebrations.

They painted a giant periodic table of elements on a wall outside of the science and math classrooms. During cultural events, important people will be highlighted and celebrated by inserting their picture on top of an element space, using their age of accomplishment as a guide. Staff wanted to help students celebrate contemporary people of achievement and be exposed to science on a constant basis.

To bring attention to race-based violence against Black people, MacCormick’s studio-in-art class completed a portraiture unit by choosing 15 people who were killed by police or due to race-based profiling and violence.

Students and their teacher collaborated to create lifelike portraits, which are now the basis for a mural that will be placed in Ithaca. The portraits will be transferred onto plywood that will then be painted, using art as a statement and a message to the world that all people deserve to live free of racial profiling and that no person deserves to be killed for the color of their skin.

Harriet Tubman Residential Center Celebrated MLK Day with Letters to President Biden

The President Has a Personal Connection to Auburn, N.Y.

Look out, President Biden, because here come the youth at Harriet Tubman Residential Center, and they are motivated.

As part of Black History Month, Harriet Tubman’s education department highlighted the presidential initiative (originally started under President Obama in 2016) to place Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill. Inspired youth wrote letters to the President, thanking him for restarting this initiative and showing their support for “Tubman on the Twenty.” They also created t-shirts to promote the campaign onsite.

Harriet Tubman is not only the name on an OCFS building. Her legacy emanates internationally, and part of her story is locally based. Her journey north out of slavery brought her to Auburn, N.Y., where the residential center is located. Auburn has a storied history of abolitionism. Figures like Harriet Tubman, Mary Coffin Wright and William H. Seward called Auburn home. President Biden is familiar with Auburn and its history. The President graduated from Syracuse University, a short drive from the campus, has familial ties to Auburn and visits Auburn’s local “Hunter Diner” – named after his son.

Staff at Harriet Tubman strive to foster an appreciation of their region’s history and encourage the youth there to help advance significant change in the present.

Columbia Girls Secure Center Residents Cook, Write and Draw… And Join Biggest Loser Contest

Throughout February, youth at Columbia Girls Secure Center (CGSC) celebrated Black History Month by:

  • Creating African placemats
  • Choosing/creating/sharing a meal/recipe to place in a Black history cookbook (see photo of seafood gumbo eaten in honor of Vice President Kamala Harris’ favorite meal)
  • Re-writing personalized versions of the “I Have a Dream” speech through their own lens
  • Creating MLK drawings on display on bulletin boards
  • Participating in a bulletin board contest themed “Love Changed the World” that highlights prominent people in African American history
  • Participating in a poster contest to commemorate the impact Michael Jackson and Madam C.J. Walker have had on culture and society (see photo for winning entry)
Healthy living

CGSC staff and residents are working together in a “biggest loser” team contest. Participants are attempting to lose a cumulative amount of weight (there are weekly weigh-ins), support each other in healthy eating (they’re revising menus, creating cookbooks in culinary class and cooking healthy lunches and dinners for each other) and supporting each other’s exercise habits and routines (with daily work out programs/plans).

Since January 1, the “Get Your Fit Together” team of three staff and three residents have lost a total of 33 pounds. Well done, everyone!

New York State Council on Children and Families Helps Build Social and Emotional Competence Through Free Pyramid Model

The New York State Council on Children and Families (CCF) promotes the statewide use of the Pyramid Model, an evidence-based and effective approach to building social and emotional competence in all early care and education settings.

CCF created a team of state and private agencies to form a Pyramid Model State Leadership Team (PMSLT) to guide the implementation. OCFS is one of the strongest partners in this work.

  • Increase the number of early childhood trainers and coaches providing professional development to the early childhood workforce on Pyramid Model practices.
  • Support the implementation and sustainability of the Pyramid Model in all early childhood settings.
  • Create learning environments in which every child feels they belong; promote children’s social engagement and positive relationships; and teach children routines, expectations and problem-solving strategies to help them to be successful.
  • Support relationships between educators and families.
  • Eliminate the suspension and expulsion of children under age six in New York.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of implementing the Pyramid Model in New York State.

CCF currently has 60 child care sites, with more than 300 classrooms and approximately 10 family child care sites, that implement the free Pyramid Model. They have experienced tremendous growth and changes in how they work with children and parents. Each implementation program receives coaching up to eight times a year for three years to establish lasting change.

Pyramid Model training and coaching in 2021 and 2022 is paid for by the CCDBG and PDGB5 Federal grant 90TP005902, also known as NYSB5 grant in New York. Please encourage any agency to reach out that would like support to support children when they present with challenging behavior.

More Information

To get started, you can encourage child care staff, administrators and providers to attend a Pyramid Model training session. Below are some helpful links:

If you have questions about the model, please contact CCF’s Patty Persell at patricia.persell@ccf.ny.gov.

Those With Low Vision or Blindness Have Greater Accessibility to Photographic and Visual Content

The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) is teaming with Getty Images and Tactile Images to deliver 25 million images to the world’s blind population. The images will be offered at museums, science centers, libraries, schools and government agencies to enhance opportunities and inclusion for blind and low-vision people around the globe.

Getty Images, based in Chatham, N.Y., the NFB and Tactile Images are providing greater accessibility to visual resources, with an emphasis on photography and fine art, representing the world's people and cultures, including the blind and others with disabilities.

“The Empire State leads in many ways so it is no surprise to learn that a local company is working with the NFB, who are potent advocates and who enrich our communities here and across the nation with their leadership in accessibility and civil rights for the blind,” said OCFS Associate Commissioner Brian Daniels, Commission for the Blind.

Mark Riccobono, president of the NFB, said in a statement, “Blind people have all the same interests, concerns and aspirations as all who participate in our society and culture, and that culture is reflected in the millions of images that this partnership will help us access.”

This commitment involves helping people fully understand and experience our society, providing unique educational perspectives and increasing access to content that may have previously been inaccessible, according to Getty.

New York City Regional Office Honors New Staffer for Social Work Month

The NYC Regional Office (NYCRO) is recognizing staff member Bayeena Bilal as part of Social Work Month.

Bayeena started working at NYCRO in 2020 and holds a master’s degree in social work from Hunter College’s Silberman School of Social Work. In her graduate study, she focused on organizational management and leadership with an emphasis on child welfare. Working with children, youth and families for almost 20 years, Bayeena is a former enlisted United States Air Force veteran. She joined OCFS as a youth counselor at the Sgt. Henry Johnson Youth Leadership Academy in 2010, which was designed to instill military precision and discipline with a therapeutic reinforcement.

Currently a children and family services specialist 1 – enforcement liaison, Bayeena provides oversight to the NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene. She ensures that home-based child care programs are licensed and registered in a timely manner. She also monitors her assigned programs for compliance and ensures that appropriate enforcement actions are taken when a program does not meet regulatory standards.

Throughout her professional growth and development, Bayeena has learned that the principals of social work are at play in every arena and throughout every organizational function. As a social worker, she wishes to assist in affecting strength-based, individual positive responses to daily occurrences – responses that are rooted in cognitive, empathetic and emotional intelligence despite a person’s trauma experiences. Thanks to Bayeena for her work on behalf of children and families.

OCFS Staff and Commissioner Volunteer at Rensselaer Food Drive

Commissioner Poole, Dierdre Sherman and other OCFS staff helped with set up and distribution for a recent food drive, which the City of Rensselaer hosted.