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Kathy Hochul, Governor
Sheila J. Poole, Commissioner
January 2022 — Vol. 7, No. 1

Commissioner's Message

Happy new year, everyone!

Let us all begin 2022 with a resolve to do our part in individual and collective ways to make this state and nation a better place – and we can begin right here with our work at OCFS.

One opportunity falls on January 17th -- Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the National Day of Service. It is a “day on” when we do not report to the office but have the opportunity to engage in an activity that moves us closer to Dr. King’s vision. This year’s theme is “Opportunity and Promise.”

The issues Dr. King addressed decades ago are hauntingly similar to what we see today. We must find within ourselves the courage to stop violence, the openness to gain understanding and the resolve to find peaceful resolution to differences. In Dr. King’s memory, let’s work together to build a more just world for all children and families in New York State and beyond. Let us answer his call to action through our words and deeds of kindness, mutual respect and understanding.

In late December, OCFS welcomed a new diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) officer, Angelica Kang, to assist us with this very important work. Angelica is organizing and overseeing a wide range of initiatives to bolster and support a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace and to foster a deep understanding of relevant DEI concepts and strategies. We are grateful to have her on our team.

This month, we’re also highlighting our work in human trafficking prevention and providing services to victims. During National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, we raise awareness of the supports available to help survivors recover and thrive. Please join us in wearing blue on January 11 to show your support and encourage public awareness of trafficking.

We are mapping out our goals, priorities and projects for the coming year, and I feel a renewed vigor and vibrancy around us as we focus on many priorities before us. I’m proud to work with such dedicated and talented staff as together we strive to promote the safety and well-being of our fellow New Yorkers. I wish you and your family a wonderful new year full of health, happiness, success, fulfillment, peace and joy.

Sincerely,
Sheila J. Poole
Commissioner

Articles

Commissioners Cross-Systems Convening: The Impact of the Pandemic on Children, Families, Schools and Communities

OCFS Commissioner Sheila J. Poole and the commissioners of the State Education Department, the Office of Mental Health and the Division of Criminal Justice Services will host a virtual cross-systems event on January 7 to discern the impact COVID has had on vulnerable children, families and communities at state and local levels and look for opportunities to collaborate on solutions.

Before the meeting, the agencies will seek input from their stakeholders on the most critical issues affecting their areas that impede school success for children and older youth.

The commissioners will respond to the critical issues raised in the survey and discuss state-level collaborative efforts to address the crises facing our children, families and communities.

During the second part of the meeting, local partners will participate in breakout sessions to share ideas and strategies to leverage resources and enhance cross-agency collaboration to foster the educational success of New York’s children and youth.

Child Care Stabilization Grants Are Outstanding Success

OCFS has awarded $900 million in Child Care Stabilization Grants to child care programs statewide. The grants are part of a $2.3 billion package of investments in New York State’s child care industry funded by the federal American Rescue Plan Act and Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act.

OCFS handled applications from 15,000 eligible child care providers over just four months, from August through November.

“Thank you to all OCFS staff who helped make sure child care providers accessed the stabilization grant,” said Nora Yates, associate commissioner of the Division of Child Care Services (DCCS). “All regional offices went above and beyond working with programs to address their questions and concerns, with Long Island Regional Office securing the title of ‘Stabilization Mania’ winner! Overall, 95% of all eligible providers are receiving an award, providing critical support to our programs and providers and their staff.

“DCCS has never administered this large of a grant program in this short a time, and I’m grateful for everyone’s efforts and our stakeholder partners for all their energy and outreach.”

The funds covered the costs of personnel, rent or mortgage, utilities, facility maintenance or improvements, personal protective equipment, supplies needed to respond to COVID-19, goods and services needed to maintain or resume child care services, mental health supports for children and employees, health and safety training for staff, and more.

Providers statewide were delighted with the ease in applying for and receiving the grants. Congratulations to OCFS staff for this great accomplishment!

Angelica Kang Named New Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer

OCFS's new diversity, equity and inclusion officer Angelica Kang

OCFS has a new diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) officer – Angelica Kang, who comes to Home Office from just across the Hudson River where she served the City of Albany as assistant corporation counsel and most recently as chief diversity officer, advising senior leadership on creating and maintaining an inclusive workplace.

“It’s really challenging work,” Angelica said. “I was happy to see that throughout OCFS’s interview process, the executive team seemed deeply invested in DEI.”

Before Albany City Hall, she put her Fordham law degree to work with the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, where she answered legal and legislative questions on how agencies can best communicate during emergencies.

“I’m really looking forward to this next step and using my ability to listen and building from there,” Angelica said. “I don’t believe in ‘one size fits all’ DEI policies. So much depends on the individual experience of each person.”

In her new role as the agency’s DEI officer, Angelica organizes and oversees a wide range of initiatives at OCFS to bolster and support a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace. She leads efforts to recruit and retain a diverse workforce and to create programming to foster a deep understanding of relevant DEI concepts and strategies, including an increased awareness of implicit bias and the structural inequities that impact the agency’s work. In addition to leading the DEI office, Angelica also directs the work of the agency’s DEI sub-committees and develops goals, objectives and measurable outcomes in support of agency-wide DEI initiatives.

When not in the office, Angelica enjoys the outdoors. Originally from New Jersey, she loves upstate New York, and her hobbies include rock climbing, making stained glass and arranging flowers. As the child of immigrants – her parents hail from Taiwan – she has long known that the world is bigger than herself.

Growing up watching her accomplished parents be discriminated against simply because of their appearance and accents also drove her to public service.

“I feel very inclined to make an impact,” Angelica said. “We need to do things in a new way, including hearing from historically underrepresented voices and perspectives. Everyone should be heard, valued and incorporated into our programming to develop OCFS as the shining example of DEI in the workplace. And I want people to be themselves.”

Governor Hochul to Present Her First State of the State Address on January 5

OCFS will be listening intently as Governor Kathy Hochul delivers her first State of the State address on Wednesday, January 5.

Governor Hochul is New York’s 57th governor and the first woman to hold the chief executive office. She has been a staunch advocate for initiatives put forth by OCFS during her time in public office, including access to child care, combatting child poverty, preventing domestic violence and upholding the rights of women and LGBTQ+ people.

"Over the past four months we've taken major steps forward to address the challenges facing New Yorkers, from increasing our statewide vaccination rate to providing relief to struggling tenants and homeowners -- but there's more work to be done," Governor Hochul said when the event date was announced last month.

Stay tuned for a summary of the State of the State and OCFS’s priorities for 2022.

Statewide Child Care Availability Task Force is Reimagined

Task Force Will Explore Universal Child Care and Evaluate COVID-19’s Impact of on the Child Care Industry

The state’s reimagined Child Care Availability Task Force will focus on and evaluate the impact of COVID-19 on the child care industry. The task force is expanding its mission to also provide recommendations on addressing child care workforce issues and will advise the state on the implementation of universal child care using existing state and federal funds.

The partnership among the Legislature, the Governor’s office and the task force will continue to make New York State a visionary leader in child care policies and practices.

“Child care is often portrayed as a ‘women’s issue,’” Governor Hochul said. “In reality, it’s an economic issue that affects workers, families and businesses across the country. New York is heavily investing in child care, and reimagining the Child Care Availability Task Force’s work is another step in a series of bold initiatives I am leading to develop a world class child care industry that serves all working families who need it.”

The Child Care Availability Task Force will

  • examine how child care has been affected by the implementation of policies supported by federal stimulus packages,
  • report on implementation of any recommendations resulting from the prior task force report and
  • focus on
    • examining the impact of the pandemic on child care,
    • advising the state in developing a universal child care plan and
    • recommending solutions and partnerships to improve child care work force issues or other child care issues.

Co-chaired by Commissioner Poole and DOL Commissioner Roberta Reardon, the task force is comprised of representatives from the child care provider community, the advocacy community, the business community, several state agencies, local departments of social services and unions that represent child care providers.

EPA Awards OCFS $1.96 Million to Test for Lead in Drinking Water at Child Care Facilities

OCFS has been awarded a $1.96 million U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grant that we used to establish our free Lead Testing in Drinking Water Program, which identifies sources of lead in drinking water at child care facilities. Child care providers can apply to the program until Sept. 1, 2023.

“Health, safety and child development are the top priorities in the child care programs we oversee,” said OCFS Commissioner Sheila J. Poole. “Lead causes serious harm to children, so it is incumbent on child care providers to be certain they are providing safe, clean drinking water. OCFS is very pleased to partner with them on this lead-testing grant to keep all children in care safe and healthy.”

There is no known safe lead level, and young children are the most vulnerable to this toxic metal, which can cause serious physical and behavioral issues, including impaired hearing, lower IQ, damage to the nervous system and hyperactivity. OCFS is prioritizing testing in facilities serving low-income communities, which research has demonstrated are consistently harmed because of disparate access to healthy environments. Facilities that provide care for children ages six and younger will be prioritized for funding.

This voluntary, free program uses the EPA’s 3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water in Schools and Child Care Facilities guidance manual as a framework for the program. OCFS has partnered with a lab to provide the testing in eligible state-licensed and -registered child care facilities. OCFS will support providers in developing a plan for responding to elevated lead level results.

As a part of the program, OCFS offers free training for child care providers on the dangers of lead in drinking water and additional resources for providers and families. Testing results will also be communicated to the community, families and the public.

Celebrating Braille Awareness Month

Have you ever been on an elevator or in an office and noticed small, raised bumps next to printed signs and wondered about them?

January is Braille Awareness Month, chosen to honor the birthday of its creator, Louis Braille, who created the system in 1821 for people who are unable to read print due to a significant visual impairment. Since 1990, when the Americans with Disabilities Act passed, Braille signs are required in public spaces to allow a blind or visually impaired person to read the same information that others read in print.

BRAILLE

braille

 

Braille is not a separate language, but a tactual alphabet. Many languages have a Braille system, with the original in Braille’s native French. It is written in “cells” made up of six raised dots that determine a letter, number, punctuation or indicator mark. Spacing between words is the same as in print.

Braille exists in two forms, uncontracted and contracted. Reading speeds are quicker with contracted where common words and groups of letters have shortened forms. Learning to read Braille takes time, just as reading print does.

Braille can be written by embossing paper, using a slate and stylus, or a Perkins Braillewriter, a typewriter-style machine. Computer technology allows a person to emboss Braille more quickly.

Is Braille obsolete with audio books and scanners giving access to more written materials? Many say they want to be as independent as possible, and Braille allows them to access their personal files and documents and read books without needing a device or sighted person to assist them. It is empowering to have options.

If you would like more information about Braille, its creator, how to become an instructor or services for the visually impaired, contact your New York State Commission for the Blind regional office.

New York Protects Victims of Human Trafficking

January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. OCFS’s Division of Youth Development and Partnerships for Success (YDAPS) tracks a dark industry, working to both stop trafficking and care for its survivors.

Certain populations are particularly vulnerable to traffickers, including children who have histories of physical, sexual or emotional abuse, young people fighting substance abuse or mental health issues, and runaway or homeless youth. Additionally, LGBTQ+ youth who have not been accepted and supported in their homes can be easy prey to traffickers, according to OCFS’s Director of the Bureau of Health and Well-being Madeline Hehir.

Governor Hochul recently signed legislation to support human trafficking victims. The new laws require law enforcement and district attorney's offices to make victims aware of social and legal services and offer to make connections with appropriate providers.

New York also enacted the START Act (Survivors of Trafficking Attaining Relief Together) in November 2021 and strengthens protections for victims of trafficking by making sure survivor information is kept confidential.

To recognize National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, OCFS is hosting two trainings in January: a train-the-trainer session for our newest Safe Harbour: NY coordinators and a review of 2020 data collected from the program. If you’d like to learn more about human trafficking, please visit the Human Trafficking information channel on the OCFS YouTube page and also watch for our social media posts.

On January 11, we invite you to join the national #WearBlueDay campaign with other organizations and individuals across the country wearing a piece of blue clothing to encourage public awareness about human trafficking.

If you suspect an adult or child is being victimized, report it to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 888-373-7888 or by texting 233733, and notify law enforcement. For more information on OCFS’s trafficking and related services, see https://ocfs.ny.gov/programs/human-trafficking/.

Commissioner Poole Makes a Surprise Visit to the Human Services Call Center

Commissioner Sheila J. Poole made a surprise holiday visit to the Human Services Call Center and met with managers as well as experienced and new call center representatives to thank them for their efforts during a challenging 2021. The call center handles 7,000 calls per day on behalf of 10 New York State agencies.

Kurtish Dharia chats with Commissioner Poole when she recently dropped in for a visit at the call center.
Susan Dunn, Aprilis Pinney, and Jenn Micieli visit with Commissioner Poole at the call center.

OCFS Names New Regional EAP Coordinator

Receive Confidential Wellness Support for Work and Home Life

Myra DeLuke, OCFS's new regional Employee Assistance Program Coordinator

Did you know that you can receive free, confidential support for everything from stress to family issues to insurance matters?

OCFS’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) helps employees and their families address work, family and personal issues to promote health and wellness at work and at home. And during this challenging time throughout the pandemic, many of us are experiencing increased anxiety and depression and could use some extra support.

Myra DeLuke has recently been named the regional Employee Assistance Program (EAP) coordinator for the Capital District, assisting staff in the Rensselaer offices, OCFS call centers in Menands, the Human Services Training Center, the Albany Community Multi-Services Office and Brookwood Secure Center for Youth.

No matter where you report to work, a regional EAP coordinator is available to you. They can provide confidential personal assessments and customized referrals to local resources for additional assistance. Coordinators can help employees with various issues, including the following:

  • Family-related problems
  • Emotional or physical illnesses
  • Stress
  • Alcohol and other drug-related problems
  • Assistance with health insurance
  • Grief
  • Child care, eldercare, legal and financial support services
  • Workplace health education and employee wellness programs

For more information, visit OCFS EAP (NYENET only) and/or contact Myra if you’re in the Capital Region.

Facility Updates

Highland Residential Center Celebrates Hope Day and Friendsgiving

Located in the Hudson Valley, Highland Residential Center recently celebrated its annual Sanctuary event called “Hope Day” and enjoyed a Thanksgiving-inspired meal called Friendsgiving.

Hope Day: SELF

The Sanctuary Model promotes safety and recovery from adversity through actively creating a trauma-informed community. This year’s Sanctuary event, called Hope Day, focused on the SELF component of the model, which stands for safety, emotions, loss and future. The facility welcomed a guest speaker for a two-day event that included open discussion and engagement strategies such as written activities and individual and group sharing about SELF. Individual units attended so that all youth could participate. They were supported by their facility support team members, which included the units’ assigned youth division aids, youth counselors, clinicians, teachers and Highland administration.

Friendsgiving Celebration

Highland residents also celebrated each other as the culinary arts class in the education program prepared, cooked and served a Friendsgiving celebration. The students planned the menu for this special event, which included street tacos with many toppings, curry chicken, rice, collard greens, french fries with cheese and cheesecake for dessert.

Residents from individual units attended along with their facility support team members. The celebration included a gratitude tree where people wrote on a paper leaf what they were grateful for in their life and hung it from the tree.

Harriet Tubman Residents Learn How to Recognize Trafficking

To mark Human Trafficking Prevention Month, the residents at the Harriet Tubman Residential Center in Auburn are getting extra creative. They are working with “Love146’s Not a Number” trafficking and exploitation prevention curriculum.

“‘Not a Number’ helps prevent and raise awareness about human trafficking and exploitation to youth across all genders and communities,” said Troy Hopson, facility director. “It also provides youth with information and skills that help inspire safe choices.”

The young women at Harriet Tubman are writing poems related to the concepts and strategies they’re learning about through the course of the program, and they’ll be displayed at the facility and then saved and shared with future groups.

“Love 146” lessons include open conversations, engaging activities and using media to raise awareness, recognize trafficking recruitment tactics and understand vulnerabilities.