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New York State kicks off Child Abuse Prevention Month with pinwheel planting in Rensselaer

Employees at the New York State Office of Children and Family Services are planting blue pinwheels outside the state agency’s building in Rensselaer to raise awareness for National Child Abuse Prevention month.

Office of Children and Family Services Commissioner Sheila Poole joined employees and Rensselaer Mayor Mike Stammel on a breezy, sunny Monday to plant the bright blue pinwheels in the front lawn of the state building.

Poole says the planting is an annual tradition, but frozen ground and COVID-19 have prevented it from happening the last two years. She says thousands of pinwheels will be distributed throughout the state this month.

“Pinwheels are the universal symbol of a happy, joyous and carefree childhood and we're here really to lift up the need to make sure that all of our children are living the best life they can here in New York state. So, this is our ceremonial planting of the pinwheels. We are so happy (and) it's a beautiful day!”

OCFS is responsible for programs and services involving foster care, adoption and adoption assistance, child care and child protective services. It also operates and oversees the juvenile justice system, including 10 state facilities for youth placed in the custody of OCFS by family and criminal courts.

According to a 2021 report by doctors at Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital, Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital and Columbia University Medical Center, Child Protective Services investigates child abuse and neglect cases involving more than 3 million children a year. Of those, 20% are found to have evidence of maltreatment.

In New York, there are over 150,000 referrals for abuse and neglect annually, with nearly half of them confirmed victims. The highest risk of abuse is against Black and Native American children under the age of 3.

Rensselaer Mayor Mike Stammel joined the ceremony and called preventing child abuse “a noble cause.”

“This is something that we all need to recognize. Child abuse comes in so many forms, sort of like the education of adults (about it) comes in so many forms. There’s so many different ways to apply (help) when you see it and educate. So, therefore, don't turn the other cheek, don't walk away, find a way to participate in prevention.”

Poole says they are focusing on programs that prevent child abuse before it starts, called “upstream prevention programs.”

“We want families who are maybe challenged with raising their children struggling with poverty, to be able to feel safe and asking for help and getting that help before they're ever called into the attention of the child welfare system. So, we're really redoubling our efforts on true primary prevention. We have a number of new initiatives that we're launching here this year.”

Some of those initiatives include creating a “warm line,” which would allow at-risk families to reach out and seek help without filing or launching a formal complaint of abuse. She says the agency will also deploy six retrofitted Winnebagos throughout the state to go to places where families have a hard time accessing prevention services.

While lawmakers continue to negotiate the state budget after blowing past the April 1st deadline, the commissioner says their base prevention funding has been secured. Poole is waiting to see if the state budget will include cost of living increases.

“We here at OCFS, we are so busy trying to do our work and carry out the business. Hopefully, right, it's a new week in Albany and we'll have a good outcome.”