Onondaga County Profile

County Lead

Tashia Thomas Neal, Project Director
Email: tashia.thomas-neal@dfa.state.ny.us

SOC Team

Linda Lopez, Principle Investigator
Email: linda.lopez@dfa.state.ny.us
Tashia Thomas Neal, Project Director
Email: tashia.thomas-neal@dfa.state.ny.us
John Cook, ACCESS Program Manager
Email: john.cook2@dfa.state.ny.us
Marilyn Woyciesjes, Evaluation Specialist
Email: marilyn.woyciesjes@dfa.state.ny.us
Roxanne Hill, Project Coordinator
Email: Roxanne.hill@dfa.state.ny.us
Micaela Lara-Gonzalez, Youth Peer Engagement Specialist
Email: micaela.lara-gonzalez@dfa.state.ny.us
Jennifer Daly, Family Navigator
Email: jennifer.daly@dfa.state.ny.us
Helena Lamb, Wraparound Facilitator
Email: helena.lamb@dfa.state.ny.us
Willie Elliott, Communications and Training Coordinator
Email: willie.elliott@dfa.state.ny.us


Onondaga County is located in Central New York and has a population of 468,196.  The City of Syracuse, with over 30% of the population, is the county seat. The loss of manufacturing jobs has led to significant poverty, with one Syracuse neighborhood ranking among the poorest in the country. Onondaga County is very large and includes 19 school districts, as well as the Onondaga Nation.

Table 1: Onondaga County Demographic Characteristics (US Census Bureau, 2010)
County City
Total Population 467,025 145, 170
    Caucasian 81.80% 56.00%
    African American 11.50% 29.50%
    Hispanic 4.30% 8%
    American Indian or Native Alaskan 0.90% 1.10%
    Other Races. Including Asian alone 3.20% 8.20%
    Two or more Races 2.60% 5.10%
Below Poverty Level 14.80% 34.60%
Born Outside the US 7.10% 11.10%
5+ Years Old; speak language other than English at home 10.20% 17.40%


  • Develop youth voice / involvement at all levels
  • Advance Cultural and Linguistic Competence of child and family serving staff in the community
  • Continue work to integrate primary and behavioral health services
  • Engage schools, social services, and mental health agencies in response to increase of youth involved in juvenile justice system


In 2009, Onondaga County received a six year system of care grant to improve outcomes for children with mental health needs, and their families. OnCare used system of care principles and strategies to improve our local service system and develop a more effective system of services and supports.  A major focus of OnCare was developing effective partnerships between the systems that serve children and youth. These partnerships include: mental health, child welfare, juvenile justice, education, and youth development programs.  OnCare worked with a wide range of community stakeholders, including youth and family members, to increase the services and supports available to youth and families.
The stated population of focus for the initial OnCare grant was children and youth, 5–21 years of age, with serious emotional and behavioral challenges, with a special focus on the following:
• Children and youth in residential care or at risk of being placed in residential care.
• Youth involved in multiple service systems (mental health, child welfare, juvenile justice, special education).
• Minority populations that are overrepresented in out-of-home placements.

Onondaga County Expansion

In 2015, Onondaga County applied for and was awarded an extension to their SOC federal grant.  In order to assist Onondaga County in receiving the grant, NYS Success submitted a letter of commitment in support of our application and provided information on new state initiatives and ways system of care strategies could be used in conjunction with those initiatives (i.e. wraparound with Children’s Health Homes and the Raise the Age legislation). The extension funding is specifically targeted to support youth (ages 12-17 with SED and behavioral health needs) involved in the juvenile/criminal justice system.  The project participants are identified through a universal screening of all youth in the justice system.  This project will help our county prepare for the passing of the Raise The Age legislation in that we will be able to significantly redesign and expand services for youth ages 16-17 that were previously served in the adult criminal justice system. Mental health and substance abuse services will be a critical piece of that expanded system.

Our initial SOC grant used a five step approach to system of care development, and this successful approach will be carried into the expansion OnCare Juvenile Justice Project.

Step 1: Active engagement of key stakeholders, including youth and family
Step 2: Community identification and prioritization of needs
Step 3: Planned experimentation to meet identified needs
Step 4: Evaluation of impact, including accessibility, outcomes and consumer satisfaction
Step 5: Implementation of sustainability/replication plans for successful initiatives

Both our 2009 and 2015 SOC grants focus on several key themes:

  • family and youth engagement
  • simplifying and expediting access to services
  • reducing length of residential treatment
  • increasing capacity in the provider community to adapt service interventions to respond to the   unique cultural dynamics of youth and families
  • building the capacity and expertise of natural supports throughout the community, including the faith community
  • championing a philosophical and practice shift away from blaming/punishing youth with behavioral challenges to using an evidence-based approach that focuses on helping youth develop lagging thinking skills (Collaborative Problem Solving)

Planned activities include:

  • Implementation of universal screening for behavioral health needs, trauma history, and suicidality for youth with any level of juvenile/criminal justice system involvement,
  • Expedition of access to behavioral health services,
  • Expansion of local capacity to provide high quality therapeutic foster care as an alternative to detention and residential placement,
  • Realignment of services to support the transition of 16 and 17 year-olds from the adult justice system to the juvenile justice system,
  • Reduction of juvenile justice disparities and disparities in behavioral health outcomes, Maximizing the opportunities available through the new Children’s Health Homes to meet the behavioral health needs of youth in the juvenile/criminal justice system,
  • Implementation of a strategic financing plan that maximizes local, state, and federal funds to create a sustainable network of behavioral health services for high-risk youth.
  • Reduction of stigma against youth in the juvenile/criminal justice system by raising community awareness of the impact of trauma, and promoting preparation for successful adulthood

Updates on Expansion

The OnCare team took the first six months of the funding period to work on implementation of the new project.  The implementation team was made up of project staff, including the Project Director and Director of Operations, and key juvenile justice partners. We developed processes and protocols that covered everything from the identification of young people for services to the sharing of information across divisions to clinical protocols.

The OnCare Juvenile Justice Project built upon experienced system of care leadership and retained both the Project Director and lead Evaluation Specialist from the first grant period (2009). We hired the first of two teams that will provide services using the Wraparound model of care coordination.  The teams will also provide peer support and linkage to community-based resources.  The team includes:

  • A Wraparound Facilitator
  • A Family Navigator- the parent of a young person with mental health needs, and
  • A Youth Peer Engagement Specialist- a young adult that has navigated either the child welfare, juvenile justice, or mental health system.

The teams are monitored and supervised by a Project Coordinator.  The Project Coordinator also manages results of screening assessments, monitors linkages and service usage, and acts as back-up in conducting clinical assessments of youth. OnCare Juvenile Justice Project also hired a Communications and Training Coordinator that is responsible for providing training to the natural and informal support network, building the network of informal supports, and reducing mental health stigma.

OnCare Juvenile Justice Project team training

In order to meet the needs of youth and families involved in the project, the entire team has undergone the following training:

  • Understanding the Juvenile Justice System
  • National Coalition Building Institute Diversity Training
  • Wraparound training with Verneesha Banks from Wraparound Milwaukee
  • Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths
  • At the end of August, the team will be trained in the Community Resiliency Model, along with natural supports, including members of the faith community.

Our Family Navigator has attended the Parent Empowerment Training through Families Together in NYS and is on her way to becoming a credentialed Family Peer
Advocate.  OnCare was excited that the new SOC funding allowed us to hire a young person to provide peer support, something that was lacking in Onondaga County.  Our Youth Peer Engagement Specialist attended the University of Youth Power in June and is excited to start advocating with and on behalf of young people in our community.