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Different Vision

Dutchess County Executive Marcus Moninaro appointed Toni-Marie Ciarfella, MSW ’87, to the new position of deputy commissioner of special needs.

ALBANY, N.Y. (October 14, 2016) — Toni-Marie Ciarfella, MSW ’87, has been a social worker for 30 years, working with children and adults with special needs and guiding social work students.

Now she’ll be working to change perceptions and develop practical policies as Dutchess County’s deputy commissioner of special needs.

The new position, thought to be the first of its kind in the state, is part of County Executive Marcus Moninaro’s “ThinkDIFFERENTLY” campaign, which strives to change how businesses, organizations and individuals relate to people with special needs.

“This position is a valuable opportunity for Dutchess County, for the people with special needs, their families and the provider community,” Ciarfella said at a press conference in Poughkeepsie in September.

“I am so proud of Dutchess County’s insight to create this position, the support that has come from this community for the position’s creation, and for all the good work that is already occurring. I am thrilled to be a part of this team and to bring those efforts to a new level of awareness.”

Ciarfella said the new position creates a way for the community to join in the “ThinkDIFFERENTLY” campaign, designed to encourage a supportive and inclusive environment for those with special needs such as autism and developmental or physical disabilities.

“My number one priority is to be an advocate and liaison for Dutchess County, for people with special needs and promoting the “ThinkDIFFERENTLY” initiative whenever and wherever possible,” Ciarfella said. “I’m also available as a local resource and advocate for agencies that serve people with special needs, including county and state run government services, school districts, local court systems, local businesses and the volunteer community.”

She’ll be working with various agencies and departments that serve those with special needs, including Community and Family Services, the Office for the Aging, and Public Works. Ciarfella also has set up meetings with emergency management professionals to discuss training first responders to recognize and support people with special needs during emergency situations. She plans to examine the county’s park system to foster universal accessibility planning.

Ciarfella received her Masters of Social Work from UAlbany in 1987. Following her graduation from the BSW program from Marist College, she was accepted into the advanced standing program at UAlbany for macro or community practice concentration.

“This is an area of practice has always appealed to me, to consider systems and community education,” Ciarfella said. “Helping agencies evolve and develop policies that are person centered and inclusive are essential for social justice”.

Ciarfella completed a Masters of Public Administration from Marist College in 1992 and returned to the UAlbany’s School of Social Welfare in 2007 as a part-time student, to work on her Ph.D. Her dissertation topic is field education, occupational trauma and field safety safety – how social workers and social work students can keep themselves safe while working in unpredictable practice settings.

Prior coming to this positon as Dutchess County Deputy Commissioner for Special Needs, Ciarfella’s career included working for NYS Office for People with Developmental Disabilities for over 20 years, and, for the last five, she was director of field education in the BSW Program at Marist College.

Other communities in the Hudson Valley and Capital Region are looking at adopting the “ThinkDIFFERENTLY” initiative, and Ciarfella said she welcomes questions and ideas about spreading the program. She can be reached at tciarfella@dutchessny.gov.

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