Office of the Child Advocate
At a Glance
JEANNE MILSTEIN, Child Advocate
Mickey Kramer, Associate Child Advocate
Julie McKenna, Assistant Child Advocate
Moira O’Neill, Assistant Child Advocate
Heather Panciera, Assistant Child Advocate
Faith Vos Winkel, Assistant Child Advocate
Iris Rivera, Administrative Assistant
Janet Santiago, Processing Technician
Elysa Gordon, Assistant Child Advocate
George Hayes, CJTS Monitor-no hold
Established - 1995
Statutory authority - C.G.S. §46a-13k, et seq.
Central office - 18-20 Trinity Street, 5th floor,
Hartford, CT 06106
Number of employees - 11
Recurring operating expenses - $988,090
The Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) speaks for Connecticut’s children. The OCA was created in 1995 to be an independent voice for children rather than an administrator of programs. OCA’s mission is to oversee the care and protection of Connecticut’s children and to advocate for their well being. OCA is committed to ensuring that all children receive the care and supports they need.
The statutory responsibilities include evaluating the procedures for and the delivery of state-funded services to children, investigating inquiries or complaints regarding children, recommending changes in state policy, conducting programs of public education, legislative advocacy and proposing systemic reform, reviewing conditions and procedures of all public and private facilities where children are placed, providing training and technical assistance to children’s attorneys, initiating or intervening in court cases on behalf of children, serving on the Child Fatality Review Panel and conducting a fatality review on the circumstances of the death of a child due to unexpected or unexplained causes, in order to facilitate development of prevention strategies to address identified trends and patterns of risk and to improve coordination of services for children and families in the state.
OCA has brought about significant change for Connecticut families and children. OCA helps families by educating and informing them about services for children, coaching them through various public systems, reviewing individual cases, advocating for children at risk, and addressing broad public policy issues. These reviews and investigations not only help the OCA address individual problems, but also assist the OCA in identifying the systems issues that need to be addressed. The activities of the OCA benefit the children of this state, and serve as a catalyst for policy and legislative change.
During the reporting period, OCA responded
to about 1500 inquires from citizens who had questions or concerns regarding
children and their needs. Common
inquiries include calls related to foster care, child protection
investigations, quality of court-appointed representation to parents and
children in juvenile court matters, special education, children’s mental
health, and juvenile justice.
OCA also continues to monitor the care and treatment of boys at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School, as well as other congregate care setting for children. Examples of such child-caring facilities include hospitals, residential treatment facilities, shelters, and group homes.
During the past year, the OCA continued to raise concerns about the provision of gender-specific services to girls in the juvenile justice system. We will continue to make recommendations for improvements.
The OCA will soon complete a study of kindergarten through third grade school suspensions and expulsions. Since 2001, there has been a substantial increase in disciplinary school removals. We will be making recommendations to address the high incidence of early school removals among K-3 students.
The OCA launched an initiative on children with disabilities and complex medical conditions in an effort to develop better support and services for children and their families. Our investigate reports have found a fractured system and too many instances where children with disabilities are not receiving quality care.
The OCA also hosted the Governor’s Teen Dating Violence Prevention Summit with over 300 students in attendance. Teen dating violence is an increasing problem in Connecticut. The purpose of the Summit was to kindle discussions about what healthy relationships are and determining ways to promote awareness about teen dating violence. The OCA will continue to promote awareness and prevention of teen dating violence in the upcoming year.
The OCA focused on several areas of legislative advocacy and policy change, including mental health care, children with developmental disabilities without mental retardation, and children transitioning into adulthood.
The Office of the Child Advocate is committed to regular reviews of its current operating procedures aimed at reducing waste and increasing efficiency. The OCA has implemented operating policies and procedures and has computerized office operations. We continue to utilize resources electronically rather than printing all necessary documents. We also continue to make more frequent use of our website to distribute reports.
The OCA has set the following priorities for the next fiscal year:
Children with Disabilities
The kick-off event for the Child Advocate’s Initiative on Children with Disabilities and Complex Medical Conditions on June 12th, 2006 featured renowned author and disabilities rights advocate, Harriet McBryde Johnson, Esq. A “consumer” of disability support services herself, Attorney Johnson is a provocative speaker who initiated a statewide dialogue about community views, attitudes, and values ascribed to children with disabilities and complex medical conditions.
This dialogue set the stage for a summit in September to develop strategies for improving systems of support for all Connecticut children. Ultimately, there are two initiative goals:
1. To develop a public education and awareness campaign on valuing and understanding children who have disabilities and complex medical conditions.
2. To develop a policy agenda that outlines how the State of Connecticut can better support children to meet their fullest potential, with an emphasis on doing so in their own homes with their families. This will include enhancing public systems of care and financing of care as well as nurturing a workforce to support the children. For those situations where families are unable or unwilling to care for their children at home, public standards will be pursued that ensure safety and security in the most home-like/surrogate family settings rather than institutional settings.
The Child Advocate’s Summit on Children with Disabilities and Complex Medical Conditions will feature four specific working groups comprised of a broad range of professionals, family members, and advocates. Each will be charged with developing a five-year strategy for improving services. The working groups will focus on: resources for services, engaging children and families in advocacy, the legal rights of children, and public education and awareness.
Children in Out-of Home Care
The OCA will continue to be vigilant in monitoring the quality of care and services for children in out-of-home care. A focused priority will be on children who are transitioning from the DCF system to the DMHAS or DMR systems. The OCA has received a significant increase in concerns regarding the lack of preparation for children who leave DCF residential facilities and move to small DMHAS or DMR group homes or independent apartments. Too many children are not receiving the tools they need to succeed, including life skills such as writing checks, going to the grocery store, applying for jobs, and appropriate social skills. The OCA will continue to advocate for earlier identification of the youth who will be turning 18, better assessment of individualized needs, more effective planning and communication between agencies, schools, and service providers, and more diligent supervision and support from providers.
There is a need for greater accountability of public systems and publicly funded systems. The OCA will continue to speak out about the need to ensure that every state dollar is spent carefully and with promise of a good outcome. More importantly, we intend to monitor the safety and care of our children in out-of-home care. The increasing number of reports of abuse, neglect, and inappropriate interactions between staff and children, and among children themselves, is unacceptable. We will continue to insist that better supervision and quality of care be implemented, as well as much more effective quality assurance. In addition, we want to ensure that children receive appropriate treatment.