Lamont appoints Vannessa Dorantes, a DCF administrator, to lead the department

Moving to fill the top job at the Department of Children and Families, perhaps the most scrutinized agency in the state, Gov.-elect Ned Lamont has appointed DCF executive Vannessa Dorantes as child protection commissioner, according to sources familiar with the appointment. 

A press conference has been scheduled for Monday afternoon.

“Vannessa is a team builder and collaborator who can bring multiple facets of people together to solve problems,” said one DCF administrator. “She is going to be a great example for the employees at DCF with regard to how we should be dealing with families and children.”

Dorantes, 49, an administrator in the sprawling department who oversees the 44-town Waterbury-Danbury-Torrington region, stood out among the half-dozen or so candidates that were courted by the Lamont administration, sources said. Dorantes has been active in the department’s efforts to address conditions that result in so many minority children in the department’s care.

Most of the children are black or Latino, yet those groups make up a minority of the state’s population, and child protection issues cut across racial and economic lines.

Dorantes, one the department’s six regional administrators, worked her way up the ladder since joining the agency in 1992.

She recently led training sessions for senior DCF executives about themes and commonalities in child fatality cases and other critical incidents statewide.

It is those cases that keep the department in the spotlight, as well as the enormity of the mission.

Dorantes succeeds Joette Katz, the former state Supreme Court justice who was appointed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in January 2011. Dorantes was earning $122,000 as Region 5 administrator; Katz was earning $172,000 in the top job.

Katz had a sterling national reputation but her relationship with child protection advocates and some legislators broke down in the face of several preventable deaths of children in DCF care. Also controversial was Katz’s zealous backing of a new multimillion-dollar locked unit for girls that had a short, stormy run before it was shut down, and her handling of a transgender girl whom Katz claimed was the most difficult teenager in DCF’s custody.

Katz’s decision to send the teen to an adult jail without new criminal charges was intensely opposed in the state and nationally and she was soon pulled from the adult jail and placed in her own small section of the Connecticut Juvenile Training School — a combined school and juvenile jail run by DCF that Malloy ordered closed over its staggering cost, the overuse of restraints and seclusion, and inconsistent mental health treatment for the youth in the facility.

Dorantes is a lecturer in social work at Central Connecticut State University and has been a social work trainer around the state. She is highly regarded at DCF and is seen as an able manager, said people who work with her.

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