Kevin Rennie: Some state agencies are stepping up during the coronavirus crisis
By KEVIN RENNIE
APR 09, 2020 |2:00 PM
The global coronavirus pandemic continues to reveal to Gov. Ned Lamont how well certain critical components of his administration are working under the pressure of a public health crisis.
Lamont will look back with relief on the day he asked Department of Children and Families veteran Vannessa Dorantes to become commissioner of the child protection agency, which had a history of troubles that grew worse under the previous administration. Isolation is a formidable enemy for an agency that runs on contact with vulnerable children and their erratic families.
Child advocate Sarah Eagan pointed out in a telephone interview this week that much of DCF’s work cannot be done by FaceTime or Skype. Case workers need to find ways to have more direct contact with the children they are trying to protect and the adults they are monitoring and providing assistance to. Add to the list of the brave those case workers who get in their cars and find ways to visit children who are enduring the isolation of this jarring time.
You, reader, have likely experienced some of the emotional toll extended isolation inflicts on even the happiest families. Those are not the families DCF oversees and tries to assist. If necessary, they have to remove children from their homes. That’s always a combustible prospect — more so now.
Our schools play a critical role in alerting DCF to children who may be at risk. Schools are also are the place children are told how to reach DCF if they need help. With schools closed indefinitely, children have lost a safe place to find help before a crisis occurs. Dorantes is trying to address that by establishing “warm lines,” phone centers that are part of a network of support for families under stress to receive assistance before a domestic crisis flares.
Dorantes is receptive to ideas and is working to transform good ones into action. Her practical knowledge of what caseworkers confront and try to manage each day has made her an effective leader. Some schools are continuing to provide meals for children who would normally receive breakfast and lunch at school during the week. Those locations may provide a place to let families know that DCF has services available to help.
Full marks to Dorantes and Eagan for working together to exchange ideas and meld their considerable but varied experiences for the benefit of children. Eagan was the frequent target of ugly abuse from DCF when it was headed by Joette Katz for eight interminable years. This new relationship, devoid of bureaucratic venom, will protect children.
Kevin Rennie is a lawyer and a former Republican state legislator. He can be reached at email@example.com.