Programs and Services
The Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) is not an administrator of programs. Rather, the OCA monitors and evaluates public and private agencies that are charged with the protection of children, and reviews state agency policies and procedures to ensure they protect children's rights and promote their best interest. OCA helps to:
- advocate for children at risk;
- address public policy issues concerning juvenile justice, child care, foster care, and treatment.
- review individual cases and investigate complaints;
- educate and inform the public of laws and services affecting families and children who are placed under state supervision;
- coach families, concerned citizens, and agencies to "navigate" public service and information systems and advocate for children effectively;
- review facilities and procedures of public or private institutions or residences where juveniles are placed; and
- facilitate change by bringing different agencies together to find creative solutions to difficult problems.
Sarah Eagan has served as Connecticut’s Child Advocate since September 2013. As Child Advocate, Sarah oversees the OCA's investigation, public reporting and advocacy work addressing issues across child-serving systems: education, child welfare, juvenile justice, and disability services. Sarah has participated in drafting and seeking passage of several statutory reforms on behalf of vulnerable children, including improving services for children with developmental disabilities, reducing reliance on restraint and seclusion of students, improving conditions for incarcerated youth and strengthening the safety net for abused and neglected children in foster care. As the Child Advocate, Sarah serves as the co-chair of the State's Child Fatality Review Panel where she helps to review the circumstances of children's deaths and develops recommendations for fatality prevention. Sarah participates in a variety of working groups involving community members, legislators, and state and local agency leaders seeking to improve support and services for vulnerable children throughout the state.
Prior to her appointment, Sarah served for several years as the Director of the Child Abuse Project at the Center for Children's Advocacy, a statewide non-profit law firm for children based in Hartford, Connecticut. During her years at the Center, Sarah provided individual legal representation to children and worked to ensure that abused, neglected and disabled children received the safety, emotional support, services and education that they need and deserve. Sarah began her legal career at Shipman & Goodwin LLP. Sarah is a graduate of Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and the University of Connecticut School of Law.
ASSOCIATE CHILD ADVOCATE: CHRISTINA D. GHIO, JD, CWLS
Christina D. Ghio joined the Office of the Child Advocate in September 2022. As the Associate Child Advocate, Christina is responsible for overseeing and managing the child focused operations of the OCA, overseeing intakes and systemic investigations, and assisting with policy advocacy.
Prior to joining the OCA in 2022, Christina most recently worked as a solo attorney at the Law Office of Christina D. Ghio, LLC, where she represented parents in matters related to their children including special education, child abuse and neglect, and mental health. Prior to starting her law firm in 2010, Christina served as Assistant Child Advocate at Office of the Child Advocate, where she focused on policy advocacy and systemic investigations. Before joining OCA, Christina was the Director of the Child Abuse Project at the Center for Children’s Advocacy, a staff attorney at the Disability Rights Center in New Hampshire, and an attorney at the New Hampshire Public Defender. Christina has represented children in special education, disability discrimination, child abuse and neglect, and juvenile justice matters. Christina is a 1996 graduate of Georgetown University Law Center and is certified by the National Association of Council for Children as a child welfare law specialist.
Julie McKenna joined the Office of the Child Advocate as an Assistant Child Advocate in July 1999. Previously, she was employed by the State Department of Children and Families as a Children’s Services Worker at Riverview Hospital for Children and Youth. Julie serves as the lead responder for the OCA to the public when there are concerns regarding the provision of state funded services to children. She assists those who contact the office in understanding and navigating complex public systems, and assesses each concern for possible violations of policy, law or best practice standards.
Ms. McKenna is a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.
ASSISTANT CHILD ADVOCATE: HEATHER PANCIERA
Heather Panciera joined the Office of the Child Advocate in December 2001. Heather serves as the lead for OCA on matters related to children, youth and young adults in residential facilities and congregate care settings, including investigating concerns regarding the provision of state funded services and supports. She advocates both for the individual needs of children, youth and young adults, and for necessary systemic reforms to help these systems be more effective, efficient and accountable.
Prior to joining OCA, Heather worked for 10 years at the Department of Children and Families.
Heather holds a Bachelor's degree from the University of Connecticut School of Family Studies.
STAFF ATTORNEY: VIRGINIA BROWN, JD
Virginia Brown joined the Office of the Child Advocate in June 2016. As OCA’s Staff Attorney, Virginia provides legal advice and guidance to the Child Advocate and staff on matters under review and/or investigation by the OCA. Prior to joining the OCA, she worked in various public and private legal settings, including as an associate with Day Pitney and more recently a hearing officer with the CT Freedom of Information Commission. Virginia is a graduate of the University of Connecticut School of Law.
ASSISTANT CHILD ADVOCATE: MARIA W. CRUZ, Ed.D.
Maria W. Cruz joined the Office of the Child Advocate in January 2022.
Maria serves as lead for the OCA on matters involving the delivery of state funded services to children with complex mental health, developmental, or other support needs. Prior to coming to the OCA. Maria worked at the State Department of Children and Families where she served as a Social Work Supervisor for ongoing services for 28 years, advocating for the preservation of children with their families as well as the safety, well-being and permanency for the children served by the Department. Maria has served on numerous public committees and commissions that ensured access to services for the elderly, people with disabilities and undocumented immigrants.
Maria holds degrees from Springfield College (B.S.), Springfield College School of Social Work (M.S.W.) and Capella University (Ed.D).
ASSISTANT CHILD ADVOCATE: BRENDAN BURKE, MSW
Brendan Burke joined the Office of the Child Advocate in February 2022.
Brendan serves as the lead for the OCA on matters relating to child fatality review and prevention. He convenes the Connecticut Child Fatality Review Panel (CFRP) each month which reviews all unexpected and unexplained child deaths. Brendan is the Child Advocate's principal investigator on any in-depth child fatality investigation requested by the CFRP, the Governor, the General Assembly or conducted at the Child Advocate's discretion.
Child fatality reviews focus on the examination of systems and opportunities to improve policies and practices to prevent additional tragedies from occurring. Brendan represents the OCA on numerous statewide committees and national initiatives focused on prevention of child injury and death.
Prior to working at the OCA, Brendan worked for the CT Department of Children and Families for 20 years, serving multiple communities and developing systems to enhance child welfare practice statewide.
Brendan holds a Bachelor’s degree from Fairfield University and a Master of Social Work from Fordham University.