Two have unique experience in designing and restructuring systems, and three have vast experience in data collection, Joette Katz, the nominee chosen to head the Department of Children and Families, said Tuesday as she described her leadership team.
Katz is still waiting to be officially appointed by the legislature to lead the child welfare and protection agency, but she’s wasting no time putting together a leadership team that she believes will help her turn the agency around.
Katz named Janice Gruendel and Elizabeth ‘Libby’ Graham as a deputy commissioners, Fernando Muniz, as chief of quality and planning, and Michael Williams, who headed DCF’s Hartford area office for the past six years to an unnamed leadership position within the administration.
“Fernando brings a lot of history with differential response, quality assurance, quality improvement,” Katz said. “I call Janice my data queen. She is phenomenal and quite frankly I can’t think of anyone who understands the importance of early education, early intervention, and RBA [results based accounting] better than Janice.”
“Libby is my financial guru,” Katz said. “And Michael understands the community. He understands that children come from families and families come from communities and he understands my vision of trying to keep children in their homes with their families.”
“This will be a very different Department of Children and Families,” Katz said. “This team—with expertise and experience in child development, administration, quality improvement, advocacy and community building—will ensure the department works hand-in-hand with families to improve child well-being in an efficient, effective and open manner.”
The beleaguered state agency is still under a federal court order for failing to recruit and retain foster families, a problem which permeates the entire child welfare system and causes many children to be sent to out-of-state facilities or placed in institutions, instead of residential programs.
Katz said she’s been visiting the various regional DCF offices in the state and asking the social workers about which children are being sent out of state and which ones can be brought home. She said there are some from Torrington in Massachusetts, just five minutes away, and she’s not sure those are the children the state should be looking to bring back to the state.
According to a report compiled last month by the Hartford Courant an estimated 367 children were housed in out-of-state facilities at the end of December.
“It’s not a one-size-fits all approach,” Katz said. But “clearly not all 357 of those kids need to be placed out-of-state.”
“Part of what we’re going to examine is our own partnerships in Connecticut,” Katz said as she rattled off a list on nonprofit and human service organizations she plans on meeting with over the next month.
“Obviously it’s not just about beds, it’s about making sure they get exactly what services they need,” Katz said. “There are some kids that need to be in residential placement, there are a lot of kids, it’s my guess, that do not need to be in residential placement. They‘re there because it‘s a safe place to put them, but it‘s not necessarily in their best interest.“
“It’s not meant to warehouse,” Katz said of residential treatment facilities.
Katz’s new leadership team will begin their jobs this Friday.