Governor names state’s next child advocate

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy today announced that Jamey Bell, executive director of Connecticut Voices for Children, will become the state’s next child advocate.

The position is that of an independent watchdog over state departments responsible for abused and neglected children.

Voices for Children is a New-Haven based public policy advocacy group.

“This position is the voice for the youngest and most vulnerable residents of this state. Jamey’s expertise, passion and commitment will be an extraordinary asset to the protection and care of the state’s children,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said in a statement.

Bell, who will start in November, takes over for Jeanne Milstein, who retired earlier this year. During Milstein’s long tenure she investigated the deaths of many children, fought for the reduction of physical restraints at the state’s mental health facilities, called out schools for not appropriately reporting cases of abuse and neglect and promoted the closing of large, group-living facilities housing abused and neglected children. Hundreds applied for Milstein’s job.

Bell will start off with a smaller staff than her predecessor, as the 10-person office lost four positions as a result of budget cuts made by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the General Assembly.

Bell will become the state’s fourth child advocate since the Office of the Child Advocate was created in 1995. Gov. John G. Rowland appointed Milstein in 2000, and she was reappointed by Gov. M. Jodi Rell in 2008.

The independence of the office has been a source of friction with governors over the years. One of Rowland’s chiefs of staff, Peter Ellef, tried to order one advocate not to publicly criticize DCF without briefing him first. Legislators defended the right of the advocate to speak out.

Malloy is the appointing authority for the position, but his choice was limited to those nominated by an advisory committee. If he failed to name a successor, the committee’s first choice automatically would have become the new advocate.

The process is designed to give the office a measure of independence from the rest of the executive branch.