Jeanne Milstein, the state’s child advocate, announced today she will retire in March from a job that cast her as a watchdog for neglected and abused children and a player in the continuing struggle over how to reform the Department of Children and Families.
“This has been my life, my passion. I am so humbled to have served the children of Connecticut,” Milstein wrote in announcing her departure.
After nearly a dozen years as advocate and 28 years in state government, she is by far the longest-serving of the three women to hold the post of child advocate. Her retirement comes after efforts by the administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and his predecessor to cut the agency’s funding.
“I loved every minute of it,” Milstein said.
But the assertion belied the difficulities of the job.
During her tenure she has investigated the deaths of hundreds of 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.
DCF Commissioner Joette Katz wrote in an email statement that Milstein has been an “important part of Connecticut’s work to improve the quality of services for children and families. In my 12 months as commissioner, I have seen repeatedly how Jeanne’s collaboration and passion contributed to these improvements — both on a case and systems level. She will be missed, and the rest of us who remain committed to continued advances will have to work even harder to make up for her departure as Child Advocate.”
Milstein’s departure comes months after her agency lost four positions in the last budget, one of which was vacant, leaving the small office with six employees. Mickey Kramer, the assistant advocate, will run the office until a successor is named.
Malloy is the appointing authority, but his choices will be limited to those nominated by an advisory committee. If the governor fails to name a successor, the committee’s first choice automatically becomes the new advocate.
The process is designed to give the office a measure of independence from the rest of the executive branch.
Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman issued a statement calling Milstein an “extraordinary public servant who brought tireless commitment, dedication and passion to her work protecting Connecticut’s children… Jeanne’s legacy at the Office of the Child Advocate is one of lasting protections for our young people, and her work will be missed.”
“She’s been a critical, independent advocate for the state’s most vulnerable children. The important work and oversight of the office will continue, but I can’t thank Jeanne enough,” echoed Sen. President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn.
Milstein, who is about to turn 57, said it was time for someone else to take on the job.
“I will have been the child advocate 12 years in June,” she said. “I want to explore new challenges and opportunities.”
Martha Stone, one of the lawyers who launched the class-action lawsuit against DCF, said Milstein’s comitment was unwavering to politics.
“She’s been really dogged. She hasn’t been afraid to push back when things weren’t going right,” said Stone, who is also a vocal critic of DCF as the leader of the Center for Children’s Advocacy. “Her departure comes at a critical juncture for the state… We continue to need a watchdog to keep DCF accountable.”
The Office of Child Advocate was created in 1995, with Kristine Ragaglia holding the post for less than two years, until Gov. John G. Rowland appointed her commissioner of DCF. Linda Pearce Prestley was the advocate from late 1997 until Rowland appointed her a judge of the Superior Court in March 2000.
Rowland appointed Milstein three months later. 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 Prestley not to publicly criticize DCF without briefing him first.
Legislators defended the right of the advocate to speak out.