Lamont taps career employee to run child welfare agency

January 7, 2019
Vanessa Dorantes smiles at the Connecticut State Capitol, Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Hartford, Conn., following the announcement that she has been nominated to be the next commissioner of the Department of Children and Families. A regional administrator since 2014, Dorantes began her career at DCF more than 25 years ago as a social worker. (AP Photo/Susan Haigh)

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Gov.-elect Ned Lamont announced Monday that the next head of the Connecticut Department of Children and Families would be a woman who has devoted her career to the child welfare agency.

The Democrat said he decided to nominate Vannessa Dorantes after considering the possibility of naming a candidate from outside of the state. Lamont said he was impressed by Dorantes’ roughly 25-year career at the department. She’s been a regional administrator in western Connecticut since 2014.

“I’ve been talking about doing national searches, the best and the brightest, people from outside government, private sector come in and shake it up. And that’s what I’m all about,” he said. “But I’ve also found ... some of the very best and the brightest are right on the front lines, already doing the work for the state of Connecticut. And that’s who Vannessa is.”

Lamont said Dorantes, 49, of Bristol, has the “heart and the experience to be an extraordinary commissioner,” managing an agency that oversees some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens.

Dorantes’ nomination needs legislative confirmation. If approved, she would become the state’s first African-American commissioner of the department. She would succeed Joette Katz, a former state Supreme Court justice, who was appointed by outgoing Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in 2011.

Kanisha Malloy, who went to the state Capitol for Lamont’s announcement, said Dorantes will bring “a lot of heart” to the job. Now 40, the Meriden woman first met Dorantes about 25 years ago. Malloy, who had been abused as a child, was homeless with no family members willing to take her in. Dorantes was just starting out and placed Malloy in a foster home.

Malloy credits Dorantes with being a consistent, positive presence in her life, even though she gave her former social worker “a lot of trouble” as a kid.

“She was always supportive, always there,” said Malloy, who greeted Dorantes with a big hug after Lamont’s announcement. “Even when I was no longer 18, even at 21, 25 and 30, there was still a connection.”

Dorantes insisted she got a lot out of the relationship with Malloy.

“When we think about what drives this work, kids drive this work. If all that other stuff gets in the way, they don’t get their needs met,” Dorantes said. “And so, I got as much from her as she got from me.”

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