By Wayne Jebian
Much to his own surprise, Fernando Muniz will be the first Latino Deputy Commissioner for the Department of Children and Families (DCF). As of June 7, Muniz will assume the role, replacing Elizabeth K. Graham.
Muniz said that even as he was in line for the post of Deputy Commissioner, he was unaware that, if appointed, he would be the first Latino to fill the position. “I really didn’t know that was the case until someone mentioned that to me when they congratulated me,” he confessed.
His promotion comes during time when the department has been fighting to change outdated perceptions of an adversarial relationship between its mission and minority families. “Fernando’s been right at the heart of really huge changes at the department, so it makes complete sense that the commissioner would have tapped him now,” DCF spokesperson Gary Kleeblatt said.
“Not only has Fernando played a key part in designing and implementing these reforms, but the fact that he is a Latino sends a powerful message to families, communities and the department staff that we value diversity and cultural competence,” DCF Commissioner Joette Katz said. “Because so many of the families we serve are Latino, Fernando’s appointment comes at the right moment for Connecticut.”
The high-level appointment of a Latino at the departmetn is particularly timely, given the rapid rise in the state’s Latino demographics and DCF’s Latino client population. DCF serves approximately 36,000 children and 16,000 families around the state each year.
Fortunately, dealing with the growing diversity within the department has been central to his work for the past several years, and Muniz said he looks forward to continuing to meet the challenge.
“I do think that as the Latino community gets bigger and more diverse, that we all — everyone in human and social services — really have to have that at the forefront in terms of how we’re dealing with the client population,” Muniz said.
Muniz recalled, “In the early 90s, something like ninety percent of the Latinos in Connecticut were from Puerto Rico. . . By the early 2000s, that figure was down to 60 percent, and the size of the community had almost doubled,” with immigrants coming from Mexico, Central and South America making up the bulk of the new additions.
Born and raised in Puerto Rico until he was seven years old, Muniz moved Bridgeport and eventually attended Fairfield University and earned a Master’s degree in Nonprofit Management at New York University.
Muniz has worked with DCF since Dec. 2005, when he started as executive assistant to former Commissioner Darlene Dunbar. He moved into his current position as Chief of Quality and Planning two and a half years ago when the current commissioner, Joette Katz, assumed leadership of DCF.
During his tenure at the department, Muniz has worked toward instituting more culturally aware, family-friendly practices.
Muniz said that he was proud to have been part of making concrete reforms at DCF in a short period of time. “In particular, we used to have about 15 percent of our children, if they came into the foster care system, placed with a relative. We’re now at close to 30 perecent of the children placed with a relative,” he said. “We used to have 365 children placed out of state, and today, we’re down to 50 children placed out of state.”
Although some of his responsibilities will change when he transitions to Deputy Commissioner, Muniz will remain in charge of bringing the department out from under the federal consent decree imposed in the wake of a 1989 lawsuit.
He explained, “[The department] got sued because the conditions in foster care were substandard, and kids weren’t getting their needs met. Ever since then, we’ve been under the oversight of the federal court.”
Muniz said that with all of the recent reforms, DCF now has its house in order and is prepared to put the long episode behind it.