DCF Social Worker is a Champion for Her Community

Jeanette Morrison of AFSCME Local 2663 (P-2 State Social & Human Services) has always been charismatic and outgoing. Growing up in New Haven while attending Hillhouse High School she captained her cheerleading team and held the title of Miss Hillhouse. She never expected these traits would lead her into a life of public service for her city, but when the opportunity came, she was more than willing to accept it.

“I didn’t know my calling, but I did know one thing,” she said. “I wanted to be in someone’s boardroom and advocate for people that look like me or live in communities like mine because I didn’t see anyone doing that who represented me and where I came from.”

Morrison, a Social Work Supervisor for the Department of Children and Families, was first elected in 2011 as a member of the Board of Alders for the City of New Haven. She has served ever since representing Ward 22, an intersection of two different communities: students at Yale and residents of Dixwell, a traditionally low-income and persons of color neighborhood.

Along the way, signs appeared highlighting her interest in serving. While on maternity leave after the birth of her son she remembers seeing Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) on TV. It struck a chord.

“I saw her going in and helping the people,” she said. “I said, ‘Yeah, I can do that.’ It was my own hidden secret and it’s so interesting that 18 years later I get the call to be involved in politics.”

These days Morrison is ensuring her constituents receive the help they need to overcome COVID-19. As president pro tempore (vice president) of the Board of Alders, she and the leadership team talk with Mayor Justin Elicker every day about handling the crisis.

Recognizing her ward as a hotspot for COVID-19, she leveraged her relationship with a local business to distribute more than 1,000 masks to five senior residences, a testing clinic and throughout the community. She was also instrumental in setting up one of the first neighborhood COVID-19 testing sites in the city.

“I talked with the CEO of the Cornell Scott Hill Center,” she explained. “They were ready and willing to open the testing site but were waiting on the city because they didn’t have enough swabs. I talked with the Mayor the next day and told him about the lack of swabs. Three days later they had what they needed and opened. I was happy to be part of the process that makes sure people in the community were not only able to be tested but to have masks to stay safe.”

Morrison understands the health disparities and barriers faced by her constituents, and has been vocal and proactive to bridge that gap.

“It’s not just Dixwell, it’s the African American community,” she explained. “The reason why we have high levels of COVID-19 is because we have a whole lot of other medical issues. I had to explain to the Mayor that I need somewhere where my people can walk up and get a test. And if they’re positive they can walk back home, isolate, and have a local sitter who is going to monitor them.”

Most people do not see the scope of social work encompassing politics and public service. But everything Morrison does is social work. When she is not advocating in the community, she is advocating for children in foster care. She has been with the Department of Children and Families for 27 years and a supervisor for 22 years. As a supervisor currently conducting quality assurance, Morrison acts as a liaison with the state and federal government to ensure the needs of children in foster care are met.

Lately she has seen positive impacts in how virtual meetings, precipitated by COVID-19, are bringing together parents, social workers, social work supervisors, pediatricians, attorneys, and other service providers regarding children in foster care and their legal permanency plan.

 “Our participation has tripled,” Morrison said. “In my 17 years I’ve been doing [quality assurance], I have never seen this level of participation. Instead of social workers saying, ‘I’ll follow up with the doctor to see,’ they will say, ‘Let’s ask the doctor now who is on the phone.’”

For the people Morrison serves, their admiration for her leadership and commitment to her community mirrors the way she once looked at Maxine Waters. It will no doubt inspire a new generation of black women to follow in her footsteps.

“An old friend once said to me, ‘Thank you for being on that board. Every time I see you up there, I see me up there,’” Morrison reflected. “I said, ‘Yup, because it is you. You know what I’m going to be fighting for.”


This Everyday Heroes story coincides with Juneteenth (also known as Emancipation or Freedom Day) a day commemorating the legal end of the inhuman enslavement of African Americans of the United States. 

Morrison shared the following message in honor of this day and what it means to move towards a society where the basic rights of equality and justice for all is a reality.

“When I think about Juneteenth, I think of a lack of communication. It is what made my forefathers suffer still for two more years after the law [ending slavery] was changed. And that’s not right. So many months went by during that two-year span. Do you know all the things that people could have been doing during those two years if they knew what was going on?

“Most things are all about perception and it has nothing to do with reality. And because of a lack of communication you have disparities between groups of people. Communicate and listen to one another. It takes all of us to talk with one another to make sure we don’t have gaps between groups because of the way that you were born.”

Join Jeanette and other members of New Haven's Black and Hispanic Caucus at their annual Juneteenth Commemoration on Friday, June 19th at 5:30 at the Amistad Memorial Statue (165 Church St, New Haven).