April, 2022

Essex County Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Program Celebrates 30 Years

Posted in CASA, Press Releases on April 29th, 2022 with No Comments

LAWRENCE, April 29, 2022—Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s Essex County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) Program is celebrating its 30th Anniversary of providing advocacy for abused and neglected children. Since its founding in 1992, more than 400 volunteers have advocated for over 1,000 vulnerable children in Essex County. Founder Valorie Faretra—who at the time was a CASA volunteer in Boston—saw the positive impact CASA volunteers made and wanted to bring the program to another area of the Commonwealth where there was a significant need. The Lawrence area was chosen based on feedback from Juvenile Court staff and other child welfare professionals. 

With support by the National CASA/GAL Association, Essex County CASA is a member of a nationwide network of almost 950 programs. The program was housed in the Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence until 1994; it was then administered by the Psychological Center for five years before becoming a part of Family Services of the Merrimack Valley in 1999. At its beginning, Essex County CASA only served the Lawrence Juvenile court but has since expanded its services to all four Juvenile Courts in Essex County. 

“I am proud to be part of a program that has such a positive impact on the lives of so many vulnerable children in our community,” said Danielle Emig, director of the Essex County CASA Program. “Unlike other providers involved in these children’s lives who often have large caseloads, our CASA volunteers focus on one family at a time, working with the family until the court case is closed. This personal attention helps to ensure that these children are safe, have the services they need, and reach permanency as quickly as possible.” 

CASA volunteers engage in a rigorous screening process and participate in 30 hours of training before serving on a case. Today, Essex County CASA serves over 150 children annually. “Our goal is to continue expanding our volunteer base so that we can serve more children,” Ms. Emig says, noting that more CASAs are needed to meet the needs of the court.  

Family Services of the Merrimack Valley will kick off the anniversary celebrations by honoring Essex County CASA at its Spring Gala on May 5, at the Andover Country Club. More information can be found on the Family Services website: www.fsmv.org/spring-gala. 


About Essex County CASA: The Essex County CASA program, operated by Family Services of the Merrimack Valley, serves children who have been removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect. The program provides trained and supervised volunteer Advocates, who are appointed as Guardians ad Litem on “Care and Protection” cases in Essex County (Lawrence, Newburyport, Salem, and Lynn Juvenile Courts). CASA Advocates represent the best interests of foster children throughout the duration of Care and Protection cases to resolve the social, emotional, medical and educational impacts of prior abuse, and to ensure victims do not experience re-victimization while in the custody of the state. 

For more information, please visit: https://www.fsmv.org/child-advocacy/ 

30 Years of CASA Highlights: Cindy Parra

Posted in CASA on April 28th, 2022 with No Comments

2022 marks the 30th year of Family Services’ Essex County CASA providing advocacy for abused and neglected children in Essex County. As we celebrate 30 years, join us weekly as we highlight the staff and volunteers who on a daily basis help us advocate for these vulnerable children. 

Essex County CASA will be recognized at this year’s Family Service’s Spring Gala on Thursday, May 5, 2022.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is your role at CASA?
I am a CASA Supervisor. 

How long have you been with the program?
A little over two years. 

What led you to become involved with CASA?
I’ve worked in the human services field for a while now. I have experience in the military working in a mental health unit, being an intensive care coordinator for children with behavioral health challenges, and I am in the process of completing a Masters in social work. When I came across CASA, I felt that the mission aligned with my personal views and desire to help those in need. As an Afro-latina immigrant, CASA presented an opportunity to advocate for children in my community that are in the system that otherwise would not have a voice or consistent person in their life. 

What do you find most rewarding about working/volunteer for CASA?
Working with the advocates is one of the most rewarding things about working for CASA. The advocates all come from diverse backgrounds and, as such, have very different views from my own which makes our collaboration so much better. We all see things from different perspectives, offering a broader view of situations at hand and ultimately allowing us to better advocate for these kids. 

What do you like to do outside of work?
I attend church services, love to read, sing (which I do in church), as well as spending time with my son, niece, nephew, and parents. 

 

30 Years of CASA Highlights: Kathleen Cook

Posted in CASA on April 21st, 2022 with No Comments

2022 marks the 30th year of Family Services’ Essex County CASA providing advocacy for abused and neglected children in Essex County. As we celebrate 30 years, we are highlighting staff and volunteers who on a daily basis help us advocate for these vulnerable children. This week we spoke with volunteer Kathleen Cook.

Essex County CASA will be recognized at this year’s Family Service’s Spring Gala on Thursday, May 5, 2022.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is your role at CASA?
I am currently the board president of Massachusetts CASA Association and have been an active advocate for the Essex County CASA program for 24 years. 

How long have you been with the program?
I have been with the program since 1998.

What led you to become involved with CASA?
I was looking for a rewarding volunteer opportunity where I could make a lasting impact, CASA seemed like the perfect fit.

What do you find most rewarding about working/volunteer for CASA?
The most rewarding part of being a CASA advocate is knowing that I have made a difference in the life of our most vulnerable children. 

What do you like to do outside of work?
Spend time with my grandson, go skiing, biking, swimming, and play tennis.

30 Years of CASA Highlights: Pam Wanstall

Posted in CASA on April 14th, 2022 with No Comments

2022 marks the 30th year of Family Services’ Essex County CASA providing advocacy for abused and neglected children in Essex County. As we celebrate 30 years, join us weekly as we highlight the staff and volunteers who on a daily basis help us advocate for these vulnerable children. 

Essex County CASA will be recognized at this year’s Family Service’s Spring Gala on Thursday, May 5, 2022.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is your role at CASA?  
I am a supervisor of CASA Advocates; mainly for cases we are assigned in the Lynn and Salem Juvenile Courts. 

How long have you been with the program?  
I became a CASA Advocate (volunteer) In November 2015. I became a CASA supervisor in April 2018. 

What led you to become involved with CASA? 
 I have both my BSW and my MSW and I’m a licensed social worker. Child welfare has always been of interest to me. Prior to becoming a volunteer, I was a stay-at-home mom to my four children and was looking to get back into social work. I started researching GALs (Guardian Ad Litems) and came across CASA. 

What do you find most rewarding about working for CASA?  
Oh, there’s a lot, but I would have to say the two most important are the relationships we build with the children we advocate for (as I carry two cases of my own), and my relationships with our amazing, dedicated, caring volunteers. 

What do you like to do outside of work? 
  I like to spend time with my family, read, binge watch series, and have fun with my dogs (two Australian Shepherds) to de-stress. 

30 Years of CASA: A Conversation with Founder Valorie Faretra

Posted in CASA on April 7th, 2022 with No Comments

2022 marks the 30th year of Family Services’ Essex County CASA providing advocacy for abused and neglected children in Essex County.  As we look back, we spoke with Essex County CASA Founder Valorie Faretra about the early days of CASA, the challenges, and what she’s up to now.

As we celebrate 30 years, join us weekly as we highlight the staff and volunteers who on a daily basis help us advocate for these vulnerable children. 

Essex County CASA will be recognized at this year’s Family Service’s Spring Gala on Thursday, May 5, 2022.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How did Essex County CASA come about?  
Faretra: In 1990, I was a volunteer for the Boston CASA Program. CASA Programs recruit, train and supervise volunteers to advocate in Juvenile Court for children who have been abused and neglected. I thought the program was great and I loved being a volunteer, so I decided I would start a CASA Program and manage it. I reached out to DCF staff in Boston and Lowell, as well as staff in the Juvenile Court in Boston, and asked them where they thought the biggest need was. I was told by several people that the biggest need was in Lawrence and that Isaac Borenstein, the Juvenile Court Judge who was known to be a strong child advocate, was the person I should reach out to.   

I wrote to Judge Borenstein and sent him materials asking if we could meet. I immediately got a call from Judge Borenstein, asking me to meet! I prepared intensely for the meeting, learning all kinds of information and pulling all sorts of data that would prove the program would be worthwhile.  When I walked in the door, Judge Borenstein asked me to take a seat and the first thing he asked me was “tell me how you’re going to start a CASA program here.”  I was shocked. I started the program in October 1991, and got my first case in early 1992.  

Can you talk about the early days of the program and who your first hire was?  
Faretra: For the first year or so I was the only staff member. I served as the Advocate on cases, until I was able to recruit and train CASA volunteers. We then hired a part time secretary and another staff member who helped me recruit, train, and manage cases. Eventually, we hired Helen Newall, who went on to become Executive Director after I left in 1994. 

From the start Judge Borenstein was very accessible. We initially formed an advisory committee with other interested parties. The committee would help us determine the best sources for funding and board recruitment. Judge Borenstein was on the committee and we met fairly frequently, resulting in him almost always being available. I believe he saw CASA as an important part of his court, and with that he saw me as the point person to help provide these programs. Both of our goals were similar so it was important that we worked well together and communicated effectively.  

Was there much interaction between your program and the National CASA/GAL Association? 
 Faretra: Yes. National CASA was very helpful in starting up the program. They had sample policies, procedures, forms, and trainings that local programs could use to get started. At the time the standard training curriculum was 40 hours (it is now 30 hours).  

With advancements in technology, we now have an online database where case information lives. How did you keep track of cases back then?  
Faretra: Back then, we did not have databases or easy access to cases via the internet. As I recall, I had a spreadsheet with the cases listed on it and our volunteers used paper forms.  

What was a particular challenge you remember about running the CASA program?  
Faretra: One big challenge was recruiting a diverse volunteer group and recruiting volunteers that spoke Spanish. I ran the program for three years and always tried, but was never successful. 

Tell me a little about what you have done since your time with CASA?  
Faretra: I love to start programs! While at the MA Department of Transitional Assistance, I started a program for domestic violence victims that is still running today. I also came back to Family Services of the Merrimack Valley; first as a mentor, then I started working part-time helping enroll volunteers, and then as a match support coordinator with the Big Friends, Little Friends program. I did that for 11 years. I have recently retired from that position.