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/
LAWRENCE—Family Services of the Merrimack Valley has announced that Aida Castro has been named chief program officer. In this newly created role, Castro will continue to support Family Services’ mission of supporting children and families in reaching their full potential.
Castro joined Family Services in 2006 as a Parent Education Program Coordinator before being promoted to Family Programs Supervisor. Since then, she has led and executed many initiatives at the organization, including creating and expanding the Family Services’ fatherhood and healthy marriage and family programs. In 2011 Castro was promoted to Community Programs Manager, becoming the first Latinx/Hispanic senior leader at Family Services. She most recently held the role of Director of Community Programs, where she worked closely with staff to improve the service delivery to clients, strengthened community and stakeholder relations, and advanced youth and family programming. Castro’s efforts helped Family Services receive an increase in federal, state, local, and private funding. “Through her entire professional career, Aida has shown extreme dedication to helping others,” said Elizabeth Sweeney, CEO. “Aida has strong ties to the local community and has received local and state recognition for all her work. We are thrilled to have Aida continue her professional advancement at Family Services and look forward to her ongoing contribution to the organization.”