CASA Staff Changes Press Release

Hadley MA – Friends of Children, the independent child advocacy organization, announced today the hiring two new staff following the retirement of long-time CASA Director, Randee Laikind. Laikind, the program’s first CASA Director, began her work in 1993. To honor her, Friends of Children’s Board of Directors has established the Randee Laikind Children’s Fund. More information on the Fund and the agency’s work can be obtained at http://www.friendsofchildreninc.org.

Debi Belkin will assume the CASA Director’s position of the Franklin/Hampshire Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Program. Prior to joining Friends of Children, Belkin worked for the Department of Children and Families for more than 30 years and was former Chair of the Friends of Children Board of Directors in 2005.

Additionally, Jo-Anne Vanin will join the Friends of Children as its Community Engagement Coordinator. Vanin has volunteered for the agency for 12 years as a CASA, as a mentor, and Board member and Chair. Previously, she was Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Campus Life and the Dean of Students at UMASS Amherst.

The mission of Friends of Children’s CASA Program is to promote and advocate for the best interests of at-risk children and youth involved in the court system. In the two county area served by CASA, there are an estimated 2500 reports of abuse and neglect annually. Many children are ultimately removed from their homes and placed in the foster care system. About 375 area children and youth are in out-of-home placements on any given day and hundreds more at risk of placement. These children come before the court where a judge must decide their future in an overburdened court system. CASA volunteers are trained to investigate and monitor a child’s situation with the goal of ensuring that his or her best interests remain at the forefront of decision making. With the help of CASA volunteers, children are less likely to reenter the child welfare system. Just 9% reenter the system versus 16% for children not served by a CASA. Friends of Children’s CASA Program recently received recertification by the National CASA Association.