Home » Blog » Staff Spotlight: Mayra Castillo

Staff Spotlight: Mayra Castillo

While many might know Mayra Castillo as a friendly face in Family Support Services, that’s not all she does at ChicagoCAC. To “keep busy” as she puts it, you can find her flexing her bilingual skills doing community outreach trainings and even interviews on Spanish language TV! We asked Mayra more about her work and what motivates her involvement in so many places.

What brought you to ChicagoCAC in the first place?

A little over five years ago, I had just finished my master’s and I knew I wanted to work with children. I found the agency online as I was looking for jobs, and the mission really got my attention. I applied, I got the job, and I’ve been here for five plus years.

Before coming to ChicagoCAC, I had no idea that there was an agency that specifically worked to investigate cases of child sexual abuse. I used to work for the Consulate of Mexico in Chicago and was in charge of overseeing the family law cases. A lot of what happens there involves Mexican nationals living in the United States who have no idea how our systems work. So it was my job to explain, ‘this is what’s going to happen and this is maybe why DCFS took your children away,’ and I wanted to better serve that community.

My background and degree are in law, Children’s Law actually, and that prepared me in a sense to understand the legal system, and family law, what goes on in courts, foster children and custody cases. But nothing can really prepare you for dealing with sexual abuse, though I think the fact that I’m not a social worker by education has helped me not get as upset by some of the things that happen or things people say. I know how both sides work–I get the emotional part, but I also understand that there’s a legal system.

What does a family support specialist do for ChicagoCAC?

Our role is really to work with the parents of the children who come to the center, and to connect them to all of the different resources we know of. Families, yes, they come in because of an allegation of sexual abuse, but once they’re here, it turns out that there’s a bunch of other stuff going on, a bunch of other needs that need to be met. So it’s really our job to keep families engaged and focused on yes, this happened, but how do we make sure that it doesn’t happen again? And then how do we also educate you and connect you to all the resources that your family needs, including counseling services?

Where does FSS fit into the CAC process?

Families come into the center, they get interviewed and they meet with an advocate. It is really the advocate’s job to determine, does this family need more resources? Do they need to work with someone to be able to access these resources and to talk to them about therapy? Then the advocate refers the caregiver to family support services. We’re kind of in the middle of the process, because after that, it’s therapy, and therapy is the end of the process. We make sure that not only are we providing resources to the family, but keeping them engaged and making sure that they understand what therapy is going to be and that they don’t get lost or fall through the cracks of referral.

We have a really close relationship with the advocacy department. They identify some of these issues right away or they might come to us to ask, is this an appropriate referral? Or, what can I offer this family, maybe not to necessarily refer them somewhere, but this is just one need that they have that I don’t know what to do with. We are the keepers of a lot of that information around here, and as part of PATHH, we have a relationship with outside agencies. Obviously, our mental health department cannot serve all the kids that come through the center. So we have to have those relationships with places like Catholic Charities, the YWCA, and Association House, to be able to refer out the clients that need counseling.

What does a typical day of FSS work look like?

There’s a lot of adding children on the waitlist for therapy referral, following up with families, offering support if there’s not any waitlist slots available, and then meeting with caregivers. Pre-COVID, families would come into the center to their therapy appointments and we would be very active meeting with parents in the evening.

We do get families that are sometimes on the fence about wanting therapy for their children, or whose immediate needs are completely different than therapy and need to be met before they can even think about it. So we do a lot of motivational interviewing, which might look like sitting down with a family and just figuring out, where do they stand? If we’re talking about therapy, are they ready? Do they know what therapy is? Is there something greater on their mind or that they’re needing that maybe is keeping them from focusing on therapy? What can we do together to help them move past that ambivalence?

And maybe someone says something like, “I would love to get my son into therapy to talk about his abuse. But hey, I was also sexually abused as a child and, now, you know, all this trauma is coming back. How do I work with that? How do I be present for my child? Because now with what’s happened to him, I just can’t be.” People are coming in and they’re all in so many different places, and being patient helps–this job has taught me patience.

I’m sure COVID has affected your work, not just in terms of meeting but also in terms of what people might need.

Yeah, it has. The meeting part has decreased a lot. There’s something about caregivers not wanting to do Zoom. I’m still trying to figure out why–it’s not always that they can’t or don’t have access. Something about doing it in person maybe felt more intimate, and we were able to talk more about deep intense things. I tried Zoom with one caregiver and at the end she was like, I’d rather do phone, or in person. And we can’t do that just yet, although we’re starting to do so again.

At the beginning of the pandemic, there was one point where people were just not working, particularly those that had jobs in the restaurant or service industry, and this was a lot of our Spanish-speaking families. And they couldn’t apply for unemployment because of their legal status in the country. So we were dealing with a lot of families who just didn’t have income and weren’t able to pay their rent, and there was a lot of trying to figure out what programs out there could help them.

While you might have been hired as a family support specialist, you’ve definitely supported many other departments too! What motivates that desire to help out in other parts of the agency?

I think I mentioned once when we were talking as an agency about inclusion that I really like that ChicagoCAC gives you the opportunity to do a lot of different things and to say hey, I would love to educate the community about this topic. When I expressed that to my supervisors, they listened.

I help out a lot with community education and outreach–we’re in one of the schools now teaching children lessons about body safety–and I just got interviewed twice by Univision. It’s so funny, I was just talking to our education prevention and policy director trying to figure out how to do more outreach or what different ways we could try to reach various communities. And I said, you know, for the five years that I’ve been here, I don’t think we’ve ever done any interviews or anything with Univision or Telemundo, which are Spanish speaking networks, and most of our clients are Spanish speaking. Then it was Friday night, I was already home, and I saw the email asking if I would do an interview with Univision.

All of it feels different from my FSS work, but I like that. I need to keep my mind busy, so any opportunity there is to help, I’ll do it. I enjoy having a busy day!

Did you have any practice doing public speaking or interviews before ChicagoCAC?

I used to be scared of speaking in public. I would get so nervous. But after doing all these community trainings, that feeling went away, so I guess I just needed to do more public speaking. And ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be an actress. I even went to acting and modeling school, but I didn’t get very far. I did do a commercial when I was a little girl for what used to be Dominick’s grocery store. It wasn’t very long–maybe like five or ten seconds–my mom took me in for auditions and I landed one of the roles because they needed all these children. So I like to mess around with my team and say that anytime there’s an acting opportunity, I will take it.

What do you do for fun or self-care when you’re not at work?

I have a six month old, so I am focused on him a lot, but I also like to work out. I do a morning CrossFit class, actually, before coming to work and then I do my job and go home. While it’s easy for me to walk out those doors and disconnect from work, maybe working out helps me with my job. But I don’t know. I would probably have to stop doing it and see how it affected me.

Finally, what’s one thing about your job that you wish people knew more about?

We’re full of resources, and I don’t bite, so come and ask for stuff! I know COVID is going on, but I wish we could go out in the community more and that people could really take advantage of the skill and all the information that we’re able to provide, for free. Also, that ChicagoCAC is great at educating people about preventing child sexual abuse.

Mayra helping out during the 2020 Holiday Toy Drive
Scroll to Top
Leave Site