ACEs Community Spotlight Series: Feride Castillo, Empowerment Collaborative of Long Island

by Maggie Wayne, Docs for Tots Health Liaison

For our first Community Spotlight, I interviewed Feride Castillo, Director of Advocacy and co-founder of Empower LI to discuss the incredible work she is doing with trauma-informed care within the criminal justice system in Suffolk County. Please note that responses have been adjusted for length and clarity.

How did you get started working with families affected by the ACEs/Trauma on Long Island?

I have experience working within the criminal justice system alongside judges, defense attorneys, and law enforcement. My initial work focused primarily on advocacy for survivors of domestic violence, but after I was referred a case where I met a 15-year-old young man that had been in a domestic violence shelter with his mother 10 years prior, I realized that our conversations can no longer be limited to just domestic violence and women. We needed to do more work encompassing all victims of all forms of trauma. This was the catalyst to forming an organization that focused on healing trauma from its core roots.

Can you give me a brief overview of the work you do with ACEs or trauma?

I do advocacy work on the local, state, and federal level to have the difficult conversations around policy and trauma. We do not talk about trauma enough. Trauma has to be at the forefront of how we discuss the issues we are facing today.

Who is the target audience?

We work with re-entry after incarceration for adults and adolescents, the human trafficking population, and immigrant youth and families. We work within the criminal justice system to change how defendants are viewed. Making more people aware that there is much more going on with these individuals than we can see.

What challenges do you encounter?

There just isn’t enough buy-in from the policy or decision makers, the ones who can formally change the system. There are a lot of people doing really amazing things and working very diligently on the issues around trauma, however there is still work that needs to be done in bridging the different silos together around this issue. An example is trauma and the mental health system or trauma and the substance abuse system. How do we bridge these massive gaps?

What do you think is one next critical step we need to take on Long Island to increase awareness about ACEs and trauma-informed care?

We need a greater conversation and awareness on how common trauma is and its effects on development, decision making, etc.

What recommendations or advice do you have for someone who wants to get started promoting awareness of ACEs and trauma-informed care on Long Island?

We need to remember intersectionality when we talk about trauma. How does trauma effect everyone? Before these conversations can begin, we need to understand the plight of every person who may experience trauma, and how trauma effects or may look different for every community, race, and gender. An example, for people of color it is very hard to find trauma-informed professionals that look like them or understand their community. Therefore, before beginning a conversation and promoting awareness, we need to make sure we are not leaving anyone out.



Empower LI provides crisis intervention, advocacy, and transition to independence by acknowledging and addressing the different trauma affecting their community. They strive to build a community of support to foster healing and lasting change. Feride Castillo leads the advocacy on the local, state and federal level to begin the conversations that need to be had on policy and trauma. Communities need to change the way they talk about the issues faced by everyone today.

Margaret Wayne, MPH

Maggie Wayne is a Health Liaison with Docs for Tots, working with our partners on incorporating into pediatric practices screenings for Maternal Depression and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).

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