Andrea Mancuso, who has a JD from Georgetown University and is a member of the bar in Connecticut, New York and Maine, was recently named DVCC’s Director of Legal Services and DVCC360, a project of the DVCC that advocates for implementing system-wide policies and practices that benefit and further the rights of victims of intimate partner violence. Since joining DVCC several years ago, Mancuso has helped to advocate for and influence several pieces of legislation that have benefitted victims of IPV in Connecticut. She currently serves on the state’s Family Violence Model Policy Governing Council.
In addition to Mancuso, the DVCC Legal Department comprises two more attorneys, Shafa Javaid and Gladys Nieves, and three Family Violence Victim Advocates, Maria Alexander, Jamie Vargas and Liliana Vizcaino, who provide services in the Stamford and Norwalk courts. Attorneys and Victim Advocates offer guidance and support for approximately 1,400 clients across the Stamford and Norwalk criminal courts. In Stamford Civil Court, attorneys represent clients seeking restraining orders. A large percentage of DVCC legal clients also avail themselves of further DVCC services, including counseling, SafeHouses and housing assistance. Additionally, DVCC’s monthly Civil Legal Clinics have provided advice to more than 300 clients over the past two years on civil matters such as custody, child support, divorce, housing, property, immigration, paternity and wills. The clinics are staffed by both DVCC attorneys and attorneys from the community who volunteer their time.
Ideally, however, Mancuso would like to see increased staffing in the Legal Department so that DVCC can provide the full range of civil legal services to its clients on an ongoing, full-time and consistent basis.
“Custody, child-support, housing, employment, immigration – these are issues that impact both the immediate safety and the future life circumstances of victims of domestic violence,” Mancuso said. “They impact a victim’s decision to leave and to remain out of an abusive relationship and they impact her future quality of life. I would like to see us be able to provide advice and representation on a much broader basis in order to more fully meet the needs presented day after day by our clients.”
To that end, Mancuso is also pushing for the state legislature to expand the Connecticut statutes covering restraining orders to include economic and financial protections for victims of domestic violence, as is done in 35 other states.
“Victims’ financial circumstances have a huge impact on whether or not they are successful in leaving and in staying out of an abusive relationship,” she said. “We would like to see economic protections specifically addressed in the restraining order statutes, which is in keeping with best practices elsewhere as well as in direct response to our clients’ needs.”
Claudia Cardenas, who has a Psy.D. (Doctorate) and an M.A. in Psychology, joined the agency as its Director of Counseling and PeaceWorks in 2012, after working for the past eight years in Massachusetts, most recently as a staff clinician at Children’s Charter in Waltham. A native of Colombia, Cardenas is a licensed psychologist in Connecticut and Massachusetts, is fluent in English and Spanish and is proficient in French. During the course of her career, she has worked extensively with both adults and children who have been exposed to violence and personal trauma. Having counseled within Hispanic communities and immigrant populations for much of the time, Cardenas said one of the most impressive aspects of DVCC is the level of access to services the agency provides for Latina victims of domestic violence.
“At other agencies where I worked, sometimes there were a couple of Latina service providers, but often I was the only one. It has been so wonderful and refreshing to find that so many people here are able to address the needs of the Spanish speaking population and that there are specific programs addressed to them.”
“EsperanzaCT, both the website and the 24-hour Spanish language phone service line, is a huge asset and a major means of support for the Spanish speaking community,” she continued. “It allows people access to information at any time and helps them understand that they have rights, that things can be different and that there is someone they can call.”
As Director of PeaceWorks, Cardenas gets to work on fulfilling her other passion, which is to instill in young people an understanding of and respect for healthy, non-abusive relationships.
“Kids are the gateway to creating environments and communities where domestic violence is not acceptable. When kids understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships and when they are confident enough to stand up for themselves, they become active participants in creating a better world for future generations,” Cardenas said. “It is essential to provide direct services to victims. It is equally essential to work with young people so that unhealthy, abusive relationships can’t take root in the first place.”