10620434_10152489822470735_8987194809694495121_oOn Tuesday over 50 professional and community members who wish to be stronger advocates for children attended SCAN’s advocacy training event, Speak Up For Children!, a partnership between SCAN and Prevent Child Abuse Virginia.

Christie Marra from the Virginia Poverty Law Center gave an engaging presentation about the legislative process and how advocates can influence policies that impact children and families.

“An advocate’s role is to know the political climate, reach out for support, and rally the troops,” noted Christie. Participants spent the rest of the day being empowered to do just that.

Jim Pope, J.D., MSW, the Fairfax County CPS Hearing Officer, shared the story of how his work with the Northern Region Child Fatality Review Team led to successful advocacy efforts at the state level. Jim’s case study on writing and advocating for a bill to allow the team access to critical information to properly address child fatality perfectly illustrated the legislative advocacy process presented by Christie.

The training portion of the event was followed by policy and legislative panels. A panel of representatives from Youth for Tomorrow, Voice for Adoption, and the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis spoke about how policy issues are impacting the populations they serve. The topics discussed included child trafficking, child mental health, and foster care and adoption. Participants also learned the powerful impact fiscal policy has on children and families.

“Virginia needs a different approach than a “cuts only” approach to balance the budget,” noted Jeff Connor Naylor with The Commonwealth Institute. As the panel ended, one person noted that she “gained more knowledge about Virginia’s budget process” that would inform her advocacy work in the future.

A panel of legislators from across Northern Virginia discussed potential state legislation dealing with children and families. Senator Barbara Favola and Delegates Dave Albo, Alfonso Lopez and Charniele Herring spoke with participants about everything from healthcare to poverty to child care standards.

“It was helpful to see the legislators in person and hear their perspectives on the legislative climate,” noted one participant. For many, observing the legislative panel and interacting with local lawmakers helped minimize the distance they felt between their own daily work advocating for children and the larger systems which impact that work. Many indicated that they are now much more likely to track legislation that affects their clients, and contact their legislators in the future.

So what next? Participants at the training walked away with these five tips:

1. KNOW YOUR LEGISLATOR: This easy-to-use “find your legislator” tool makes it fast and easy!

2. ENGAGE MORE with your legislators: Child welfare professionals know the issues and challenges children and families face better than almost anyone, so we need to be the one’s to speak up and let our representatives know when there is a policy issue than needs to be addressed. Legislators need us to keep them informed, and they do value our input.

3. EXPLORE THE “LOBBYIST-IN-A-BOX” TOOL: You can subscribe to this service on Virginia’s Legislative Information System (or LIS) and track up to 5 bills for free.

4. SUBSCRIBE TO SCAN’s CONNECTIONS BLOG: Stay informed on the issues and trends in child welfare both here in Northern Virginia and across the United States.

5. VISIT SCAN’S WEBSITE: Our Statistics, Policy & Research page provides current statistics on child abuse and neglect in Northern Virginia, as well as links to additional resources such as white papers and fact sheets.

As one of the participants was completing an evaluation of the training, she wrote: “I feel this training helped a lot, and I look forward to more children’s advocacy trainings in the future.”

We couldn’t agree more! Follow @SCANconnections and  #speakup4kids on Twitter for more information and updates on advocacy throughout the year.

- Kerry Desjardins
MSW Intern at SCAN and Advocacy Training Coordinator

SCAN’s work in Public Education has been expanding its reach to include child care workers. These newly formed relationships are a perfect example of how we connect with the communities in which we live.

Through our involvement with the Child Protection Partnership of Greater Prince William, we have received funding and administrative support from the Early Childhood Partnership to train 100 child care workers in Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park using the Darkness to Light curriculum. There are 6 trainings scheduled before January 1 in which child care staff from large centers, home-based centers, and preschools will be trained.

Another opportunity with local child care workers came up as well — to educate them about their role as mandated reporters and more importantly, their role in protecting children.  SCAN was connected with Open Arms Christian Child Development Center in Ashburn by one of our board members, Joe Carlin.  Through this connection, we were able to provide one of our newly developed workshops to a group of over 70 child care staff at Open Arms.

Although child care staff are required to take mandated reporter training, mostly through online tools, it is important to have discussions around the topic in person and to constantly remind child care workers that they are mandated reporters and have a responsibility to protect children.  Through this training, not only did we discuss the roles and responsibilities of mandated reporters within their center, but also when they are in the community.  Their mandated reporter “hat” should not simply come off when they walk out of their classrooms.  They have an obligation to help keep all of the children in their communities safe by speaking up when they witness abuse or harsh interactions or when they have suspicions of child abuse and neglect.

It is a great responsibility to be a mandated reporter.  But children need a voice and it starts with them and it should start with you, too.

For more information about workshops – fee for service workshops

For more information about harsh interactions – fact sheet

For more information about being a voice for children – Advocacy Day

Our Alexandria/Arlington CASA volunteers are intimately aware of the local foster care system, its challenges, and its impact. As they work closely with families here in our community, we also keep an eye on foster care and adoption trends around the country, which is why this recent post from National CASA CEO Michael Piraino caught our eye. We’ll certainly remain focused in our work on Mr. Piraino’s challenge — to “ensure all children in foster care achieve positive outcomes regardless of geography, economic circumstances, or such factors as race or ethnicity” — and we hope you will too.

[Re-posted from National CASA Blog: “Ominous Trends in Foster Care”]

For several years, CASA volunteers and staff around the country have been concerned about an ominous trend. Despite a general decline in the number of children in foster care, the family courts were requesting more volunteer advocates for more and more foster youth. Additionally, the children who had CASA and guardian ad litem advocates were coming from more challenging home situations. It is a sadly familiar pattern we have seen after previous recessions.

Last year we also noted that the decline in children in foster care was leveling off. The new numbers now confirm what our volunteers feared might happen. The number of children in foster care nationwide increased in 2013 for the first time in seven years. At the same time, we have received a report that child welfare spending actually declined nationwide between 2010 and 2012. That’s the first time spending has gone down in twenty years.

This drop in spending is not accounted for by the declining numbers from 2012, according to Child Trends’ research. Plus, now that we know the number of children in care is rising again, it looks like a perfect storm: less money for services, but more children, from more difficult circumstances, coming into care…[Read the full blog post on National CASA’s Blog here.]


With October — Domestic Violence Awareness Month — drawing to a close, it’s an important time for us to remember that there is no time limit on violence in the home. It happens all year long, in every community.

And it always, always affects the children involved. 

domestic violence_squareEvery year, 3 million children in the U.S. are exposed to domestic violence. And that’s a conservative estimate. About 50% of the time, the abuser victimizes children as well as the adult partner. But even if the child is not directly abused, the ramifications of being a witness to a parent’s abuse (or just knowing it is occurring) can include everything from anxiety and depression to academic failure to homelessness.

Listen to our new radio show on the impact of domestic violence on children with special guest Nicole Acosta, from the Loudoun Abused Women’s Shelter — also known as LAWS.

Download fact sheets (in English and Spanish) and read more about the impact of domestic violence on children on our Parent Resource Center here.

SCAN produces the Parenting Today radio show throughout the year thanks to a partnership with Clear Channel Media in Washington, DC. Listen to more of our recent segments here.

adorable-22040_1280“I cannot get my baby to stop crying.”

“My baby gets cold at night, so I have to leave a blanket in her crib.”

“Why can’t I figure out what he needs? I feel so frustrated!”

Service providers working with parents hear these kinds of comments and questions all the time. It’s normal for new parents to feel unprepared for parenting, and many need to be educated in the best practices for getting their child to stop crying or keeping them safe while sleeping.

SCAN was privileged to have Megan Sharma, a student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, as an intern this Summer.  While working with us, she researched best practices for both Safe Sleeping and Shaken Baby Syndrome, as well as what is being done about both issues in Northern Virginia.

As a result of her research, SCAN began to launch Operation Safe Babies, a program focused on the wellbeing of children from birth to the age of three.  It began with a presentation for professionals at Inova Fairfax Hospital, and our goal now is to educate parents, caregivers and families with useful messages and resources to reduce the numbers of babies who die as a result of Shaken Baby Syndrome or unsafe sleeping environments.

With Megan’s help, SCAN created two new parenting fact sheets: How to Soothe a Baby…and Calm Yourself (which includes a “My Baby’s Crying Plan” worksheet) and “Safe Sleep for your Baby” (in English and Spanish) as an initial set of tools to help parents better understand how to keep their babies safe.

Stay tuned to SCAN’s website and blog for future information regarding this important initiative as we develop more resources.

kids-borther-and-sister-358298_640Earlier this fall, 8 of our Darkness to Light Facilitators gathered for a discussion with Lisa Hunt, Executive Director of The Center for Clinical and Forensic Services, Inc.  Our facilitators gather quarterly to keep up to date on the issues surrounding child sexual abuse and to discuss topics that will help us be effective facilitators and responsive to those we train.  When we gathered in September, we met with open minds so that we could better understand sexual offenders and sexual abuse dynamics.

Dr. Hunt explained that in order to move forward in the conversations surrounding child sexual abuse, we needed to have a better understanding of the offender.  First of all, there is no “look” for a child sexual offender, there is no one profile that fits all, and sexual offenders are male and female, young and old.  However, there are common factors that can underlie the motivation for the offending behavior such as power, control, feelings of inadequacy, social skills deficits, and deviant sexual arousal.

Society’s generic views of sexual offenders are not justified or helpful.  Offenders are villainized and this can be particularly harmful for the children who love their offenders.  When we villainize the offenders, we are shutting the victim down and creating a persona about the offender that is so big the child cannot gain mastery of their abuse.

The primary goal of treating sexual offenders is that the individual will take responsibility for their behaviors, develop the necessary skills and techniques that will prevent them from engaging in sexually abusive and other harmful behaviors in the future, and will lead them to productive and pro-social lives.  Sexual offenders are our husbands, wives, relatives, neighbors and friends.  And although we certainly do not condone what they have done, we must understand that when those who offend are treated with current approaches, they are less likely to offend again.  Treatment needs to be a combination of accountability and hope.

- Tracy Leonard

photo 1 (9)Men and women who work directly with children and parents in our community often experience very different perspectives of the families they serve. Some work in the schools, others at health organizations, government agencies or any number of nonprofits. Yet many are serving families in crisis because of the same complex and tangled list of issues: domestic violence, economic hardship and immigration.

SCAN’s Allies in Prevention Coalition met last week, bringing a group of nearly 40 professionals together for a panel discussion on these topics. The goal? To share ideas and experiences across the divide of organizations and jurisdictions. What are the obstacles all families are facing? How can we better serve these families? What resources are available? How can we connect with and support one another in our unique missions?

Discussion resulted in four challenges that panel participants — from Artemis House, Alexandria Community and Human Services, Cornerstones and Mobile Hope — all touched on while they spoke. And we consider them powerful guideposts for the work any child and family advocate does in our community today:

  1. We must increase awareness. “If it’s not right in front of people, they don’t think it’s an issue,” said Dani Colon from Artemis House, a domestic violence shelter in Fairfax County. We have to keep on telling the stories of children and families living with violence, in poverty or in fear and isolation. Violence in particular does NOT discriminate, and it’s an issue widely prevalent in all communities of Northern Virginia. Awareness of the issue — and prevention — is key.
  2. We have to improve parent-child engagement. Jody Tompros, the Division Director of Family Stability and Child Health & Development at Cornerstones in Fairfax County, mentioned the critical ability to help children and parents connect when they are in crisis, rather than move apart. Members mentioned skills like shoulder-to-shoulder talking, using a softer voice and scheduling simultaneous counseling and services. How are our programs — no matter where we reach families — empowering that connection?
  3. We need to consider advocacy related to issues like affordable housing and immigration law. “There is a LOT of legislative advocacy power in this room,” noted Claire Dunn, the Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Division Chief with the City of Alexandria. It may not be the specific issue you work with on a daily basis, yet these are issues that deeply impact some of the most at-risk children and families in our community. Contributing our voice — as a group who intimately knows those affected (as well as the cost) — is a critical step in advocating for meaningful change. (SCAN’s Advocacy Day on November 18th is a great place to start.)
  4. We must look beyond today, at the kids who are aging-out of our systems. “Keeping these families together in housing is very difficult,” noted Donna Fortier with MobileHope, a new program providing food, medical treatment and other services to homeless youth in Loudoun County. As children approach 18, their access to everything from school lunches to mandatory foster care can disappear. How can our programs extend beyond just a number, providing better paths for young adult community members still in need of structures and support?

As coalition members work with children and families every day, we’ll continue our work to ask — and answer — these important questions.

  • You can learn more about the Allies in Prevention Coalition here.
  • Consider attending Advocacy Day on November 18th to lend your voice to the discussion.
  • What other questions are you considering in your work? Please share in the comments below.



WhitePaper_BuildingResiliencyChildrensStoriesThis fall, SCAN published its first white paper for child and family welfare professionals. A resource focused on building resiliency in children through books, it includes research, directives, references and calls to action. It is the next step in a multi-year initiative to use SCAN’s “Kids Need Connections” campaign to educate and empower local parents and community members to BE those positive connections for children through tangible steps and projects.

> Download the white paper here: Building Resilient Children, One Story at a Time

This first white paper was written by Tracy Leonard, SCAN’s Public Education Manager. In October, Tracy will be a guest at Beatley Central Library where she will put this research into action, leading a story time and showing caregivers how to use books as powerful tools to build resiliency and connect with children.

Additional white papers will be developed in the coming year. In the meantime, we invite you to explore the other resources for professionals we have developed to date, including Connections Assessments, Build Up/Tear Down Jenga game and Children’s Book Lists & Worksheets.

blogblock_corporalpunishmentRecent headlines are bringing attention to the issue of corporal punishment. Surveys show that many parents in the U.S. use physical punishment to discipline their children, even though it has been shown to be no more effective than non-violent alternatives, and the harm it can cause is real.

After 20 years of robust research, pediatricians, social workers, and other service providers know that corporal punishment is linked not only to physical injury, but also to aggression and antisocial behavior, delinquency, domestic abuse later in life, a wide range of mental health problems, disruptions in parent-child attachment, and even slower cognitive development and decreased academic achievement. As of 2012, no studies have found it to have any long-term positive effects.

It is true that our society has been gradually shifting away from corporal punishment as a means of disciplining children. However, it is still widely accepted and practiced in the United States. Physicians and other service providers have a responsibility to provide support and education to parents concerning the health and well-being of their children. But it can be a tough subject. Many parents who use corporal punishment do so because they were physically disciplined as children. We also have to consider the variations in child-rearing practices across diverse cultures. And sometimes parents resort to physical punishment due to stress and frustration, and then feel guilty afterward.

So what is the best way for service providers to have these conversations in a way that respects parental rights, is culturally competent, and is not stigmatizing? Here are some ideas:

  • During regular check-ups or check-ins, ask about the child’s behavior the same way you would ask about the child’s sleep pattern or diet.

“How are things going with managing her behavior? Have you noticed any particular behavioral problems?”

These questions offer a natural opening for parents who might be hesitant to bring up any difficulties they are having with their child’s behavior. Ask the parent what kind of discipline they have used to address the issue. If they are using physical punishment, it is likely that it is not working. This is an opportunity for a general conversation about normal development. Knowledge about child development may help the parent understand what could be sparking their child’s behavior, and give them realistic expectations about their child’s abilities to control their impulses, evaluate risk, and understand consequences. Also, normalizing the experience of parent frustration and identifying positive parenting skills may decrease the likelihood that the parent will resort to corporal punishment the next time.

“When my son was her age, I can’t tell you how many times I had to tell him not to climb on the table; I would get so frustrated with him. But usually, when young children don’t follow rules it’s not because they are trying to be defiant; they just haven’t developed those skills yet. Just be patient with your daughter and take precautions to keep her safe and she will learn.”

If the situation calls for you to address the issue more directly, here are some additional tips:

  • Recognize that the parent’s use of physical discipline is not uncommon, and that many of our parents and grandparents used physical discipline in our upbringing.
  • Explain that strong research has shown that corporal punishment is no more effective than other forms of discipline, but that it carries many risks.
  • Offer alternatives. Take time to learn more about the child and brainstorm alternative forms of discipline that might be a good fit for their unique personality and skills, their environment, and particular problem behaviors.
  • Share resources in the community that they might find helpful. If possible, refer parents to a specific person in an organization, and suggest that they mention that they were referred by you.
  • Offer sincere support and offer a follow-up appointment or phone call. We like this radio show from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which you could consider sharing with parents.

Have you worked with families who are working to transition from corporal punishment to more positive forms of discipline? What resources or tips can you share?

The newest data from Kids Count, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, is nothing short of staggering.  There are so many factors to consider when service providers are trying to use best practices to help children grow up in safe, stable, nurturing homes.  Or, when granting organizations and foundations are trying to determine what groups of children are at high risk or underserved.


Virginia may rank 9th overall, but what does that mean? 

There are 1.8 million children (ages 0-17) in Virginia.

  • 728,000 are in the 5 to 11 age range
  • 15.5% live in poverty
  • 41.2% receive free or reduced lunch at school
  • 9.7% do not have health insurance
  • 17% have one or more emotional, behavioral, or developmental conditions
  • 5,664 are confirmed by Child Protective Services as a victim of maltreatment

Which number do you settle on?  An overall ranking of 9? Our economic well-being rank of 11?  A family and community rank of 12?  A health rank of 11?

Or, don’t settle on a ranking at all. Instead, focus on 1: 1 child at a time, and 1 connection for that child at a time.

Think of it – what would 1 connection for one of the 5,664 abused and neglected children in our commonwealth have meant?  Perhaps that number could have been 5,663. And wouldn’t that matter in a big way to that one child? Her family? Her community?

Numbers can feel equal parts cold and overwhelming. Perhaps we need to think about it like this: Every child counts. Which means every connection you make can count, too.

Learn more about SCAN’s Kids Need Connections campaign here.







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SCAN works to build hope for children and families in Northern Virginia. This blog brings child welfare professionals the current trends and valuable resources that will support their work to prevent child abuse and strengthen families in Northern Virginia and beyond.



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