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.







blogblock_simpleconnectionsEver since launching our Kids Need Connections campaign last spring, we’ve had countless discussions with service providers, families and staff about how to build the connections that we know are so critical for happy, healthy and safe children.

One of the tools we’ve developed is a series of Children’s Stories that Build Resiliency, a list of children’s books with questions to help adults and children connect and engage in discussions to build resiliency.  And we often hear from child welfare professionals about other games, workshops and more that can help build those connections as well.

But a recent blog post — from a business website, of all places — reminded us that making a connection can often be so SIMPLE.  Here are some of our favorites (with a few notes from us on how it might apply to children, too!)

[Re-posted from Young Entrepreneur Council and "10 Habits of People Who Connect With Anyone"]

#1 Smile. This is by far the fastest way in the world to create a connection.

#4 Be genuine. There is only one type of connection — one you genuinely care about.

#6 Pay attention. The easiest way to be interesting is to be interested. Find excitement in what you can learn from others. Hear what they say. Listen and learn about what matters to them — not so you can say something back as soon as possible, but so you can get a window into their world. People (especially kids!) want to tell their story. Be the person excited to hear it (or they’ll stop trying to tell it to you).

#8 Be open to conversation. Embrace conversation with those around you. (Be a safe, open place for your kids to come when they want to talk.)

# 10 Be uniquely YOU. Be vulnerable and open. Share your real story and goals…Talking about the weather does not build connection. Being real does. (Sharing your feelings and being open with your kids is a GREAT way to make them feel cherished and trusted.)

You can read all 10 tips from the original blog post on here.

How will you be building connections with kids this week?

SCAN’s Public Education team spent time this summer developing a new page on SCAN’s website specifically for the faith community. Why? Because they have an important connection to the children and parents in our communities–and they are often in unique positions to safely provide support, compassion and love. We hope to connect with as many faith groups of all kinds as possible in the coming months, giving them the tools and resources to help them strengthen families and protect children in their congregations and beyond.

blogblock_faithgroupsHere are just a few of the tools and suggestions we provide to faith groups:

  • Share the Kids Need Connections campaign with your Faith Community here.
  • Share SCAN’s Parent Resource Center here.
  • Invite a SCAN Spokesperson to your Faith Community via our Speakers Bureau here.
  • Become a ‘Pinwheel Partner’ for Child Abuse Prevention Month in April here.
  • Schedule a Training to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse here.

Can you think of other resources that might be helpful for faith groups? Comment below or send us an email. And be sure to visit  our Faith-Based Resources page and download the Faith-Based Resources flyer to share. Every connection with a local faith group means more chances to support prevention and strengthen families in Northern Virginia. Help us build new connections!


WORDS (noun) /wərd / ~ a unit of language, consisting of one or more spoken sounds or their written representation, that functions as a principal carrier of meaning

blogblock_sanduskyAfter watching the Matthew Sandusky and Oprah Winfrey interview (you can watch some of it here, along with thoughts from the D2L blog), it is clear that one of the key things missing in young Matt Sandusky’s life was WORDS.  No one had given him the WORDS to label his body.  No one had given him the WORDS to say NO to unwanted advances from an adult.  No one had given him the WORDS to describe his emotions and the confusion he was feeling when an adult was sexually abusing him.  And no one used their WORDS to speak up when they thought something wasn’t right in his relationship with Jerry Sandusky or when they witnessed sexual abuse happening.   There was one person who had WORDS though – Jerry Sandusky himself.  He had the words to instill fear in Matt that if he spoke up or told someone what was happening then the police would take him away and bad things would happen to him.

All Matt knew was that he came from a poor and broken family and he so desperately wanted a father in his life.  He wanted it so badly that he was willing to live through the sexual abuse and justify it in his young mind.  This is no excuse though.  There are many adults who came in and out of Matt’s life that could have given him the WORDS to feel empowered, it didn’t have to be from a mother and father who failed him.  There were many chances for healthy and safe child-adult connections that simply did not happen.

Make sure you know the 5 Steps to Protecting Children:

Step 1: Learn the Facts

Step 2: Minimize Opportunity

Step 3: Talk About It

Step 4: Recognize the Signs

Step 5: React Responsibly

WORDS are powerful.  Let’s make sure that every child has the WORDS they need to grow up safe, healthy, and happy.

- Tracy Leonard

p.s. Interested in learning more about SCAN’s work with Darkness to Light and how we provide trainings in child sexual abuse prevention across Northern Virginia? Please contact me today: 703-820-9001.


blogblock_supervisionIt’s a question we often hear from parents and caregivers–when is it “okay” to leave my child at home alone? Busy schedules, challenges with after-school care and so much more often make this a tough decision. Simply put, there is no easy answer. Every child is different, regardless of age. Every home situation is different, regardless of location or neighbors. And every jurisdiction is different in our area when it comes to regulations and guidelines.

We suggest that parents begin talking about and preparing for a child to be left alone before a decision has to be made. There is no magic number when a child reaches the perfect age to be left unsupervised, so even community guidelines (which often share ages from 10-15 as a safe range in particular instances) aren’t always applicable or safe. It’s often best to — when a child is responsible enough and open to the idea — begin slowly, leaving him or her alone for gradually longer periods of time (starting with as little as 15 minutes.)

To help families have this discussion, we recommend visiting the Supervision Guidelines page on our Parent Resource Center, where you can find a fact sheet in English and Spanish, as well as links to local jurisdictions for their resources and support.

What is your experience with child supervision guidelines? What is helpful and/or harmful?  Are there other tools and resources we should be sharing with families? Please comment below to share.


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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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