11050284_10152739148935735_1822931701725045529_oThis month SCAN’s Allies in Prevention Coalition held a quarterly meeting with one question in mind: How can we be more intentional about making the time and effort to connect with the kids in our lives? 

As discussion continued, it became clear that as resource providers, we think about this almost constantly. But we’re thinking about it as parents and colleagues as well. Are there simple ways — both in our work with children and families and in our own families — that we can make connections more possible? Are there simple games and activities that can help us build our connections on a daily basis, whether it’s with the children in our own lives or those we serve as professionals?

Yes!

SCAN Public Education Manager Tracy Leonard led a vibrant discussion of ideas, including suggestions like:

  • Simple “Bright Beginnings” and “Happy Ending” questions to use every day around the dinner table, in the classroom, etc. that help spark discussion and guide adults to listen to their children
  • “I’m Special” body tracings, where children are given an outline of their bodies to fill in with words and pictures detailing what they like about themselves
  • Children’s Stories that Build Resiliency, such as The Invisible String by Patrice Karst, with questions to discuss how a child is connected with others in their life as well as an activity (making an invisible string bracelet) to reinforce the discussion in a lasting way

For a complete list of the activities covered in Tracy’s presentation, download the Activities with Intention PDF here.

In April, we’ll kick off the 2015 Northern Virginia Child Abuse Prevention campaign during National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Stay tuned for more about our Kids Need Connections campaign, a special focus on fathers and connections, and many more ideas about being intentional as we build connections with the children in our communities. (Follow the campaign on social media with #kidsneedconnections!)

parentingclasslaughsSCAN kicked off its first parenting class of the year on February 5th using The ABCs of Parenting from the evidence-based Nurturing Parenting Program®. This 8-week program is designed to empower parents by providing them with effective parenting skills and techniques. The length of the program provides the group enough time to delve into the core curriculum lessons while also allowing relationship-building among parents and their facilitator.

During this first series of 2015, we have had the privilege to meet and work with nineteen Spanish-speaking parents and their families. We can’t believe how quickly we have reached our half-way point. As we do for all programs, we evaluate and–if necessary–re-tool our activities throughout the series. With that in mind, we asked our Parent Education Team to take a moment and share tips and lessons learned from this and past parenting classes. With over 40+ years of combined experience, they had plenty to share!

Whether you are new to program implementation or an experienced facilitator or program coordinator, here are some tips you can consider as you implement similar programs.

  1. Know your audience. Being familiar with participants’ cultural backgrounds, genders and language differences is something we all know as critical for a facilitator to be aware of before walking into a class. However, there are other nuances to consider. For example, some individuals may have been placed in a class unwillingly by the court. They can bring a negative attitude and influence to the group. The challenge is finding a way to engage those parents and help them focus on the positive things they will gain from participating, instead of who or what brought them to the group.

    Our team recommends acknowledging their feelings. For example, “For some of you it may feel hard to fit this commitment into your schedules each week. I promise we are going to have some interesting conversations and a few laughs and before the end of this class you will likely look forward to these evenings we have together.” It is also helpful to express value in their presence. For example, you could say “In my experience, everyone brings value to these conversations and I encourage you to participate in discussions openly and honestly. Your wisdom and experience may be what helps another parent get through a challenging time.”

  1. Set expectations for the group. Each person, including the facilitator, will have their own expectations about the class. As the leader of the group, set the expectations early on. This can be done during pre-registration and during the first session when ground rules are established.
  1. Integrate relevant news. If you are working with an evidence-based curriculum you may be hesitant to integrate outside sources of materials such as news articles, quotes from well-known individuals or community members. Our team believes doing so provides an interesting and fresh take to each class. Integrating real-world situations and discussion enhances your message and supports the idea that there are others outside of the group talking about the issue.
  1. Have conversations, not lectures. Build structured conversations and activities into the sessions, rather than just lecturing. Create opportunities for the participants to contribute their relevant life experiences to the class. Enjoy and value their participation and let them know it.
  1. Set a chain of communication and check-in regularly with your team. When running any sort of program, the team needs to be on the same page. Establish clear roles for your volunteers and staff. Then designate a chain of communication. Ideally this should be set up days prior to the first class. A short debriefing at the end of each class allows staff and volunteers to bring up any challenges they are encountering and as a group find a way to address it before the next class.
  1. Working with children?
    • Say it with enthusiasm! When you are leading a children’s program, act with the poise and enthusiasm that you want to see reflected in the children and childcare volunteers. For example, if you are introducing a new game to kids and you show your excitement about how you have the coolest game in the world to share with them, then the kids will also be excited about it.  Really, if you sell it right, you can get kids to do any sort of game or activity!
    • Be flexible. Kids’ moods, likes and desires can all change in a flash and you need to be able to change with them. Don’t be upset if things don’t go the way you planned. Always have a backup game, activity or craft ready to go at all times.
  1. Have a sense of humor. Nothing ever goes exactly as planned. Weather delays/cancellations, unexpected logistics challenges, and volunteer cancellations have all caused havoc at some point in the life of a program. There are times we just need to take a breath, have a laugh and realize that when the program is supported by great staff, volunteer, and partners who have a common goal and belief in a mission, it will all eventually work out. (And if we can’t model flexibility, patience and humor for parents, then who can!?)

Have you worked with children and parents before? What are your best practices for connecting with families and making a lasting impact? We’d love to hear in the comments below!

– Marisol Morales, SCAN Parent Education Program Manager

This excellent post was shared most recently on the Darkness to Light blog (as well as Momastery’s Facebook page and originally appearing here), and it’s one that needs to be shared as many other places and with as many other people as possible: 

My beautiful cousin, who I’d not seen in 35 years, and I set out to dance on our grandfather’s grave. Our first dilemma was, of course, song choice. You have to have the right song. We bandied a few song titles about, Alanis Morrisette was a front runner.

Obviously.

We drove to the town where he lived, and where he is buried. We drove to the town where we were abused. Driving down the picturesque New England roads, I felt a little faint. Mary felt a little barfy. We pulled into a store parking lot, and Mary spent some quality time behind a dumpster, hurling. It happens.

We weren’t entirely sure where the cemetery was, so we pulled into a police station to I said, Let’s do it.ask for directions.

I said, jokingly, We should go in and file a police report. Mary said, What would happen if we went inside and filed a police report?

We walked in, after Mary barfed again, and there was a darling older police officer behind the glass window. Mary told him we were looking for the cemetery- and I had a moment of, We’re probably not REALLY going to do this. Then my beautiful cousin, who is the bravest person I know, said- And we would like to report a crime.

That got his attention.

She said, Our grandfather sexually molested us 35 years ago, and we want to report him.

We were ushered into a conference room, where a young officer came in to talk to us. He handles all of their sexual assault and rape cases. He introduced himself, sat down and proceeded to ask us questions about what happened. Names, addresses, dates. I called my sister, Aimee, and put her on speakerphone. We were all crying.

Aimee, I said, He’s writing it down.

We said, This happened to us, and he listened. He WROTE IT DOWN. He wrote it down.

I cannot begin to tell you how powerful that was.

He said several times, I don’t want to open any wounds, so if you don’t want to answer this, that’s okay. Finally I said, The wounds are all still open. Obviously. What do you want to know?

I found myself saying, to a police officer, I was raped. I never thought that would happen.

Then Mary asked a question I would not have thought to ask, but the answer to which I really needed. She said, What would have happened to him, if someone had reported it? The officer told us the procedural things, he said he would have interviewed us, he would have interviewed our grandfather, he would have corroborated what he could. And then, he said –

I would have driven down the street and arrested him.

That is what should have happened.

We know there is nothing to be done. We know there will be no consequences, and no justice. Life is staggeringly unfair, sometimes.

But there is a record. We walked into that police station holding the jagged shards of our story, of our childhood, and said, LOOK. THIS HAPPENED. And Officer Paul Smith bore witness. He wrote it down.

In few days, the police report will be available, and Mary will go get three copies. Or, if she makes good on her threat to send it out in lieu of a Christmas card next year, maybe many more. But, at least three. We will each have a copy.

We asked Officer Smith if anyone else ever comes forward about our grandfather- because we know with absolute certainty there are MANY more victims- to please give them our information. We want to meet them.

At that point we thought we were still going to go to the cemetery. Officer Paul offered us a police escort.

I think it is important to note, in the face of so much awfulness, that people really are mostly very good. He was so kind. He took it so seriously. He honored our loss.

Mary decided she’s not quite ready to dance on his grave. That’s okay. We’ve found each other again. We’ve got nothing but time.

That’s where this was supposed to end.

Then I got a call this morning, from Officer Paul. He said, Can you come in? I have something I want to tell you guys.

So.

Mary and I just got back.  We were at the police station for hours.  Talking to a mama.  About her daughter.  She told us what happened. Officer Paul wrote it down.

Read the full post from Darkness to Light here.

baby-376531_1920In October 2014, the Virginia Department of Social Services put out their Annual Report on Child Fatalities which reviews child and infant deaths in the previous year. Child fatality review teams set out to research and understand what is causing infant death in Virginia and if any of these deaths were preventable. This year, they continued to find some really interesting research in Virginia’s 109 child fatalities. 48 percent of the cases that they reviewed were sleep-related infant deaths. They also found that 95 percent of those deaths were preventable and were most likely correlated to an unsafe sleep environment. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome played a part in many of the infant deaths and could have been prevented with proper safe sleep techniques.

Listed below are helpful resources to get more information about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and how to create safe sleep environments:

Abusive Head Trauma was another common cause of death in the state of Virginia. Abusive Head Trauma, also known as Shaken Baby Syndrome, can lead to many serious injuries, such as blindness and mental retardation as well as death. The most common cause of death that the reviewers found in the Child Fatality Study was from an external cause or injury and that was 50 percent of children. Men were identified as causing the death in 58 percent of these external injury cases. Because the report found that men were more likely to actively cause an infant’s death, one of their recommendations was continuing efforts toward strong fatherhood initiatives and programs.

Listed below are helpful resources and tips about Shaken Baby Syndrome and information about how to cope with a crying child:

The timing could not be better for Operation Safe Babies, a new initiative set forth by SCAN to promote the safety of infants. It is a program that will educate parents and caregivers on the importance of practicing safe sleep for babies, parenting/caregiving tips that can prevent Shaken Baby Syndrome, and other strategies to help keep infants safe. Through a partnership with Cribs for Kids, Operation Safe Babies will provide Graco Pack ‘n Play portable cribs to families in the coming year who otherwise could not afford a safe place for their babies to sleep. SCAN will also work to educate these families and other Northern Virginia parents about safe sleep and how to soothe a crying baby in order to decrease the risk of SIDS and Shaken Baby Syndrome.

Resources: Virginia Department of Social Services. (2014). Child Fatality Review Teams Annual Report.

fifty-shades-greyThe recently released film ’50 Shades of Gray’ is dominating the box office, but discussion around the storyline — including sex, abuse and relationships — is also filling the radio airwaves, morning talk shows and social media. Your kids are certainly hearing about it, which means it’s time for parents to decide how to react.

We encourage parents to not ignore these topics, but to start the discussion. And we like this new blog post from Prevent Child Abuse America‘s VP for Programs and Research, Dr. Janet Rosenzweig. Read the full article via Philly.com here. Here’s a sample of the great list of messages to address with older kids:

“Here’s a few topics from this movie that make a great discussion with any child, from around age 10 on:

  • In real life, it is never OK for an adult to seduce a child (Grey was introduced to sex by a friend of his mother)
  • In real life, it is never OK for people to hurt each other
  • In real life, girls want to have their own lives, their own opinions and don’t crave domination
  • In real life, if a man tells a woman (or a woman tells a man) he’s too damaged for a relationship, as Grey tells Anna early on, listen to him and run the other way.

With all of the hype about the books and movie, you may have read points like these, or thought about them yourself if you’ve read the books. As a sex educator, here’s the point I consider most important: This material was written to induce sexual arousal, and when it does, your child needs to understand that just because they experience reflexive arousal does not mean that this is the type of sex they want to have when they are mature enough to have sex.  It is a very common experience for humans to experience arousal from observing or reading about a sexual act they would never consider, and it takes honesty and maturity to understand that fact.”

> Read the full article via Philly.com here.

> Check out SCAN’s Parent Resource Center page on Sex & Violence in the Media here.

> Check out SCAN’s Parent Resource Center page (and fact sheets) on Sexting here.

Later this month, SCAN will kick off a new CASA volunteer training: many days (and nights) of classes, courtroom visits, panel interviews and more. As staff members work hard to prepare for the training, they often consider how other volunteers who have gone through the training have impacted families and given a voice to children.

LindaFranz_CASAvolunteerWant a glimpse at the power they’ve seen in a well-trained CASA? Meet Linda Franz. Almost seven years ago, SHE was the new volunteer going through intense training. Since 2008, she has worked on cases with 12 different families. In one of her current cases, one sibling has severe disabilities and Linda has gone above and beyond in making sure her medical needs are being met while she attends school. Linda has spoken to multiple people involved in the case, ensuring that a seizure plan was put into place and medication was available at the school in the instance of a seizure.

Linda also recently wrote an excellent, insightful report detailing her multiple visits with the family, the many services and treatments the family has received, her many conversations with multiple teachers and other professionals, and provided the Judge a complete, compassionate picture of her CASA children and their family. This case needed someone who would be dedicated, who would provide immediate attention, and who could dedicate numerous hours and extra energy.  Staff members say Linda was most certainly the perfect person for this family! In addition to regular visits with her CASA children — and communicating with all of the professionals involved in the case via phone calls, e-mail contact and face-to-face meetings — Linda has graciously been helping out in the SCAN office and even took on a second case when her first case slowed down.

And that’s all happening in recent months with just one family! There are 11 other families whose children have been blessed with Linda’s energy and attention, and countless more who will be served by this new class of volunteers.

Now it’s time to educate and empower them to advocate for children, too. We’re ready for more stories like Linda’s, and we’ll be sure to share those, too!

Learn more about SCAN’s Alexandria/Arlington CASA Program here

Shame_on_US_CoverA recent report by The Children’s Advocacy Institute and First Star entitled “Shame on U.S.” puts the blame equally on all three branches of the U.S. government when it comes to failing to protect children from abuse and neglect:

“Each branch of our federal government plays an integral role in the child welfare system, and when even one fails to perform its role in an appropriate manner, children are put at risk of harm…all three branches must be performing optimally to ensure a well-functioning child welfare system.”

The report shares that at least 686,000 American children were the victims of abuse or neglect in 2012, and a conservative estimate notes that abuse or neglect leads to the death of at least 4–5 children every day in the U.S.

Numbers like this demand attention on the national level, and also give us here at SCAN pause to think about how we — today — can improve those numbers, both as organizations working in cooperation with one another and as individual community members connecting with the children around us. There are actions that we can take, as organizations and as individuals, to protect the children within our own communities. Here are just a few:

  • Through SCAN’s CASA program, we are able to provide children with a voice and help advocate for what is in their best interest as they and their families navigate the courts.
  • Using our Parent Resource Center allows parents to arm themselves with tips for navigating through the wonderful life experience of raising children.
  • Our Public Education campaign, Kids Need Connections, encourages all of us to take an active role in a child’s life by connecting with them on all levels.

Every Child Matters offered a straightforward, helpful commentary on the report here.

View the full report — including details from every state — here.

Today on the blog we welcome Robin Hamby, an honoree at last year’s Allies in Prevention Awards as well as an active member of SCAN’s Allies in Prevention Coalition.

blogblock_01292015_alliesawards copyA good part of my career has been spent recognizing and celebrating individuals’ accomplishments. At first this meant telling a 5th grader struggling with learning problems,

“Nice job, you used descriptive words in your sentence!”

Later, as a parent myself, it sounded like,

“You are mommy’s good girl helping to pick up your toys. My how clean the floor looks.”

With grown children I now say similar things, but with my dog it’s more like,

“Thank you Humphrey for not peeing on the carpet today!”

As a Family Partnerships Specialist with Fairfax County Public Schools I daily recognize the compassionate and skillful work of our team members. When the “big money,” raises, and promotions don’t come our way, the biggest perk to us is knowing we are making a positive difference.

We also help parents as they navigate the worlds of school and community. We let them know that their parenting skills directly connect to their child’s success, now and in the future. All parents need genuine praise for the hard work of parenting. If not from a spouse, a partner, or a child, then perhaps praise from a school or community member,

“I understand you work such long hours. It is so valuable that you are able to find the time to sit down with your son to review homework.”

Last year I got the chance to be on the receiving end of a professional recognition.

It was a wonderfully motivating surprise! If I thought I was working hard prior to receiving the Allies in Prevention Award, I’m working even harder now. Believe me, that is a good thing. With the nomination and award for building connections among family, school, and community–specifically developing and implementing an immigrant family reunification program, which includes professional development, original parent education curriculum, parent led-support groups, and student support groups (Families Reunite)–came interest from myriad agencies, non-profits, neighboring jurisdictions, and even politicians. SCAN’s public relations brought my little program to the attention of many throughout the state and even the nation. We have been busy helping other jurisdictions help family members connect with each other, to their schools, and to their community.

If you know of an individual (or team) who is making a difference and making those connections, I recommend that you nominate him or her. You won’t just be nominating one individual. You will be nominating all the people that support that person at work, the folks who support her at home, and the current and future beneficiaries of that passionate work and dedication.

— Robin Hamby
Family Partnerships Specialist, Fairfax County Public Schools
Member, Allies in Prevention Coalition

IMG_7935Children’s issues are proving to be a major concern for The Virginia General Assembly 2015 session, which convened on January 14th. Over 150 pieces of legislation related to children and family issues have been introduced, and SCAN’s Legislative & Advocacy Committee is reviewing these bills and will follow them as they move through the legislative process. Kerry Desjardins, SCAN’s Master of Social Work intern, attended the Commonwealth Council on Childhood Success meeting in Richmond last Thursday. Each council subcommittee presented the top children’s issues they plan to address, many of which are in line with the most popular children’s issues being considered by the legislature. Here are a few of the issues on which SCAN is currently focusing:

 

Child care safety

This past August, The Washington Post published a two-part article on the lack of oversight of home-based day care in Virginia, raising greater awareness to long-held concerns.  As a result, Virginia lawmakers have introduced over a dozen pieces of legislation related to child care safety, including bills addressing whether or not a family day home provider’s own children should count toward the threshold requiring licensure, basic safety requirements such as smoke detectors and CPR training, and mandatory reporting to the Department of Social Services of intent to operate a family day home.

Click on the following links to track related bills:

HB 1517  /  HB 1552  /  HB 1570  /  HB 1929  /  HB 1931  /  HB 2023  /  HB 2046  /  HB 2069

SB 780  /  SB 818  /  SB 844  /  SB 898  /  SB 1029  /  SB 1055  /  SB 1069  /  SB 1123  /  SB 1124  /  SB 1168

 

Infant safe-sleeping

SCAN is also following House Bill 1515, legislation that would require hospitals to give maternity patients information about safe sleeping environments for infants. SCAN has worked to educate parents about safe sleep environments for infants for some time now, and is pleased to see lawmakers showing concern for the issue. SCAN supports the intent of this legislation and the positive impact it could have on children and parents.

Click on the following link to track related bills:

HB 1515

 

Protecting children from abuse

There are currently over two dozen bills that aim to prevent and protect children from physical and sexual abuse. These bills range from new and harsher penalties for perpetrators of child abuse, creating a supplement to the Sex Offenders and Crimes Against Minors Registry, requiring that mandated reporters complete training on how to recognize and report suspected child abuse or neglect, and creating new felonies for perpetrators of child trafficking, and more.

Click on the following links to track related bills:

HB 1353  /  HB 1441  /  HB 1505  /  HB 1526  /  HB 1527  /  HB 1533  /  HB 1884  /  HB 1954  /  HB 1964  /  HB 2007  /  HB 2040  /  HB 2092  /  HB 2138

SB 710  /  SB 911  /  SB 914  /  SB 918  /  SB 934  /  SB 976  /  SB 1056  /  SB 1057  /  SB 1074  /  SB 1094  /  SB 1117  /  SB 1138  /  SB 1170  /  SB 1188  /  SB 1213  /  SB 1253

 

Virginia’s budget

IMG_2287In December, Governor McAuliffe presented his proposed amendments to Virginia’s fiscal plan. During the 2015 session members of the Senate Finance Committee and the House of Delegates Appropriations Committee will consider the governor’s propositions as they prepare their own budget bills. The governor’s proposed changes include severe cuts in funding for several programs and services that are critical to at-risk children and families. It is a small part of his attempt at working towards a more balanced budget. SCAN is deeply concerned about the impact those cuts would have on Virginia’s most vulnerable children, and is advocating for Virginia legislators to find alternative ways of achieving a more balanced budget.

 

During the current session, child safety and well-being appears to be a top priority for members of Virginia’s General Assembly. There is great potential for achieving some critical policy changes related to children, but we must act fast. The General Assembly will adjourn in a matter of weeks. As advocates for children we must take full advantage of this short opportunity to influence policies that impact children and families. SCAN will continue to provide periodic updates on the status of such policies. To learn more about how to advocate for children and families, we encourage you to:

blogblock_01152015_broadencirclesOur Allies in Prevention Coalition is a force to be reckoned with in Northern Virginia.  Over 80 members strong, it represents all five jurisdictions of the region and every area of service for children and families. Each time the coalition meets, I see members become armed with even more information and strengthened in their resolve to do what is best for those they serve.

Our most recent meeting, held in December at the Beatley Library in Alexandria, featured a panel discussion on Strengthening Community Connections.  Coalition members had a chance to talk about the importance of connecting children and parents with the existing resources in their communities, as well as how agencies can work together to reach more families.

The panel included Sally Wood, Recreation Enterprise Manager, Prince William County Parks & Recreation, Emily Thrasher, Family Programs Coordinator, Arlington County Department of Parks & Recreation, Diana Price, Central Library Youth Services Manager, Alexandria Library, Reverend Trisha Miller Manarin, Mid-Atlantic Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Robin Hamby, Family Partnerships Specialist, Family and School Partnerships FCPS, and Detective Kimberly Norton with the Prince William County Police Department.

The group was diverse, and that was exactly the point.

“We need to broaden our circles with each other,” said Rev. Manarin. “Even with a separation of church and state, we (service providers) need to engage the faith community.”

Det. Norton added that organizations should help to educate families about other resources. She charged members, for example, to help parents understand the harm that a phrase such as “if you’re doing something bad then the police will come and get you” could have.

Both Sally and Emily encouraged the other service providers to use Parks and Rec when the families they work with need creative ideas and new outlets for strengthening their bonds. They shared the educational, enjoyable, and even intergenerational activities Parks and Rec programs offer for families.

Another great resource for service providers? The library! Diana Price with the Alexandria Library mentioned some of the creative work they’re doing to reach out to those who are intimidated by coming to the library, such as teen book clubs that they offer right in schools.

Robin Hamby with Fairfax Public Schools encouraged service providers to build leadership skills with the parents they work with so that they become empowered to access even more resources and make more connections – from police to parks to libraries – for their children.

AIPC members left this meeting with valuable information and insight to continue building connections they can make in their communities. To help, we’ve developed this Community Resources List. We hope you’ll download the list and share it with the children and families you work with as well.

— Tracy Leonard, Public Education Manager
(Want to learn more about the AIPC? Contact me at tleonard@scanva.org!)

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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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