As November draws to a close, many families spend time together and give thanks; November is also National Homeless Youth Awareness Month. It is an opportunity to bring awareness to the fact that in 2013, there were approximately 2.5 million children in the U.S. who experienced homelessness. According to Project Hope-Virginia, of those 2.5 million there were 18,486 students in Virginia identified as homeless.*

The number of children who are experiencing homelessness are at a historic high, and they need the support and concern of their communities. One way we can help is by passing the Homeless Children and Youth Act (HCYA), which will expand the current definition of homelessness and make it easier for homeless children, youth and families to have access to already existing services, regardless of what kind of homelessness they are experiencing (i.e. living in motels and doubled up). In Virginia, 70% of the youth are doubled up (or “couch surfing”). With the passage of HYCA, there would be a change in the definition and an increase in funding for Mckinny-Vento education and housing for Virginia’s youth.


We know that children who are experiencing homelessness are sick four times as often as other children, they have high rates of acute and chronic illness, they suffer three times the emotional as well as behavioral problems as other children, and they are four times as likely to have developmental delays. With the passage of HCYA, these children and youth will have better access to services and eventually more permanent and stable housing. The stability of a home and no longer being transient have the potential to significantly mitigate those risk factors mentioned above.

With the upcoming holidays, express your gratitude by supporting these children:

  1. Show your support by supporting HCYA on Facebook
  2. Sign a Petition here.
  3. Write a letter or call your U.S. Senators or Representatives requesting their support. (Our blog post on Advocacy is a good place to learn more about being an effective advocate.)

Resources for further education:

  1. Help Homeless Kids Now
  2. Project HOPE-Virginia
  3. Fairfax County Office to Prevent and End Homelessness

And don’t forget to visit SCAN’s Parent Resource Center for fact sheets and a recent radio show on the topic!

— Sydna Cooper, SCAN MSW Intern

* Homeless Children America, and Project Hope-Virginia,

“Advocacy is giving a voice to children and families.”- Christie Marra, Virginia Poverty Law Center

12182791_10153291169835735_4258584389047997579_oOn Tuesday, November 17th, in partnership with Prevent Child Abuse Virginia, SCAN invited individuals from across Northern Virginia to participate in its 4th annual Stand Up for Children Advocacy Day. (#standupforchildren)

Participants in this year’s training spent the morning with Christie Marra from the Virginia Poverty Law Center in the Be Heard Advocacy Seminar, where they learned advocacy basics and how to navigate the Virginia Legislature to become stronger voices for Virginia’s children and families.

Delegate David Bulova joined us this year to provide a case study on how he was able to advocate for the successful passage of the Safe Sleep for Infants Act (HB1515). He provided many insights for the participants on how to persevere in the process, and the importance of making your advocacy personal “so that legislators can relate and remember.”

Del Bulova also empowered advocates: “Bills often take more than one try. Learn from experience and know the value of your advocacy.”

In the afternoon Christie Marra was joined by Amy Woolard from Voices for Virginia’s Children and Kendra Kielbasa from Smart Beginnings Greater Prince William County for our policy panel discussion. During the panel, participants had the opportunity to learn and discuss the upcoming legislative agenda items surrounding Kinship Diversion, Youth in Foster Care aging out of the system, and the Virginia Preschool Initiative.

Following the policy panel we welcomed Northern Virginia legislators to provide more insight on their goals for children and families in the upcoming 2016 General Assembly. Joining us on the panel was Senator George Barker, Del. Alfonso Lopez, Delegate Dave Albo, Delegate-Elect Mark Levine, and Delegate-Elect Paul Krizek.

IMG_0274Participants were very active in voicing their questions and concerns for the upcoming year, and one noted that they “loved the legislative panel at the end, that it was very engaging!” The legislators took great interest in the topics being discussed and engaged participants to learn more about the critical issues children face in Virginia. Del. Albo, Del.-Elect Levine, and Senator Barker even took the opportunity to express interest in working with one another to sponsor a bill regarding Kinship Diversion , showing the strength of collaboration.

This concept of collaboration was a recurring theme noticed throughout the day. Delegate Bulova noted that legislators love “peace in the valley” – when stakeholders work together ahead of time on an issueCollaboration is something that advocates should constantly be striving for, noted Marra: “There is power in numbers.”

So how can you be a stronger voice for children and families?

  1. Know your legislator. Use the “Who’s my Legislator” tool at
  2. Be engaged, passionate, and knowledgeable. As service providers you see how policies adversely affect your clients every day, and have knowledge about what will work. As Del. Bulova said “Be sure to know the WHY, and be specific with the HOW.”
  3. Collaborate! Facilitate connections with other advocates in your network. If you are nervous about being heard, then make your voice louder by speaking up with others.
  4. Follow SCAN’s Connections blog to stay up to date on current issues and trends affecting Northern Virginia’s children and families.

— Sydna Cooper, SCAN MSW Intern

CASA_30yearsBCASA_30yearsThe CASA – or Court Appointed Special Advocate – Program just celebrated a big anniversary in Virginia: 30 years of giving children a voice in the court systems of our commonwealth.

Based on a national model through the National CASA Program, CASA began in Virginia in 1985, when three programs launched in Roanoke, Norfolk and Newport-News. SCAN added its Alexandria CASA Program to the list in 1989, and by 1990 there would be 10 total programs. Today, 27 programs operate across the commonwealth including others in our region like Fairfax CASA and CASA-CIS which serves children in Prince William, Fauquier, Loudoun and Rappahannock. Many have expanded since their beginnings, like SCAN’s program which – thanks to incredible support from funders and those in the local juvenile court system — grew to include Arlington in 2005.

Since CASA programs began in Virginia, more than 25,700 trained citizen volunteers have advocated for abused and neglected children in Virginia. Those volunteers have given more than 2.2 MILLION HOURS in advocacy services over the years. And we are so proud to be a part of that work.

Happy anniversary, Virgnia CASA! The best way we can think to celebrate is to recruit more volunteers and advocate for more children in the coming year.

Will you celebrate with us?

PIP-Seal-Orange-Updated-12-18-14It’s a horrific issue that we sometimes become immune to in our line of work as child advocates. And while we talk about it on a regular basis, a fog of silence weighs on most people in our community when it comes to child sexual abuse. Last week’s article by Sarah Chang in the Washington Post brings this silence — and its tragic effects — into perfect focus:

“During my first week as a federal prosecutor of sexual abuse crimes against children, one of my colleagues told me her chief coping mechanism: Turn the sound off when you have to watch a video multiple times. This advice scared me. I imagined children screaming, crying and shrieking in pain — the stuff of nightmares…

…But all I heard was silence. The 5-year-old girl said nothing — not even a sob. Disturbed, I continued to watch each video with the sound on. I tried to beat back the silence by turning the volume up as high as it could go. The quiet was too deafening, too defeating to accept. Surely, these children must make a sound?” [Read the full article here.]

Here at SCAN, we passionately believe that it is OUR RESPONSIBILITY as adult community members to be the ones making a sound in defense of children like the 5-year-old girl in Sarah’s article. Our work with Darkness to Light — providing trainings in child sexual abuse prevention training through their Stewards of Children program — is one way we can empower adults to break that silence in defense of the child victims in our community.

Ms. Chang’s article is a wake up call to those of us who might take silence as a sign of no problem:

Even though I encountered silence on many of the videos recorded by abusers, I decided that I would leave the sound on. Shielding my ears from the horrific acts done to these children would mute their pain and diminish my ability to give them a voice. One girl didn’t scream because her brother threatened to kill her. Another didn’t say anything because her father told her to keep it a secret. Regardless of what prompted it, the silence is deafening. It makes audible the psychological hold an abuser has over a child. Silence can be the most devastating evidence of sexual abuse; it can be the sound of pain itself. [Read the full article here.]

If you are ready to break the silence, contact us to learn how you can host a training in your community. Email Tracy Leonard at or call 703-820-9001 for more information.

IMG_0671October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and last week, on October 22nd, we wore purple to promote awareness. The color purple signifies “courage, persistence, honor, and the commitment to ending domestic violence” (NRCDV). Domestic violence is violence or physical abuse directed toward one’s spouse or intimate partner, and it causes more injuries each year to American women than car crashes, muggings, and rapes combined. It is important to be aware that spouses or intimate partners are not necessarily the only victims when domestic violence is occurring.

Every year at least 3.3 million children in the U.S. witness domestic violence. Children of all ages who witness domestic violence are impacted in the long term. This is a contradiction to the common assumption that the younger the child, the less likely the child will be affected.

  • Infants and toddlers exposed to domestic violence can exhibit poor health and symptoms of stress. Their needs may be ignored while the parents are coping with the violence, making these babies more prone to mistrust and emotional withdrawal later in life.
  • Young children who witness domestic violence often believe that they are the reason for the conflict. This perception can grow into crippling feelings of guilt, worthlessness and anxiety.
  • When pre-teens see partner violence in the home, their feelings of frustration and helplessness may translate into violent or antisocial acting-out in school. Some may bully their classmates to gain a sense of power, while others may avoid relationships altogether.
  • Adolescents who have grown up feeling helpless to rescue an abused parent may deliberately create situations that make them feel wanted and in control. They may recklessly seek acceptance and escape through sex, drugs or gangs.

If you know a child who is witnessing domestic violence, YOU can make a difference, potentially mitigating these long term psychological and behavioral effect. You can:

  • Be a positive role model
  • Be trustworthy
  • Promote self-esteem
  • Be open
  • Help the child make a safety plan
  • Know when to take action

Local Resources:

  • Alexandria Domestic Violence Program (703) 838-4911
  • Arlington Violence Intervention 8am-5pm (703) 228-1550 / 24 hour Crisis Line (703) 228-4848
  • Fairfax County Victim Assistance Network (703) 360-7273
  • Loudoun Abused Women’s Shelter (LAWS) (703) 777-6552
  • Prince William (ACTS/Turning Points) (703) 221-4951
  • Virginia Family Violence and Sexual Assault Hotline (800) 838-8238

For more information (including fact sheets in English and Spanish), please visit the Children and Domestic Violence page on our Parent Resource Center here.

— Sydna Cooper, SCAN MSW Intern

PARENTING IN THE UNITED STATESThe family reunification experience is a growing challenge for child welfare advocates, school districts and other service providers here in Northern Virginia and across the country. In the United States, 20% of children are growing up in immigrant homes and a large number of these children joined their parents after years of separation. They come to escape gangs, poverty, violence or political unrest, to reunite with their families, and to find better educational and long-term opportunities. Most have experienced multiple losses: first from their parent(s)’ departure, and then from having to leave the relative they were living with in their home country. According to Family and School Partnerships at Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), children from reunified families may experience issues of rejection, abandonment, resentment, anger, confusion, guilt, grief and loss at being left behind by parents who were trying to create a better life in the US. Parents may face financial challenges and may be unable to support the child in their adjustment to a new country and school. As a result, the child may have academic, attendance, behavioral, communication, socialization or other issues.

But there are some great resources available for families here in Northern Virginia, including an upcoming Parent Café series SCAN is offering at Park View High School in Sterling, VA.  We also recommend learning more through:

window-932760_1280September was Kinship Care month and also the first annual Kinship Symposium sponsored by the Northern Virginia Kinship Group.  And like all other awareness months, it is more than that to those 2.7 million children that are cared for by relatives and close family friends.

What is kinship care?  Child Welfare Information Gateway defines it as “the care of children by relatives or, in some jurisdictions, close family friends (often referred to as fictive kin).”   There are certainly benefits of kinship care: children placed in kinship care maintain a family connection and a sense of belonging and self-worth.  And there are also challenges.  Those challenges include complicated family relationships, a lack of resources and legal services, accessing medical care and enrolling children in school, as well as general anxiety over social services and systems that should be helping the child.  (Heidi Redlich, Director of Kinship Care Policy, ABA Center on Children and the Law.)

When service providers are more aware of the challenges and how to effectively tackle them head on with the family, then the child has an even greater chance of thriving within the kinship care situation and their chances of entering foster care are reduced.  According to Dr. Joseph Crumbley, LCSW, service providers should address the following with the families:

  • Loss
  • Roles/Boundaries
  • Guilt
  • Embarrassment
  • Projection/Transference
  • Loyalty
  • Child Rearing Practices
  • Stress Management/Physical Limitations
  • Bonding and Attachment
  • Anger and Resentment
  • Morbidity and Mortality
  • Fantasies
  • Overcompensation
  • Competition
  • Intrusion

This is definitely an area in which a greater understanding is developing and those who work with children and advocate on behalf of children need greater exposure.  Laws are changing as we realize the lack of financial support and legal rights these families have.  Families that are trying to do right for children.

At our Advocacy Day on November 17th, we will be talking about kinship care in Virginia.  To register to attend, please go to

– Tracy Leonard, Public Education Manager

One year ago this week, SCAN published its first white paper. In an effort to provide a deeper understanding of some of the complex issues we address in prevention and advocacy work, we continued to develop more in-depth tools for resource providers and child welfare advocates in our community. Since last fall, we’ve published two more papers. SCAN’s current list of White Papers includes:

  • Building Resiliency Using Children’s StoriesCover_Stories
  • An overview of resiliency in children, the importance of connections with adults and specific tools and techniques for using reading, stories and specific books to build resiliency in a variety of settings. A Call to Action at the end of the paper includes “6 Steps to Build Resiliency in the Children in Your Life.” Download the white paper here.


  • The Power of Fathers in the Lives of Children
    Why are fathers important in a child’s physical, social and emotional development? Fathers are underserved in many parent-focused resources, but their involvement has a great impact on outcomes in children. A Call to Action at the end of the paper includes “10 Steps to Help Fathers Connect with Children.” Download the white paper here.


  • Operation Safe Babies: Reducing Child Fatalities in Northern Virginia
    Inspired by SCAN’s new Operation Safe Babies initiative, we explore the impact of Severe Head Trauma (SHT) and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS/SUIDS) on child fatalities as well as the power of educating new parents in safe sleep, soothing techniques and seeking parent support. A Call to Action at the end of the paper includes “7 Steps to Keep Your Infant Safe During Their First Year of Life.” Download the white paper here.

We have plans to develop additional white papers in 2016. What topics would be helpful in your work with children and families?

Attendees included representatives from three local child advocacy centers: Center for Alexandria's Children, SafeSpot Children's Advocacy Center in Fairfax, and the Loudoun Child Advocacy Center.

Attendees included representatives from three local child advocacy centers: Center for Alexandria’s Children, SafeSpot Children’s Advocacy Center in Fairfax, and the Loudoun Child Advocacy Center.

This past week, SCAN’s Allies in Prevention Coalition hosted a Darkness to Light supplemental training and panel discussion at Charles E. Beatley, Jr. Central Library in Alexandria. More than 40 service providers came from around Northern Virginia for the meeting. What subject drew so many people? The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children.

The short video training from Darkness to Light started the event with a shocking statistic: more than 90% of children who are commercially sexually exploited have been sexually abused in the past. 

“Most of my work/agency work focuses on what happens after abuse occurs,” noted one attendee. “But I learned a lot about prevention and will be looking in to how I can incorporate this with children and families.”

The panel discussion after the video training included Detective Betty Sixsmith from the Alexandria Police Department, Besty Young from Prince William County schools, and Detective Cervantes Armstrong from Prince William County Police.

Being aware of the warning signs of child sexual abuse and the sexual exploitation of children is a key take away from the training. As Detective Armstrong noted “The grooming process…it’s all around us. We see it every day.” As service providers it is about learning how to recognize those signs and then take the action to prevent the abuse from occurring or continuing.

It is incredibly important to be able to recognize the warning signs and to have open conversations with children and teens. As panelist Betsy Young stated about victims, “They have a smokescreen and if you take the time to listen and connect with them, that screen fades.” Once you recognize and are aware of abuse you can take the necessary steps to provide support services and resources.

Resources & Support Services to be aware of:

Call to Action! What can you do to further awareness and education on the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children?

  1. Attend a Darkness to Light Stewards of Children training. Contact Tracy Leonard ( for a schedule of upcoming trainings.
  2. Host a Darkness to Light Stewards of Children training to provide more education within your organization. Contact Tracy Leonard ( to schedule a training.
  3. Go to and take the training online.
  4. Download our Human Trafficking Fact Sheet for Parents and share it with your colleagues and the parents and families with whom you work.

If you see something, say something. Be a voice for children.

WhitePaper_OperationSafeBabies-COVEREarlier this week, a group of local service providers gathered in SCAN’s Community Training Room to learn about Operation Safe Babies.  Although many come in to these events with some knowledge on safe sleep and abusive head trauma, there are always new issues discussed and important ideas shared. Everyone walks away with valuable information and resources to share as they work with the parents and caregivers in their communities.

As we continue to expand our circle of Operation Safe Babies partners this fall — including organizations like The Center for Alexandria’s Children, Arlington County DHS and Fairfax County Health Department — what better time to publish our NEW white paper: Operation Safe Babies: Reducing Child Fatalities in Northern Virginia? This is the third in a series of white papers SCAN has published for service providers this year, and focuses on SIDS & SUIDS, Abusive Head Trauma, and Education & Prevention, as well as 7 excellent “Calls to Action.” I hope you will take a moment to download and share this important resource.

Do you have questions about Operation Safe Babies? Please don’t hesitate to contact me to learn more about how we might be able to work together in your community to support parents and keep infants safe. As the white paper notes:

“It is important to make sure that new parents have a support network in place made up of family and friends that they can call on for support.”

We are ALL a part of those support networks. How will you take action to keep babies safe?

– Tracy Leonard, SCAN Public Education Manager

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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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