Children of parents who talk to their children regularly about drugs are 42% LESS LIKELY to use drugs than those who won’t; yet, only a quarter of teens report having these conversations.

On October 24, Red Ribbon Week begins. An annual alcohol, tobacco and other drug prevention awareness campaign, it’s the oldest and largest drug prevention campaign in the nation. And this year—with the theme YOLO: Be Drug Free—it’s providing SCAN, Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) and other partners in Alexandria with an exciting new way to spark conversations in families:


  • SCAN and ACPS’ Family and Community Engagement (FACE) are providing Strengthening Families Parenting Classes, a series that helps build and strengthen the parent-child relationships and support families as they begin conversations around substance abuse prevention.
  • FACE has distributed original posters designed by ACPS’ very own students in Elementary, Middle and High Schools in Alexandria. (The poster creators are the winners of last years’ Red Ribbon Week poster contest.) Look for the posters in your schools or get a sneak peek of a winning poster here!
  • Our partners will also offer a series of parent/child forums in the fall and spring for ACPS families. Stay tuned!

So, what does Red Ribbon Week mean for the children and families in YOUR network? We hope you will:

  1. Empower families to discuss this message at home, at the dinner table, at family outings, and with friends and extended family. Explore the resources at and to get started.
  2. If you’re in Alexandria, encourage kids and teens to enter the poster and video contests being sponsored by FACE, SCAN and its partners. Learn more about details and deadlines on FACE Center’s Facebook page at
  3. Encourage kids and parents to follow the theme on social media using #youonlyliveonce and @redribbonweek. For information on the other program events mentioned here, please contact the ACPS FACE Center at or 703-619-8055.




On October 5, SCAN—with support from LAWS (Loudoun Abused Women’s Shelter) and its Loudoun Child Advocacy Center—brought together 129 local human service providers to hear Dr. Chris Wilson talk about The Neurobiology of Trauma.

01172016_NeuroofTrauma.jpgThis relatively new approach allows those of us who work with children (including law enforcement, school staff, social workers and foster parents) to rethink not only how we question children but also about how we process the information that a child is giving to us.

With more than 20 years of experience in the neurobiology of trauma, vicarious trauma, victim behavior, how to be trauma informed, and group process, Dr. Wilson has worked with a wide variety of audiences and is currently a trainer for the United States Army’s Special Victim Unit Investigation Course, Legal Momentum, and You Have Options Program.

Dr. Wilson reminded those of us attending that defining trauma looks something like this:

extreme fear/terror/horror + lack of control/perceived lack of control
very real changes in the brain at the time of the incident and after the incident


When a child experiences something traumatic, the pre-frontal cortex becomes impaired, meaning “we lose the ability to control our attention, integrate data, and make logical decisions” and the hippocampus is directly affected, thus affecting how a child remembers the traumatic event.  This direct physiological impact must be taken into consideration not only when we first interact with children who have experienced a traumatic event, but also in how we continue the relationship with the child and how the child heals from the event.

Key training takeaways:

  1. We must remember that trauma is subjective because threat is subjective.  It means different things to different people and therefore, every individual’s response to traumatic events vary.
  1. Children overwhelmingly blame themselves because of their egocentrism – it’s the only context they have.
  1. Victims from 9/11 have given us a “map of danger” that didn’t exist before.
  1. It’s not the relationship that is abusive, it is the perpetrator; we need to say “she was raped”, not “she was victimized.”
  1. Use “soft eyes” not “hard eyes” when talking to children who have experienced trauma.  Make the conversation about feelings to help the child recall specific facts that may have otherwise been forgotten or repressed.

This valuable training would not have been possible without the support of our funders: Loudoun Child Advocacy Center, Northern Virginia Health Foundation, Ronald McDonald House Charities Greater Washington DC and LAWS Loudoun Abused Women’s Shelter. Thank you!

At SCAN, we strive to bring quality training and workshops to the region and to YOU at your place of work or your local community organizations.  Continue to follow us to learn more about what we are doing in the community to prevent child abuse and neglect – and how you can become involved and empowered to help.

– Tracy Leonard, Public Education Manager,

Since launching our Operation Safe Babies program last year, we’ve provided safe, portable cribs to more than 325 parents across Northern Virginia. We’ve also answered hundreds of their questions about how to make sleep safe for their babies.

October is Safe Sleep Awareness Month, the perfect time to share some of the most common questions we receive and some of the best answers we’ve found in our work:


Q: Why should I put my baby on her back to sleep? 

A: (From the NIH Safe to Sleep Campaign) Research shows that the back sleep position is the safest for babies. The back sleep position carries the lowest risk of SIDS. Research also shows that babies who sleep on their backs are less likely to get fevers, stuffy noses, and ear infections. The back sleep position makes it easier for babies to look around the room and to move their arms and legs.

Remember: Babies sleep safest on their backs, and every sleep time counts! 

EXTRA TOOL: Check out the NIH FAQs list for more great answers.


Q: I’ve heard co-sleeping can be good for my fussy baby. Is it safe?

A: (From Cribs for Kids) The act of bringing an infant into a sleep environment with adults, other children, or pets puts the baby in danger of suffocating, either by being smothered in bedding; by positional asphyxia, which occurs when a baby’s position prevents them person from breathing adequately; or by being accidentally rolled over by a sleeping companion (overlay).

EXTRA TOOL: An opinion piece in the LA Times this September was met with powerful responses from the medical community, including this letter from the President of the AAP reposted online by Cribs for Kids:

To the editor: The risks of sharing your bed with your infant are not “imaginary,” contrary to the opinion expressed by Robert LeVine and Sarah LeVine.

An adult bed poses very real risks of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), unintentional suffocation, strangulation or entrapment to an infant. Sleep-related infant deaths claim more babies between 1 month and 1 year of age than any other cause.

Multiple studies bear this out. That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics advises against bed-sharing.

The safest place for an infant to sleep is in a separate crib or bassinet with a tight-fitting sheet and nothing else, preferably in the parents’ bedroom for up to a year.

Benard Dreyer, MD, Elk Grove Village, Ill.
The writer is president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.


Q: How can I make sure other caregivers are careful when putting my baby to sleep?

A: SCAN developed a “Pledge Card” in English and Spanish. We encourage parents to make copies for babysitters, family members and other caregivers to sign and hang up as a reminder for the children in their care.

EXTRA TOOL: Download SCAN’s white paper for professionals: Operation Safe Babies | Reducing Child Fatalities in Northern Virginia


Q: What does a “safe sleep” environment look like?

A: The National Institutes of Health has a great online visual tool that allows parents to see and interact with pictures of a bedroom as they learn how to create a safe sleep environment in their own home.


What questions have parents asked you about safe sleep? We’d love to help you answer more questions!


The Arlington Partnership for Children Youth & Families (APCYF) recently launched a new “Parent Chats” initiative, an easy way for groups of parents to come together and talk about parenting:

“The Partnership believes that, when parents share wisdom with one another, we all become better parents.”

The chats can be as simple as a one-time gathering to discuss a specific topic, or an ongoing group providing support and resources. The end goal is to help create communities of parents who are interested in helping a wider circle of children and parents grow up to be happy, healthy and competent.
How did APCYF develop tools for the program? With help from SCAN! APCYF is a member of SCAN’s Allies in Prevention Coalition (AIPC), where they learned about a Working Parent module that Public Education Manager Tracy Leonard had developed for SCAN’s new series of workshops. APCYF’s Michael Swisher adapted the module into conversation starters that help parents have intentional, supportive conversations.

Through our Public Education Program, we are able to create unique tools that allow our Allies in Prevention Coalition members the ability to adapt to the children and families with whom they work. APCYF is a perfect example of how SCAN builds capacity in our community and in our families.

p.s. Parents talk with one another naturally — and often find the greatest source of support from one another. If you know a group of parents who want to have a focused conversation on parenting challenges, share these online resources from our friends at APCYF. Download their tools for free to help spark the conversation!

How does it feel to be a kid in today’s world?  How can we help children and teens manage new 21st-century realities — from the impact of online bullying to LGBTQ issues to the tragedy of rising suicide rates among youth?  Earlier this month, we gathered in Arlington to discuss this new “Culture of Kids” with our Allies in Prevention Coalition.

14362714_10153981898095735_4241383210178593937_oPanel participants from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), Prince William County, Fairfax County and Arlington County led the discussion, answering questions about services and needs in Northern Virginia as well as inspiring guests to take action. Their top recommendations include:

  • Ask kids about their support network. (Explain what it means to have a support network, if they don’t know.) Who would they go to if they needed help? What is the best way to get in touch with those connections? Kids should be aware of and think through this network before a crisis occurs. EXPERT TIP: Identify trusted adults. It doesn’t have to be a parent – help them brainstorm possible contacts.
  • When it comes to bullying, peer training is key. Bullying prevention programs that include peer training – kids working with kids to model positive behaviors — are more successful and tend to increase parent involvement by linking families to community resources. EXPERT TIP:If online bullying is an issue and kids need help, there are some great resources for kids (and parents) at NCMEC’s
  • Gauge (and be sensitive to) every child’s safety level. When talking to youth, we must try to understand how safe they are in their home and in their greater community. (Neighborhood, school, etc.) For example, is it safe for a gay teenager to “come out” to her family? Her circle of friends? Her school community? Sensitivity when asking questions is also key: “Are you dating anyone?” is better than “Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?” Even intakes should be considered — instead of a simple “gender” it might work better to include “gender at birth; current gender.” EXPERT TIP: Post a rainbow or HRC (Human Rights Coalition) sticker in your workplace so LGBTQ youth recognize a person and/or space that could be helpful for them. 
  • Don’t be afraid to have touch-point conversations with teens. And don’t be afraid to talk about difficult topics and open conversations around things like suicide: “Do you feel like hurting yourself?”, “Have you thought about killing yourself?” EXPERT TIP: Don’t talk about someone who “committed suicide” because it carries a note of guilt/crime. Instead, use “killed themselves” or “died by suicide.”

It’s a new school year and we’re excited to launch a new menu of workshops for the community! We encourage ALL groups of people to consider a workshop — from nonprofits, schools and government agencies to parenting groups, employers and faith groups. Our workshops are based on SCAN’s existing child abuse prevention and advocacy programs as well as the expertise of SCAN staff. We can often customize workshops for the specific needs of a group, and most topics are available in English and Spanish, too!


So, how does your group want to be empowered this year?


  • Darkness to Light, Stewards of Children2 hours, $25 per person (minimum 10, maximum 25 people)
  • Talking with Children about Safety from Sexual Abuse, 45 minutes, $150
  • Healthy Touch for Children & Youth, 45 minutes, $150
  • Bystanders Protecting Children from Boundary Violations & Sexual Abuse, 45 minutes, $150
  • Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, 1 hour, $200
  • Child Sexual Abuse for Parents, 1 hour, $150

We want to support PARENT EDUCATION:

  • Have You Filled a Bucket Today, 1 hour, $200
  • How to Connect with Your Child and Build a Resilient Family (Managing Family Stress), 1 hour, $200
  • Wait, My Kid Has a Date?, 1 hour, $200
  • Positive Discipline: Raising Children with Self Control, 1 hour, $200
  • Tech Savvy Parenting/Internet Seguro, 1 hour, $200
  • Families Reunite (Immigrant Family Reunification, 4 weeks, 1.5 hours per night), $1500
  • Made in America: Padres Hispanos Criando Hijos Americanos (Immigrant parents raising children in the US, 4 weeks, 1.5 hours per night), $1500

We want to engage our community in prevention through PUBLIC EDUCATION:

We want to GET TO KNOW SCAN:

  • All About SCAN, @ SCAN
  • How YOU Can Help Prevent Child Abuse in Your Community
  • SCAN Volunteer Orientation, monthly – click link for more information and upcoming dates

We want to host a BROWN BAG SERIES for our employees:

  • Strategies for the Working Parent: Customize a parenting topic to compliment your human resource efforts in your office and offer support to your employees.

Don’t see a topic here you would like? SCAN can customize and deliver a 1-hour workshop for $400. In most cases we can add concurrent children’s programming for an additional fee. (Download the full SCAN Workshop Menu here.)

How can we support your organization in its work this year to build stronger families, support parents and protect children? Contact us and let’s get something on the calendar!


It’s back to school season for many in our community — what better time to pick up a new book and encourage your own reading habit? We’re sharing a few of our staff favorites this fall, and we hope you’ll share the books on your list this season, too!


  • A few years ago, SCAN’s CASA volunteers read Three Little Words, the New York Times bestselling memoir by Ashley Rhodes-Courter. This fall they’re reading Three More Words, filled with new stories of Rhodes-Courter’s life as an adult after foster care, including marriage, building a family of her own and her uplifting voice as she continues to make peace with her past.
  • Kwame Alexandria is a poet, educator and New York Times bestselling author. His acclaimed book for young readers, The Crossover, is a powerful combination of poetry, the thrill of sports and the challenge of family life that will captivate kids and adults alike. It received the 2015 John Newbery Medal for the Most Distinguished Contribution to American Literature for Children as well as the Coretta Scott King Author Award Honor. A must-read!
  • We’ve mentioned Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt before as part of our “Books that Build Resiliency for Young Adults” series. Schmidt’s use of unusual characters, celebration of creativity and focus on survival and resiliency makes this a great pick for young adults (and the adults who love them!) especially as youth adjust to new schedules, new communities and new challenges this school year.
  • Our national partner Darkness to Light recommends the books Girlology and Guyology as helpful tools when working with children to teach them about their bodies. They especially like the books’ “unique approach: a forum for exploring questions and issues about sexual development and maturity in a fun, engaging and cringe-free way.”

What about YOU? What’s on your reading list for this fall?


SCAN’s Alexandria/Arlington CASA Program is a key component of our child advocacy work, and people often ask us about the program’s unique format and impact. Today our CASA Program Director LaTeeka Turner is sharing some of the most common questions we get from child welfare professionals and child advocates about this important, effective program: 


Q: Who are CASA volunteers (also known as “CASAs”)?

A: CASAs are trained volunteers appointed by a local Judge to help the Judge determine what is in the child’s best interest. SCAN oversees the CASA Program for the City of Alexandria and Arlington County, working closely with the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court.

Q: What does a CASA volunteer do?

A: CASAs are responsible for taking the time to find out as much information as possible about the appointed child and the child’s circumstances through reviewing relevant records and interviewing all relevant people involved in the case, most importantly, the child. CASAs then submit a written report to the Court to recommend to the Judge what they believe is best for the child’s future. In all cases, CASA volunteers advocate for safe and permanent homes for children.



Q: What kind of training do CASAs go through?

A: Each individual is subject to a thorough screening process, including background checks, interviews, and thirty-two hours of initial training to learn about the human service system, juvenile court, and issues such as substance abuse and mental health as well as the special needs of children who are involved in custody and in abuse and neglect cases. After being sworn in by the Judge as official CASAs, volunteers must complete at least twelve hours of additional in-service training each year.


Q: Do CASA volunteers understand the importance of confidentiality?

A: Yes! CASAs must take an oath before the Court that requires them to fulfill the roles assigned to them and to do so while respecting the confidentiality of all information and/or reports revealed to them. CASAs are trained to only share information with direct parties to the case and only the direct parties to the case will have access to review the CASA reports submitted to the Judge. 

Q: Can CASA volunteers provide direct services?

A: No, CASAs do not provide direct services to the child, such as supervising visitation or transporting the child.

Q: How is a CASA different from the Guardian Ad Litem (GAL)?

A: CASAs are unpaid volunteers and the GAL is an attorney representing the legal interests of your child. CASAs are not a party to the case and cannot bring a child’s case back before the Judge. The CASA’s role is one of a “Friend of the Court” and an impartial observer, conducting an investigation as the Judge would if time permitted.


Q: How do CASAs determine the child’s best interest?

A: CASAs talk with the child, parents, foster parents, other family members, social worker, teachers, attorneys, and anyone else who is important to the child. They make home visits to observe the child at least 1-2 times a month, and may also meet with the child in school or at another designated location. CASAs also review relevant records regarding the child such as attendance records or health records.


Q: What do CASAs do with the information that they learn about the child?

A: CASAs submit a written report to the Court detailing what he/she has learned from interviews, observations, and record reviews. The report also contains recommendations for what the CASA believes is in the child’s best interest. In all cases, CASAs advocate for safe and permanent homes for children.

Q: Who gets to read the CASA report?

A: The Judge, the attorneys, the assigned social workers, and the child’s Guardian Ad Litem (GAL). The reports cannot be shared or redistributed to others outside of the case per the Code of Virginia which sites the following:

  • 16.1274.

Time for filing of reports; copies furnished to attorneys; Amended reports; fees.

…… “All attorneys receiving such report or amended report shall return such to the clerk upon the conclusion of the hearing and shall not make copies of such report or amended report or any portion thereof.

Q: Can CASA provide a copy of their report to someone else?

A: Unfortunately, we are not permitted to share CASA reports outside of their submission to the Court.  This is a regulation from the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services(DCJS) which governs CASA and the Code of Virginia.  The CASA report is the property of the Juvenile court therefore we cannot distribute the reports and that is why they are filed at the Clerk’s office and distributed from there and the clerk’s office is charged with retrieving them from parties after the hearing.

The Alexandria/Arlington CASA Program is one of nearly 1,000 local CASA programs across the country affiliated the National CASA Program. Learn more about SCAN’s CASA Program here.

Have a question about CASA? Please comment below! 



Back-to-school season can be a time of changes and challenges for families with school-aged children. Sharing information and tools like these can be a great way to connect with parents when they need it most:


  • Advocating for Your Child in School: Help parents connect with teachers and school staff in constructive ways at the beginning of the school year, and learn how to communicate throughout the year by working with teachers to put the child’s needs first.
  • Bullying: Increase parents’ understanding of bullying, how it happens and what they can do to be aware of its impact on their own children.
  • The Importance of Routine: The beginning of the school year means new schedules and activities – how can parents establish healthy routines, and why does it matter?
  • Positive Communication with Children: How can parents keep kids talking to them about their experiences and feelings? (And how can they really listen and respond in the best way?) Positive communication is critical for parents who are working to connect with their kids in meaningful, lasting ways.
  • Unplug with your Child: What are the best ways to reconnect after spending the day apart at school and work? How can unplugging as a family help children and parents lower stress, grow closer and build resiliency?

And one more thing—perhaps “back-to-school” is the perfect time for parents to take a class, join a support group or attend a workshop to strengthen their parenting skills. Browse SCAN’s Parent Connection Resource Guide for a list of offerings for parents from dozens of organizations and agencies across Northern Virginia this fall.

Twenty-seven. 27 children in the U.S. have died from being left in a car this year alone. There is record heat in many parts of the country with more than one month of summer ahead of us, and the arrival of fall does not automatically mean cooler temperatures.

pexels-photoAs service providers and those who advocate for children on all levels, there is a lot that we can do. The Child Protection Partnership (CPP) of Greater Prince William County is one example: a coalition of public, private, non-profit, and government agencies from Prince William County, the City of Manassas, and the City of Manassas Park, its mission is to eliminate child abuse and neglect in the Greater Prince William area. SCAN is a proud member of this organization, whose vision is that “The Greater Prince William area will be a community where children are able to learn and grow up in a safe environment fostering wellness and positive social reinforcement.”

One of the CPP’s focuses over the last few years has been around the issue of leaving kids in cars. Most of their work has been in the area of awareness, not only for parents, but for the those in the community who may witness a parent leaving a child in a car or may walk by a car and notice a child has been left. They have pooled their resources to create large, vinyl window decals that read “Attention, NEVER leave children alone in cars. You see it, call 911.” These decals have been placed in child care centers, schools, government offices and local businesses. Another awareness tool they have is three traveling displays that can be used at resource fairs and other on-site locations (for example, one has been rotating at all Prince William Parks and Rec locations throughout the area.) A key aspect of the display is a thermometer which tells you what the outside temperature is and what the temperature is inside of a vehicle (a receiver is placed in a vehicle close by.)

While representing the CPP at various events with this display (National Night Out, Potomac Nationals games, Prince William Kids Expo), I have repeatedly heard “How can any parent do this?” This recent Washington Post article will tell you how. It can happen to anyone, from any background, anywhere.

What we all need to do is provide parents with ideas and tips on how to prevent leaving a child in a car (read SCAN’s tip sheet here) and we need to educate the community that if they see it they should call 911. Currently only 19 states in the US have laws that specifically make it illegal to leave a child unattended in a vehicle. And ten states have Good Samaritan laws that are specifically related to rescuing children in cars; Virginia is one of them. (Read the legislation here.)

Prevention is key. As service providers and child advocates we must educate the families we work with about this issue so they never have to face the tragedy of a child dying in a hot car, nor the trauma that will affect them every day after.

– Tracy Leonard, 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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