072015_CASA_diversityTwelve people recently stood up in a local courtroom to be sworn-in as new volunteers in the Alexandria/Arlington CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) Program. They speak different languages, come from different ethnic communities, and work in very different professions. They are medical professionals, attorneys, human services professionals and government workers. They are highly qualified, motivated, multicultural and multilingual members of our community and – after six weeks of intensive training – they are ready to advocate for abused and neglected children desperately in need of a voice.

They are richly diverse – just like the children they will now speak for in the courtroom.

This diversity is key to appointing the best possible volunteer for each child. Speaking a native language or relating to the immigrant experience or understanding an ethnic community can be invaluable in a CASA volunteer’s work with children and families.

Through recruitment and training, we work to ensure every CASA volunteer is passionate, capable and willing to give of their time and skills. But that is hopefully where the similarities end – the best volunteer base is a diverse volunteer base.

Who do you know who could give a unique voice to a child?

p.s. In Alexandria and Arlington, we have a special need for bilingual Hispanic volunteers, African American volunteers and male volunteers. Our next Volunteer Orientation takes place on July 14th at 12:00 noon. Join us!

IMG_0627.JPGWe were thrilled to hear about Lainie Morgan’s experiences during her first volunteer experience with SCAN. Enjoy her story — we hope it inspires you to volunteer, too!

As someone who used to teach children and families in Baltimore but now supports educators from a national office and misses being in the classroom, I sought out the opportunity to work directly with my new community through www.volunteermatch.org. SCAN’s mission and activities seemed to align well with what I’d learned supporting family resiliency strengthening for 15 years, so I signed up after attending one of SCAN’s monthly volunteer orientations.

Paired with the class of children five years and older, I assumed that the kids would come begrudgingly, antsy after a day of school, and be completely uninterested in the curriculum. Instead, students asked if they could come more than once a week, ran to the door each evening excited to start, greeted me with a big smile and stories of their week, and for the most part, engaged fully with our class. I was truly taken aback by how much the kids opened up and shared their talents and enthusiasms. From computer coding, patiently helping younger students and balancing with closed eyes to reading eagerly during snack, inventing new ways to explain an idea and really witty humor, these students have a ton to offer and build upon.

One week, our lone second grader gave me a card she’d made to celebrate her graduation from ESOL. I felt so special after she’d thought about me at school and wrote this beautiful note that I decided to write all the kids individual cards for the next class so they could enjoy that same feeling. During the volunteer debriefing that same evening, a parent educator asked if I’d share my observation about how well one of the kids was doing with her parent the following week. It can be hard for parents to recognize all the gifts children have when they spend a lot of time with them while managing the frustrations and annoyances of everyday life, so I was happy to reflect back what I was experiencing with the kids.

The next week each student got a letter describing what I’d noticed them doing especially well and how their presence in class specifically contributed to what we were all getting out of it. I also made a copy for each family, so that parents and caregivers could see how their kids were thriving. Parents and students alike were more excited than I expected; families talked about how grateful they were to hear such a glowing report and kids were surprised they’d achieved so much. One student gave me a big hug, another recited back to me one of the talents I’d mentioned in a later class, and a third made his own thank you card for me.

Strong self-esteem and consistent connections with a supportive adult greatly impact a child’s development. I feel extremely privileged to get to contribute even a tiny bit to that by working with the children touched by SCAN’s Parent Education Program. I would strongly encourage others to get involved as well; matching your talents with SCAN’s various needs ultimately puts you in a place to serve the needs of children and parents right here in our community.

– Lainie Morgan, SCAN Volunteer

p.s. SCAN’s next Volunteer Orientations this summer will be held on July 14 and August 6. Register here.

For two years, we’ve been talking about the power of connections in the lives of children. (#kidsneedconnections) When children have healthy relationships with positive adults in their lives, their resiliency grows and our ability to prevent abuse does too.

FaithSummit_blogblockBut what if we also focused on the connection between adults and organizations, and the impact that could have on keeping children safe?

Human services organizations are on the front lines with families every day, often when they have already met with trauma and challenge in their own lives. Faith groups also interact with children regularly, and are in a unique position to serve as a trusted source of support and information for families. What if these two groups could connect in stronger, more empowering ways? What could it mean for children?

Earlier this month, we worked with George Mason University to host Mobilizing Connections to Strengthen Families: A dialogue between faith communities and human services. Fifty participants joined us at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Arlington to build connections and to address the issues surrounding child abuse and family violence.

“Without connectivity between faith groups and social services, you can throw resources at the problem but they won’t be received,” said featured speaker Dr. Joseph Henderson, Bishop and Senior Pastor at Kingdom Family Worship Center in Fredericksburg, Va. “When you bring faith groups and human services together, they both become stronger.”

Dr. Henderson is also Chairman of the Advisory Committee for the Virginia Faith Based and Community Initiative of Virginia’s Department of Social Services. He sees the potential for faith communities and agencies to connect in new ways that could change the lives of children.

“We must recognize the value that each brings to the table. Government can’t do what faith communities can do. And vice versa,” said Dr. Henderson. His sentiments were echoed by Doug Brown, acting director of Child Protective Services for the City of Alexandria, another featured speaker at the event. In addition to his role in human services, Brown is an active member of his own faith congregation. He challenged guests from both human services and faith groups to consider the common desires to keep kids safe.

“Common beliefs exist between faith communities and human services agencies – now we must mobilize connections to make a difference,” noted Brown. “We must understand how to connect with each other and break down barriers in order to make a difference for children.”

As a first step, participants worked in small groups for more personal, intimate discussions about what it takes to build meaningful connections and what the barriers are to making it work. Groups came up with excellent lists:

What makes faith community and human service partnerships work?

  • Creating and maintaining a shared base of knowledge
  • Establishing a foundation of mutual trust
  • Commitment to shared goals and values
  • Dedication to communication and collaboration
  • Strategic, unified, and well-organized approach
  • Committed leadership in all collaborating groups
  • Creating structures to facilitate communication among groups
  • Relationships based in respect – approached with open minds and genuine listening
  • Face-to-face time, such as sharing food or shadowing
  • Understanding one’s own capacity to help client or sent them to a known resource – and then following up
  • Capitalizing on areas where the two communities intersect

What are obstacles that faith communities and human services face in partnerships?

  • Lack of mutual understanding and trust
  • Difference in values, or perception thereof
  • Failure to address issues, or one’s own role in the solution
  • Regulations regarding the separation of church and state
  • Competition for scarce resources/capital
  • Lack of sharing between communities
  • Misinformation or lack of information leading to fear, which creates “us vs. them” dichotomy
  • Discrepancies between individual opinions, experiences, traditions
  • Church hierarchy

So if we know what the obstacles are, we need to do something to overcome them. And if we know what makes partnerships work, we need to make sure those ideas are at work. Do any of these resonate with you? Will you stand up for child abuse prevention and seek out the support of the faith communities in your area?

We cannot do this work alone. And we all believe in keeping children safe. Let’s start here.

R0C7A5M4WBAs we approach Fathers’ Day, we’re reflecting on a project we’ve been working on at SCAN over the last several months to place special emphasis on engaging men, particularly (but not limited to!) fathers, in preventing family violence. One of our Master of Social Work interns this year compiled research around how to connect with, value, and engage fathers in the important roles of raising children, connecting with kids, and strengthening families. You can review the white paper summarizing her research here.

Then, in March, we invited LaMar Henderson to speak from his own experience as a son, father, and social worker interacting with dads and families from all walks of life. The very personal experiences he shared about having, as he put it, “three moms” (his biological mom, an aunt who helped raise him, and a foster mom) as well as the intermittent relationship he had with his biological dad opened a window for all of us. As I told Lamar after the event, so many attendees later commented to me on what a model of resilience he is. He inspired us to remember that the children we work with and worry about can overcome, can emerge into loving responsible role models for the rest of us. Working in child welfare requires that we acknowledge childhood pain and its lingering effects while also celebrating resilience and the adults who have overcome early traumas and difficult life circumstances. We thank LaMar for his willingness to be vulnerable and welcome others into his story in a way the helps us better empathize with many of the children with whom we work.

LaMar’s story exemplified the conflictive relationships many children (and adults!) have with parent figures and yet also how most kids truly crave relationships with their biological parents no matter what their experiences. As a community, we need to find creative ways to keep children safe but still cultivate those connections that are so important to a child’s evolving identity, connection to heritage, and sense of self. We also need to be flexible in engaging informal supports around a child at-risk, recognizing that non-traditional “parent figures” can be powerful positive forces in a child’s life, especially when those special adult relationships don’t usurp a parent’s role but rather support and add to the variety of adult-child relationships and connections that help a child mature, build social-emotional skills, and truly thrive.

Through support from Verizon, SCAN has developed special outreach materials with tips for dads on connecting with kids (see a rack card and fact sheets here to share), and later this month — airing on Father’s Day — we’ll have a special Parenting Today radio show focusing on the special father-child relationship.

In the human services field, we often hesitate to emphasize the valuable impact a positive father-child relationship can have because we know some children don’t have that opportunity due to an absent father or a father relationship that just isn’t safe or healthy. Instead, we need to dig in and be creative as a community in how we support all children, knowing that Kids Need Connections. How can we encourage moms–especially single moms–to intentionally foster their children’s other adult relationships in safe ways, to understand that encouraging the relationship with an estranged dad, an uncle, a coach, a teacher, a pastor, an employer doesn’t detract from her role and relationship with the child but, as long as done safely, can be critically important as that child grows? How do we honor the unique role step-dads can have – understanding its awkwardness sometimes but also encouraging healthy, positive, safe engagement with that child?

After the luncheon where LaMar spoke, he shared with me

“As you know, victims typically grapple with an emotional dilemma: Abuse made me who I am, or I am a victim of abuse. Your work at SCAN lets people be victims, but does not let the abuse define them or steal their voices. Your transforming message is invaluable as these casualties of pain develop into triumphant cheerleaders for justice and unconditional love. Your efforts continuously provide a platform for people to hold themselves and others accountable in the face of child maltreatment. Moreover, it provides families the environment to grow and heal together. I want to humbly thank you again for giving me the opportunity to hold people accountable and be the cheerleader for physical and emotional justice in Stopping Child Abuse Now!”

May all of us involved at SCAN – staff, board, volunteers, donors, parents, and families – strive to live up to the ideal LaMar describes. As you prepare for Fathers’ Day – whatever this day means to you, I hope you will join SCAN in continuously striving for an “environment for families to grow and heal together.”

Happy Fathers’ Day!

– Sonia Quiñónez, Executive Director
SCAN of Northern Virginia

Most of our readers know that SCAN has three core programs: CASA, Parent Education and Public Education. From abused children already in the system to new parents bringing home a baby to families reunifying after immigration, our programs reach children and families living very different realities. These programs are complex and well-developed and effective. But they’re not always easy to explain. Over the past year, we’ve developed infographics to help us (and help YOU help us) tell the story of our programs and how they impact prevention in our community.


We hope you’ll share this post with others when you talk about SCAN and consider the impact of our prevention programs!

Want more? Keep scrolling:




When you hear about child sexual abuse, many thoughts might go through your mind:

“They should go to jail.”

“Parents should keep a closer eye on their children.”

“Who would do that to a child?”

These statements distance us further from what has happened.  These thoughts make it easier to dismiss the sexual abuse because it happened to someone else – whether with celebrity status, or it happened a long time ago, or it happened within a certain institution.  We believe it will never happen to the children that we know.

We need to shift our thinking though because 1 in 10 children will be sexually abused by their 18th birthday and 90% of victims are abused by someone they know and trust.  The thought that goes through your mind should be, “What can I do to prevent it from happening in the first place?”  As parents, professionals, or simply members of the community, we need to learn to recognize the signs of child sexual abuse, react when child sexual abuse is disclosed, and respond.  We also need to learn how to prevent it from happening in the first place.

In the case of Josh Duggar, it appears that not only those who are considered mandated reporters failed in their job, but other adults who were aware of what happened, including his parents.  So what exactly is a “mandated reporter”?  According to our national partner Darkness to Light, “A mandated reporter is one who is required by law to report reasonable suspicions of abuse. Mandated reporters typically include social workers, teachers, health care workers, child care providers, law enforcement, mental health professionals, among others but keep in mind that some states designate all citizens as mandated reporters. Regardless of specific mandated reporters, all persons can and should always reports suspected abuse. It is the job of all adults to protect children.”

It is not the job of a child to protect themselves from strangers or from bad things happening to them.  It is the responsibility of the adults in a child’s life to do that.  And if a child is sexually abused, or is the one sexually abusing other children, we must know how to react and respond.

“40% of child sexual abuse is by an older, more powerful youth” — www.d2l.org

Do you know how to recognize, react and respond?  Within the last 3 years, SCAN has trained over 825 Northern Virginia community members to be Stewards of Children using the curriculum created by Darkness to Light.  They know how to recognize, react, and respond.  Shouldn’t you?

If you are interested in becoming trained or organizing a training within your organization, please contact me. We cannot do this alone. Children need all of us.

– Tracy Leonard, Public Education Manager

CASA070297-hVolunteers in our CASA Program are one of the most powerful examples of a positive adult connection in a child’s life we can think of. Our Kids Need Connections campaign celebrates the nurturing, transformative power of positive adult relationships in the lives of children. For abused and neglected children who already find themselves in the system, a CASA volunteer might be one of the last few positive adult connections a child still has. Foster parents fall into this same category. May is Foster Care Awareness Month, an opportunity to think about these critical connections for at-risk children. National CASA CEO Michael Piraino recently offered an excellent perspective on how foster care and positive connections can affect real change on a larger scale:   

(Excerpted from a blog post on nationalcasa.org by National CASA CEO Michael Piraino and previously featured on the Huffington Post)

A glaring hole in the foster care data on well-being is information on the number, quality, and consistency of adult relationships for children. For years, it has been understood that a consistent and appropriate adult presence is a key factor in a child’s well-being. More recently, research has added to the understanding of what such a relationship should look like, how it can affect healthy development, and why children should be surrounded by multiple relationships that contribute to his or her healthy development. The Search Institute, well-known for its excellent work in identifying the key developmental assets in a child’s life, is now looking into the importance of what it calls “developmental relationships” for children. These are relationships that are caring, supportive, inspire growth, share power and expand possibilities for children and young people. For foster youth, these characteristics can typically be found among CASA and volunteer guardian ad litem programs, and in well-designed mentoring programs.

Research elsewhere has begun to confirm that children’s well-being may be dramatically improved if the adults who have these developmental relationships with children also help them develop a “mindset” that is oriented toward growth and success. The key point is this: mindsets can be changed. Developing a growth mindset can allow you to move beyond adverse experiences and help you follow strategies that are in your best interest according to Carol Dweck in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

We also know that when young people, particularly adolescents, develop a balanced understanding of the positive and negative futures they might face, they are much more likely to be able to work around the negative and back to the positive. These “balanced possible selves” can lead to improvements in academic success, behavior, and rates of depression.

What is particularly exciting about this research is the potential it has for positively affecting the educational success and mental health of foster youth, even in the absence of large scale system reforms. By strengthening relationships that protect foster youth from the effects of adverse childhood experiences, we can help them build on their own strengths so that the trauma they have experienced does not become a permanent barrier in their lives.

Every abused or neglected child in the nation’s foster care systems should have a well-trained, caring adult to speak up for them and help assure their healthy development and well-being.

Read the complete post here.

OSB_blogimage_may2015We say it over and over: Parenting can be tough. From the first day a child comes home from the hospital, parents face decisions and schedules and subjects they most likely have never even thought about before. It’s a time when parents — especially those in high-risk families with few community connections — need all of the support they can get.

So do their babies.

That’s where Operation Safe Babies comes in. With support from CareFirst and through a partnership with Cribs for Kids, SCAN’s newest program will focus on educating parents about safe sleep for infants, providing cribs for families in need and delivering resources for families in Northern Virginia.

Child abuse prevention programs function at all points along the continuum of children’s lives, whether they’re infants or teens. But there is something compelling about programs that start at the very beginning. Operation Safe Babies will allow us to connect with parents at the start of their experience, being there to tell them “yes, this can be hard,” and “no, you’re not alone.”

This month our Public Education Manager Tracy Leonard met with teen parents at TC Williams High School and will gather over 20 service providers together at Inova Fairfax Hospital to pilot the training program. In the coming months, SCAN will provide 200 infants in our community with safe cribs. We’ll work with community partner organizations to provide parents of infants with specially developed educational materials and resources on Safe Sleep and Abusive Head Trauma.

We will start, again and again, at the beginning of hundreds of children’s lives. As prevention advocates, we can think of no better place to be.

— Sarah Self, Public Education Coordinator

If you are interested in hosting a training or learning more about the program, please contact Public Education Manager Tracy Leonard at 703-820-9001 or tleonard@scanva.org.


Last week, our national partner Darkness to Light posted a guest blog by Svava Brooks, a child sexual abuse survivor and prevention advocate. We’re sharing it here today because it paints an excellent picture of how simple, necessary and courageous it can be to protect the children in our families and communities when we notice something that doesn’t quite feel right:

(Originally posted at d2lblog.com)

“I have trained thousands of adults and provided facilitator trainings for D2L in three countries. Not only do I teach others about child sexual abuse, but I also practice what I teach. And I’ve had several opportunities.

The most challenging occurred at a gathering of family and friends in my home. One of the older men suddenly touched my daughter in an inappropriate way. She had been sitting on the couch, talking to this man. When my daughter stood up to leave, the man reached over and smacked her on the butt. Before you decide that I overreacted, I want to let you know that before this moment, this man had made me uncomfortable because of how he would speak about my kids and their development. I was paying attention. There were already clues, and standing right there – watching it happen – it was clear what his intention was.

My daughter was 13 at the time. Her entire body stiffened and froze, as she looked across the room at me. This wasn’t something I could ignore. So I took action in a way that let my daughter know she could count on her mother to protect her from harm. With my daughter standing next to me, I told the man what he had done was inappropriate and not allowed. I informed him I would share this incident with other family members so they could protect their kids. Then I hugged my daughter.

I acted quickly because I needed to be courageous for my daughter. It was an empowering moment for me, doing for her what the adults in my life didn’t do for me when I was a child.”

– Read Svava’s full blog post at: http://www.d2lblog.com/2015/04/28/coming-to-my-daughters-rescue/#sthash.XxOt2avm.dpuf

Do you have more questions about child sexual abuse prevention? Is your community group, sports organization, child care center or faith group equipped to take action for the children in your care? Contact SCAN at info@scanva.org to learn more about our work with Darkness to Light to educate and empower adults in Northern Virginia.

DoorClingIn the Greater Prince William County area, there is a unique organization called The Child Protection Partnership. It is a group of human service workers, non-profit organizations, county employees, early childhood educators, parks and recreation staff, school employees, and concerned citizens that meet monthly. SCAN is fortunate to be a part of it as well. At these monthly meetings, we get to the nitty gritty of what is going on in Prince William County, Manassas Park, and the City of Manassas but perhaps more importantly, we DO something about it.

One example surrounds the issue of parents and caregivers leaving children in cars. The CPP wanted to do something about this, working to make sure that it is not happening in the community and if it is, that people know how to respond. We all came to the table with ideas, financial support, and thoughts about how we would get the messaging into the community. All of that was finessed into a newly initiated campaign. We have created window clings that businesses and organizations can put on their front doors, Kids and Cars materials (www.kidsandcars.org), display information that we can take to various community events, and unique giveaway materials for parents and caregivers so that they are reminded to never leave children alone in cars.

If you are in the Greater Prince William area and would like to have a cling for your business or organization, please contact Jo Anne Renton at jrenton@pwcgov.org.

— Tracy Leonard, Public Education Manager

P.S. If you’re interested in new opportunities to network and connect with others in your own community in Northern Virginia, we invite you to learn more about our Allies in Prevention Coalition!

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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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