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: 

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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:

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  • 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
tleonard@scanva.org

ParentConnection_SummerFall2016Twice a year, SCAN publishes the Parent Connection Resource Guide (PCRG), a catalog of parenting resources available in the Northern Virginia area. SCAN has just published its newest guide covering August through December of 2016.

Our goal in preparing and distributing the PCRG to child welfare professionals is to spread the word about the plethora of excellent programs and events offered in our community so that we can get parents—especially those most at-risk—connected with the resources they need and deserve. Our hope is that you will refer to this guide when you come across a parent or family who would benefit from some type of parenting help—whether it be a class, support group, or one-time seminar.

We organize the PCRG by type of resource: parenting class, parenting support group, playgroups, and other parenting resources; and then each section is further organized by jurisdiction: Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William.

The PCRG can be accessed online here, or, for the first time, on SCAN’s FREE Parent Resource Center app via your mobile device! (You can download the app here.)

Included in the guide are a couple of SCAN entries we are especially excited to offer this fall:

The ABCs of Parenting
The program covers topics such as child development, praise and empathy, building your child’s self-esteem, family rules, age-appropriate discipline, alternatives to spanking, and family stress management. No eligibility requirements. Registration is required. Class includes a family meal, childcare for children ages 0 to 4, a children’s program with yoga component for children ages 5 and older, weekly raffles and educational materials.

No. of weeks: 8 weeks
Date: Thursdays, October 11 – December 8
Time: 6:00 – 8:30 p.m.
Location: First Assembly of God Church, 700 W. Braddock Rd, Alexandria, VA 22302
Cost: Free
Contact: Alice Clark at 703-820-9001
E-mail: aclark@scanva.org
Website: http://www.scanva.org
Language(s): ENGLISH

Strengthening Families Program (ages 10-14)
SCAN of Northern Virginia partners with ACPS’ Family And Community Engagement (FACE) Office and the Alexandria Department of Community & Human Services, Center for Children and Families to offer a facilitator-led parent education class for parents with children in middle school (ages 10 – 14).

No. of weeks: 7 weeks
Cost: Free
Contact: Alice Clark at 703-820-9001
E-mail: aclark@scanva.org
Website: http://www.scanva.org

Cora Kelly Elementary School (with Casa Chirilagua)
Date: Thursdays, September 22 – November 3
Time: 6:00 – 8:30 p.m.
Location: 3600 Commonwealth Ave, Alexandria, VA 22305
Language(s): SPANISH

FC Hammond Middle School
Date: Tuesdays, October 11 – December 13
Time: 6:00 – 8:30 p.m.
Location: 4646 Seminary Rd, Alexandria, VA 22304
Language(s): ENGLISH & SPANISH

You can learn more about SCAN’s Parent Education Program on our website here.

We hope you’ll share the PCRG in your community this fall! Know of programs that we should include in the next issue? Please let me know!

– Alice Clark, Public Education Coordinator
aclark@scanva.org
 

 

 

Parents are constantly faced with the challenge of finding reputable, quality programming and care for their children.  To help make decisions easier for parents and to put your organization at the head of the class, do you have a written and posted code of conduct?  A code that lets parents–and children–know what they can expect from the adults who work or volunteer at your organization, how different situations are handled (one-on-one, toileting, transportation), and what the organization’s response is if child sexual abuse is suspected, discovered or disclosed?

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Darkness to Light offers sample documents that you can use to begin understanding what should be included in a code of conduct, and that allow your organization to begin having discussions about procedures and policies that need to be in place to keep all children safe from child sexual abuse.

Codes of conduct do not have to be simply for childcare centers or afterschool programming.  Every organization that serves youth in any capacity should have a code of conduct in place.  It isn’t enough to simply write a code, though.  A code of conduct should be prominently displayed and shared with parents.  If parents begin to expect that all youth-serving settings have codes of conduct, then there will be a true shift in the way kids are protected from those who would try to sexually abuse them.  If you work with parents, begin talking to them about questions they can ask an organization.  Questions that will help ensure their child’s safety.

Here are some questions to start with, via Darkness to Light:

  • Are parents encouraged to drop in at any time?
  • Can parents tour the facilities?
  • Are your staff and volunteers trained in sexual abuse prevention and response?
  • Do you have a code of conduct?  May I have it?
  • How are your policies disseminated and to whom?
  • Are the children aware of the rules?
  • How are older youth screened, monitored and supervised?
  • Do you train, allow and empower your staff and volunteers to report suspicions of sexual abuse?
  • If a staff member or volunteer violates the child sexual abuse prevention policy, what procedures and penalties follow?

– Tracy Leonard, Public Education Manager
tleonard@scanva.org

2016kcdb_cover_440pxLast month, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released its annual KIDS COUNT® Data Book. The good news? Virginia now ranks 11th nationally for child wellbeing. The bad news? The Commonwealth’s poverty rate is not budging.

That means almost 300,000 children — 16% of our community’s children — are growing up in poverty in Virginia. 

Voices for Virginia’s Children shared an excellent overview of the report on their blog, and we’re sharing a few excerpts here:

“Moderate growth in Virginia’s economy has not yet yielded results for many children in Virginia; 16 percent of Virginia children are growing up in poverty, according to the 2016 KIDS COUNT® Data Book from the Annie. E. Casey Foundation. Approximately 44,000 more children now live in poverty than in the midst of the Great Recession in 2008, and the numbers have not budged since last year’s count.

“The fact that nearly 300,000 children in our Commonwealth are growing up in poverty is a big red flag,” said Margaret Nimmo Holland, executive director of Voices for Virginia’s Children. “Many children growing up in poverty are living in environments of toxic stress – meaning their bodies produce chronic stress responses that can actually negatively rewire their developing brains.” Research has shown that experiencing toxic stress in early childhood often leads to lifelong physical and mental health problems, which can greatly influence their ability to succeed in school.

This disturbing trend comes in the midst of an overall improvement in Virginia’s child well-being ranking; Virginia has moved up three places in the national rankings of overall child well-being to 11th place, consistent with its ranking two years ago. The 2016 Data Book, which focuses on key trends in child well-being in the post-recession years, measures child well-being in four domains: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community…

…“Clearly, we are pleased to see positive trends on some indicators of child well-being in Virginia, but we cannot expect these gains to continue if we do not address the needs of Virginia’s children in poverty. We cannot afford to leave 16 percent of our children behind,” said Holland.

Read the full Voices for Virginia’s Children blog post HERE.

  • View the Data Book here.
  • View the Virginia Child Well-Being Index here.
  • View the Virginia data in the KIDS COUNT Data Center here.
  • View the Virginia’s KIDS COUNT webpage here.

We’re reading some great books this summer at SCAN! Here are some of our current picks:

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  • Our CASA volunteers just finished reading Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble and Coming of Age in the Bronx by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc as part of their quarterly book club for in-service hours. LeBlanc chronicles the lives of two teenage girls in this New York Times bestseller, giving a glimpse of the tragedy they endure through homelessness, betrayal, the heartbreaking separation of prison, and, throughout it all, the damage of poverty.
  • Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids by Susan Stiffelman, MFT, was recommended by SCAN’s Parent Education Program Manager. An easy, non-academic read, the book covers concepts through the author’s own experience working with families. Stiffelman expresses the challenges many families face, and provides insight on why certain behaviors are happening, ways to help parents build awareness about these behaviors and small changes families can make that can make a big difference.
  • Know a tween/teen reader? Check out Auggie & Me: Three Wonder Stories, R.J. Palacio’s sequel to the wildly popular Wonder. These stories are an extra peek at main character Auggie before he started at Beecher Prep and during his first year there. Readers get to see other perspecties of Auggie and his life through Julian, the bully; Christopher, Auggie’s oldest friend; and Charlotte, Auggie’s new friend. Wonder is a book in SCAN’s Young Adult Stories that Build Resiliency series; discussion questions and other resources can be found here.

What are YOU reading this summer? We’d love to hear!

The average child spends LESS THAN 10 MINUTES each day outside for unstructured playtime. At the same time, we watch as the children we serve face increased stress levels, mental health issues, rising levels of obesity and huge amounts of time spent on computers and other devices.

pexels-photo-11523Nature Deprivation happens when children (and adults, too!) aren’t spending enough time outside and face negative physical, mental and behavioral health consequences because of it.

How can we help families work on this?

> Listen to this new Parenting Today segment on Nature Deprivation with iHeartRadio, featuring SCAN Executive Director Sonia Quinonez and special guest Tracy Hannigan from the Recreation Services Division Chief for Prince William County Parks & Recreation.

> Connect with your local Parks and Recreation Center to find outdoor space, trails, programs and much more. In Northern Virginia, you can find Parks and Rec services in Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, Falls Church, Loudoun, ManassasManassas Park and Prince William.

> Follow the Children & Nature Network on Facebook to learn more about the research and science behind Nature Deprivation, as well as helpful ideas, activities and opportunities happening in other communities.

> Remind parents that they will benefit from fresh air and activities too! Ask parents how they can “unplug” with their kids, while spending quality time together and being physically active. It’s a win-win-win! Download our Unplug with Your Child fact sheet in English or Spanish for guidance and ideas.

Have you seen children and families benefit from more time outdoors, more fresh air and more activities in the great outdoors? We’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments section below.

It’s estimated that one in every 122 people in the world has been uprooted from their homes due to conflict or persecution. Here in an increasingly diverse Northern Virginia, we see the impact of immigration, reunification and the refugee crisis on local children and adults. How can we support these families in our community? How can we provide resources to parents and children?

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That was the discussion at a joint meeting of our Allies in Prevention Coalition and the Loudoun County Partnership for Resilient Children and Families, where more than 90 service providers gathered to discuss the special experiences, needs and challenges of immigrant and refugee families. What were the key takeaways for service providers moving forward?

  1. Understand the differences between “Immigrant” and “Refugee.” Patricia Maloof from the Catholic Charities Diocese of Arlington provided an excellent overview for meeting attendees, including the unique challenges faced by each group. While immigrants make a choice to leave and have options, refugees are fleeing danger, have little time to prepare and often cannot return home. She also touched on another important reminder: “There is diversity within these populations,” said Dr. Maloof, not the least of which is a wide variety of experiences leading up to their immigration or fleeing.
  2. Build on the strengths of families. Immigrants and refugees provide valuable contributions to the economy, education and richness & diversity of a community. Every one of our panel members highlighted the rich diversity that immigrant families can provide to our communities, and underscored that we must overcome our own biases to better assist them as they navigate life in the United States.
  3. Help immigrant parents understand the unique challenges they face. When parents feel isolated, parenting—even life in general—can feel hopeless. Be sure parents understand what they are experiencing is common. Then help them find tools that work for them and their kids. “They can tell their kids, ‘I will give you time and space to get used to life here’,” said panel member Maria Mateus, a Parent Liaison from Fairfax County Public Schools. “They should tell their child they want them to feel safe.”
  4. Get families connected. Parents and children—often far away from their immediate family members—need supportive networks that speak their language, understand their cultural nuances and can act as extended family and friends. They also need to connect with community agencies, which can be frightening. Panel member Lisa Groat, from Ayuda, discussed the ins and outs of how to make sure that families we work with know which benefits they are eligible for as they begin to establish a new life in the United States.
  5. Learn more about the immigrant and refugee experience. Local experts addressed a variety of topics at the meeting, including things like arranged marriage and immigration law. One attendee said that simply being exposed to a discussion about arranged marriage for the first time was incredibly enlightening. “Remember that survivors are resilient,” said Casey Swegman from the Tahirih Justice Center, who led this part of the discussion. We need to be open to learning more about these families so we can better support and celebrate that resiliency.

This is a discussion that will certainly continue among service providers, community members and families in Northern Virginia, thanks in large part to the work of the organizations who participated on our panel. Also consider exploring the Support for Immigrant Parents page on our Parent Resource Center, where you can find fact sheets to share in English and Spanish, as well as listen to a Parenting Today radio show on the topic with Shirley Jones from HACAN.

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One of the hardest decisions many parents face is who will care for their child:

6 out of 10 young children in the U.S. have both parents (or their sole caregiver) in the workforce. This means that millions of families have the difficult job of exploring, choosing and paying for child care.

Parents need tools, guidance and support to make the best decision for their family:

  • Visit the new ChildCareVA.com to research things like child-teacher ratio, location and licensing for centers in your community. An important part of the website is a section titled “What’s New, What’s Changing” that provides information on child care changes occurring in Virginia.
  • Listen to this new PSA from the Commonwealth to help parents understand the value of licensed, quality child care that promotes the health and safety of children.  Additional PSAs for radio and TV are being developed.
  • Our Choosing Child Care Fact Sheets help parents understand their options and important questions to ask while doing research. (Available in English and Spanish!)

If you are working with families who are in need of child care, make sure they are connected to these resources. Making educated decisions that fit within the needs of families can relieve a major stressor for parents.

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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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