“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

This will be the 15th year we celebrate the heroes who work passionately for the children, families and communities of Northern Virginia. Who will we honor this April (during National Child Abuse Prevention Month) with a 2017 Ally in Prevention Award? That’s up to you!

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Nominations are now open: please submit a nomination for someone in your community who is “rising above” in their efforts to prevent child abuse, support parents or strengthen families. Who can SCAN’s Allies in Prevention Coalition lift up with this honor? Who can we celebrate as a true leader? Who is someone who sets an example for all of us in the way they protect children and put their community first?

Download the 2017 Allies in Prevention Nomination Form

Want to be inspired? You can meet last year’s honorees here. And remember, all nominations are due by February 10, 2017!

 

Ready to read in 2017? SCAN staff members are!

We’ve come up with a fresh list of books to recommend for child welfare professionals, advocates and parents you know. What are you reading this winter? We’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments below!

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  • “The Resilient Parent” by Mantu Joshi is a collection of essays meant to provide emotional, spiritual and practical guidance for parents of differently-abled children. Using his own experience as a parent of children with special needs, Joshi offers short chapters that can be read in under 5 minutes, each ending with reflectiosn for parents to think about in their own life and family.
  • “Socially Strong, Emotionally Secure” by Nefertiti Bruce and Karen B. Cairone, was published in 2011 but is worth a permanent spot on your bookshelf! It provides 50 activities to help kids age 3-8 build resiliency, and is useful for professionals and parents alike.
  • “A Volcano in My Tummy” by Eliane Whitehouse and Warwick Pudney, offers excellent, easy-to-understand skills for adults when helping children (age 6-13) deal with anger management. From teaching them how to communicate their anger to addressing violent behaviors, it can help build awareness, creativity and hands-on tools for kids to manage anger issues.
  • “I Am Jazz” by Jessica Herthel explores the experience of Jazz Jennings, a real-life transgender child. We talk a lot at SCAN about books that build resiliency for children, and what a great tool this book can be for kids and adults a like, exploring a challenging subject in a way that builds understanding and connection.

Friends,

When we sat down to write this note, it began with three simple questions:

1. Why are we calling for change in our community? Every day the children in our community are experiencing abuse and neglect – reports of heartbreaking cases are in the news daily. Unfortunately, more than 40,000 children in Virginia were involved in a valid report of abuse or neglect last year, with 48 children dying as a result of their maltreatment. Across the U.S., an estimated 679,000 children were victims of abuse last year.

2. What is more important than the wellbeing and innocence of a child? Prevention is the key to reducing these statistics and keeping children safe. SCAN’s staff, volunteers and Board of Directors are working diligently to develop and grow effective prevention programs for all children and families in our community.These programs are focused on well-researched ways to reduce the risk factors associated with child abuse and neglect, while improving outcomes for children and families who are exposed to multiple risk factors. Our goal is always to mitigate effects of victimization for children!

3. Who will partner, volunteer, donate and advocate for the protection of children? We invite you to meet the people who have connected with SCAN over the past year to be educated, empowered and energized to make a difference for children and families in our community. READ THOSE STORIES IN OUR ANNUAL REPORT HERE!

At SCAN, we believe there is no one way to create change; there must be thousands of us working together to make it happen in Northern Virginia. We challenge you to join SCAN as we energize a community for lasting change that focuses on prevention and the ultimate protection of our children for years to come. Please make a year-end donation to SCAN here.

– Donna Fleming, President
SCAN Board of Directors

Although the exact cause of SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, is unknown, we do know what risk factors can contribute to SIDS.
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The following may increase the risk of SIDS:
• Sleeping on the stomach
• Being around cigarette smoke while in the womb or after being born
• Sleeping in the same bed as parents (co-sleeping)
• Soft bedding in the crib
• Multiple birth babies (being a twin, triplet, etc.)
• Premature birth
• Having a brother or sister who had SIDS
• Mothers who smoke or use illegal drugs
• Being born to a teen mother
• Short time period between pregnancies
• Late or no prenatal care
• Living in poverty situations
As human service providers, we do what we can to spread safe sleep education and bring awareness to some of these other risk factors.  Some may be beyond our control or the mother’s control, but it is important to look at the ones we can control.
Another risk factor that can be controlled, or even eliminated, is December 31 and January 1.  Why dates?  “After examining 129,090 SIDS cases from 1973 to 2006, researchers found that on Jan. 1, the number of babies who die of SIDS jumps up by 33 percent.” (www.sheknows.com)  Even parents who practice safe sleep may be impaired as they celebrate the arrival of the new year and are not as careful with baby on this night.  Parents can remove the risk by making sure that just as they would assign a designated driver, they assign a designated “caretaker” – someone who will not be impaired and someone who knows about safe sleep practices so that baby is never in jeopardy.  This practice should also be in play on other days when there are celebrations, date nights, or parties.  Help parents remember to always put baby first.
– Tracy Leonard, Public Education Manager, tleonard@scanva.org
(Learn more about SCAN’s Operation Safe Babies here.)

Last month, SCAN hosted its 5th Annual Speak Up for Children Advocacy Training, bringing together more than 40 attendees for a day of public policy education and advocacy training. Partners from Prevent Child Abuse Virginia and Voices for Virginia’s Children along with a diverse group of child welfare experts and elected officials led discussions during the day-long, interactive workshop. The group discussed effective advocacy tactics at all levels; critical legislative updates; and policy priorities for the upcoming 2017 Virginia General Assembly session. The training was sponsored in part by Verizon, and volunteers from Boeing also supported promotion, planning and facilitation of the event.

Wondering what Advocacy Day attendees are going to do next? Here are some of the action items they plan to take in th ecoming months, and you can do them too:

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  1. Attend an Advocacy Day in Richmond during the upcoming 2017 short session of the Virginia General Assembly.
  2. Work towards having Erin’s Law passed in Virginia. Read an article on Erin’s Law, including comment from Advocacy Day guest Senator Jennifer Wexton, here.
  3. Share advocacy information with others in your network. Voices for Virginia’s Children has some excellent 2017 Tools for Advocates available here.
  4. Call, write and visit your legislators. Find out who your local legislators are here.
  5. Support the families you serve in our programs. One way to support them is by finding creative ways to share their stories with your legislators!
  6. Work with other organizations, across issues, to encourage more progress. Legislators told us again and again that the more cooperation and work they see behind an issue, the easier it is for them to bring attention to it! You can learn more about SCAN’s policy focus in the comine year here, and Prevent Child Abuse Virginia shares specific Bills they are following (along with many other useful advocacy tools!) here.
  7. Thank your political representative for working on behalf of children. (See number 4 above.)

You can download an overview of Advocacy Day here, or visit SCAN’s Advocacy page on our website here for more resources from the day, including a Legislative Glossary, Intro to the VA General Assembly and a Self-Assessment tool!

It’s December — are parents around you looking a little more frazzled? Stress is an issue for families all year long, but during the holidays it can reach a fevered pitch. Here are some of our favorite tips and resources to share with the families in your community:

  1. Make smart decisions about what you say “yes” to as a family during this very busy time of year. If something doesn’t bring your family joy, consider saying no. Learn more about tackling Holiday Stress here.
  2. Talk about stress with your kids. Kids and adults might worry about different things, but the affects of that stress can be very similar. Parents can ask – and LISTEN to kids answer – questions about friends and family, activities and feelings. Explore some tips for understanding and addressing “Kid Stress” vs “Adult Stress” here.

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  3. Remember that resilient families are better able to handle stress and other challenges that come their way. Choose a couple of resilience-builders to try this month when many of us need our resilience the most! Create a “Strengths Family Tree” or spend time before bed talking about one positive thing that happened during the day. Get more Resiliency tips here.
  1. Parents, take care of yourself this season! Your kids are watching you and will follow your lead when it comes to things like sleep, healthy eating and busy schedules. Choose some Self Care steps here.
  1. Recognizing, understanding and reacting to stress is not an easy job! If parents need some help on-the-go, download SCAN’s Parent Resource Center App. They can access all of the content above no matter where they are in their holiday travels! Download the App on iTunes or GooglePlay.

 

 

This week we once again welcome Gretchen E. Downey, Prevention Expert and Best-Selling Author, as she shares her expertise on preventing suicide in – and strengthening our communication with – the teenagers in our lives. This is the second post in a two-part series:

Ruling out genetics and specific pathologies related to mental health and suicide, there still remains something incredibly wrong with the picture and we need to take a closer environmental and internal look at what might be the cause – because the two are closely linked.

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The first thing we need to get familiar with is how the brain and mind operate. It’s hard to develop assets when we don’t know how our internal technologies or assets actually work. You can’t fly a plane if you don’t know how the equipment functions. You’ll crash and burn…and that’s what we’re seeing with our young people.

Education about how the brain and mind work shouldn’t be dreaded or feared. This is the very attitude that pushed us away from the golden key of our own empowerment. Our brain and mind belong to us and it’s high time we learn how to use it, regulate it and build it for our advantage… rather than letting our environment craft it for us.

The mind is one of our virtual technologies, so to speak. You can’t touch it, yet there’s something within you doing the thinking and imagining. It can be focused and directed, it can wander off, or it can work on autopilot i.e., think in a reactive and unregulated way. The brain is the organ that simply responds to what your mind is thinking. It computes the information and programs itself, the nervous system and the body according to the quality of the data it receives – good or bad.

If children learned at an early age some basics about how to regulate their own mind and how to build healthier neuro patterns in their brain, they’d develop greater abilities in self-regulation, reflection (instead of reactivity), healing, discernment and even…. emotional regulation. Shouldn’t this be part of our fundamental human education?

To gain a better understanding, here are some simple basics about how the brain works.

Amygdala
One of its major functions is the flight or flight response, meaning it perceives threat. It protected us from lions, tigers and bears. However, we don’t have these primitive challenges anymore. So what did we do? We made a habit of inventing all sorts of harmful fear-based and stress-filled thoughts that cause a vicious cycle of unnecessary revving up and over stimulation of the amygdala! This part of our brain is very important and necessary when we have a true emergency. However, a majority of the time we aren’t in a life or death threat….and our amygdala doesn’t know the difference. You see, it can’t distinguish what is a real threat and what is not! It just fires regardless.

Any time you build neural pathways in the brain you are “imprinting,which is like programming or hardwiring the brain to think, react and believe in a certain way. The brain then directs the body to react, feel, and heal or breakdown according to the input. And worst of all, when over-stimulated and unregulated the amygdala (in a metaphorical sense) hijacks the electrical activity of the rest of the brain which keeps you from more effectively accessing the highest “thinking centers” of the brain (prefrontal cortex) responsible for reflection, integration and…. higher happier emotions. When a person is chronically thinking and feeling fear, powerlessness, self-hate and despair, these trigger the amygdala.

Hippocampus
The hippocampus is located deep in the center of the brain near the amygdala. It’s the part of the brain that is responsible for holding and storing long-term information. You don’t relearn how to walk and talk each day, or ride a bike or drive a car. It’s “automatic” and the hippocampus is responsible for this programming function and storage. Think of it as the region of the brain that turns everything on “auto pilot. If you had to relearn everything every day, life would be impossible. You can also think of it like the hard drive on your computer. It simply stores information and waits for commands from YOU to perform a specific function or task without thinking about it. Sometimes this is beneficial and sometimes not. In regards to our less desirable or fear-based stress-filled behavior patterns and programmed thoughts, it is not.

Most people are unaware of stored familial or other learning patterns that they were taught. Have you ever noticed how some families are really happy, forgiving or funny and others are pessimistic, stubborn or easily angered? More often than not, these patterns were shown to them between 0-7 years and then stored in the hippocampus as automatic “reactions.”

When a person is chronically thinking about and feeling fear, powerlessness, self-hate and/or despair, the brain builds the neuro circuitry to match the input…and these become the automatic “auto pilot” behaviors and emotions. The more you think it, the more you build it.

The good news is, our brain has “neuroplasticity”, meaning we can reshape it’s neuro-programming at any time.

Prefrontal Cortex (PFC)
The PFC, located in the top forehead region of the brain, is the highest thinking center of the brain responsible for some of the highest human emotions and abilities such as inspiration, compassion, joy, love and play. This is the area of the brain that you want to activate, stimulate (light-up the electrical flow) and build up neuroplasticity in as much as possible! This brain center is responsible for creativity, problem solving, discernment and inspiration. When the amygdala is over stimulated, electrical flow to this area is impeded – which is the exact opposite of what you need to calmly create solutions and regulate your emotional responses. Teen PFCs are most electrically stimulated when they are engaged in meaningful, inspiring work…or when they are feeling gratitude and compassion.

We all have a responsibility to use this information to correct the way we parent, educate our kids in schools and choose the things we give our attention to within our environments. Whether it’s domestic violence within the home or the aggression, fear and violence we see on drama/reality shows, movies, TV, video games and the evening news, each of these are over stimulating the reactivity of the human amygdala in unhelpful ways, while at the same time shutting off access to the PFC.

Many children do not have a stable home environment, but if caregivers and teachers readily taught this information, kids would be greater equipped with tools and the ability to regulate their own emotions and outcomes to a greater degree than what is currently happening.

Things you can do to promote daily stability, feelings of happiness and well-being and PFC access (while quieting the amygdala):

  1. Deep purposeful breathing – Quiet the amygdala and open the pathways to the PFC.
  2. Nourishing your physical body – Engage in regular physical activity and healthy eating; stimulants, sugar, refined products, alcohol, preservatives and artificial colors can affect emotional and behavioural stability.
  3. Understand the basics about your own brain – How does it work? How can you train and build it to perform the functions that you want?
  4. Practice mindful awareness techniques or MBSR (mindful based stress reduction) – Help calm the mind and build positive neuro patterns within the brain.
  5. Practice saying, feeling and expressing love and gratitude to yourself and the world around you – Science has proven that expressing gratitude lights up the PFC to a high degree, while building positive neuro patterns within the brain.

We can be successful at building our brain to express habitual joy, gratitude, optimism and love, just as certain as we can build it to be successful at fear, powerlessness and unworthiness.

Resources:

Learn more about guest auhthor Gretchen E. Downey here. Read Part 1 of 2 here.

 

This week we welcome Gretchen E. Downey, Prevention Expert and Best-Selling Author, as she shares her expertise on preventing suicide in – and strengthening our communication with – the teenagers in our lives. This is the first post in a two-part series:

Our hearts ache when the tragedy of teen suicide occurs in our community. Is it preventable?

The American Psychological Association states that, although it’s difficult to predict, there are warning signals to watch for – and one should always seek professional or medical help when a child is suspected of being in danger:

  • Talking about dying – any mention of dying, disappearing, jumping, shooting oneself, or other types of self harm
  • Recent loss – through death, divorce, separation, broken relationship, self-confidence, self-esteem, loss of interest in friends, hobbies, activities previously enjoyed
  • Change in personality – sad, withdrawn, irritable, anxious, tired, indecisive, apathetic
  • Change in behavior – can’t concentrate on school, work, routine tasks
  • Change in sleep patterns – insomnia, often with early waking or oversleeping, nightmares
  • Change in eating habits – loss of appetite and weight, or overeating
  • Fear of losing control – acting erratically, harming self or others
  • Low self esteem – feeling worthless, shame, overwhelming guilt, self-hatred, “everyone would be better off without me”
  • No hope for the future – believing things will never get better; that nothing will ever change

So the million dollar question… “What’s going on – why the low emotions and why are they so prevalent causing 1 in 5 US teens to seriously consider suicide and 8% of teens to attempt suicide annually? That’s nearly one tenth of our young people feeling helpless, hopeless and like life has no meaning.

For over 50 years the internationally acclaimed Search Institute has conducted research on what kids and teens need to thrive and succeed in life. They report that well over 50 million of our young people are feeling helpless, hopeless and not connected to their inner “spark,” or what gives their life meaning, connection and fulfillment. According to the Search Institute the more developmental assets a person builds, the more likely they are to succeed in school and become happy, healthy and contributing members of their community and society.

Next week, we’ll explore the teenage brain and tangible steps adults can take to help the teenagers in our lives.

– Gretchen E. Downey, Prevention Expert and Best-Selling Author

[PLEASE NOTE: It’s not uncommon for a large life event, such as the election of a new national leader, to force those who have had traumatic experiences to relive them all at once, said John Draper, Program Director with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. (Read more of John’s interview in the Washington Post article, At Suicide Hotlines, the First 24 Hours of Trump’s America Have Been Full of Fear,” November 10, 2016, here.)

Now more than ever, we need to make sure that the teens in our lives feel supported and heard. Fear of the unknown and no hope for the future, as Gretchen points out, can lead teens to suicide. We must help them find their “spark” even during a time when we struggle ourselves. Intervening is important, but modeling self care and emotional regulation are also important. –  Tracy Leonard, SCAN Public Education Coordinator]

Emma Pazos is a bilingual CASA volunteer in SCAN’s Alexandria/Arlington CASA Program. Originally from Peru, Emma is an internal auditor at a firm in D.C. She is currently on her first assigned case as a volunteer, and thus far has proven to be a dedicated, intelligent and caring CASA. We decided to sit down with her and ask why she thinks it’s vital for the CASA program to have bilingual volunteers.

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CASA: Thank you, Emma, for taking the time to give us your insight as a bilingual CASA.

Emma: I’m very happy to do it, I think it’s very important for the families we work with.

CASA: What do you believe is the most important factor in being a bilingual CASA?

Emma: Being a Hispanic person really helps break down the barrier in cultural connections, and in building rapport and trust. The family may think, ‘Here is a person that shares a similar sense of culture and may understand me better;’ even if the connection is as basic as speaking the same language. It makes a huge difference to a family who might have an entirely different exposure to and understanding of parenting and the law. This issue of abuse often occurs in families who may not have the same resources or education regarding disciplinary alternatives as you and I may have.

CASA: Are there any barriers you find unique to Spanish-speaking families?

Emma: Yes. I think foreign families have a strong fear of the legal system, law enforcement, and social services, which seems to defer a sense of trust in the system. Thus, they simply comply with what they are asked to do. They may hesitate to ask questions or shy away from learning the rights or opportunities afforded to them out of fear. Compounded by a possible legal status circumstance, families may view questions as stirring the pot and are scared it may jeopardize their opportunity at the American dream.

CASA: What have you learned as a bilingual CASA thus far?

Emma: That a family just wants to be understood. They come to this country wanting a better life for their family, but they also bring with them generational models of parenting that may have been acceptable in their internal family dynamic, but deemed unfit in this culture. It’s important that these families have a person or persons with whom they feel are not placing judgment or even perhaps a stereotyped viewpoint.

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Emma’s advocacy for the children in her case has been a significant contributing factor to the family’s proactive involvement with social services. The family has risen to the occasion and immersed themselves in the services offered. The children’s parents often comment to Emma that her dedication and unwavering promotion of their well-being has inspired them to gain trust in the juvenile court and team members active on their case. The family has been able to form a safety net with other parents in parenting classes, as well as mental health therapists. The parents have demonstrated a consistent ability to remain cognizant of their actions, and often comment how the family is now united and supportive of one another.

Emma’s skills as a bilingual CASA is a potent remainder that persons of a different culture or ethnicity that immigrate into a new country–with differing systems, language and laws that govern that society–have the right to be provided efficient guidance, support and compassion as they navigate and learn about the social system and cultural norms.

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

 

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:

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  • 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 healthieralexandria.org and redribbon.org 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 https://www.facebook.com/acpsface/.
  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 face@acps.k12.va.us or 703-619-8055.

 

 

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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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