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  1. FACT: Child sexual abuse is far more prevalent than most people realize.
  •   Child sexual abuse is likely the most prevalent health problem children face with the most serious array of consequences.
  •   About one in 10 children will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday.
  •   This year, there will be about 400,000 babies born in the U.S. that will become victims of child sexual abuse unless we do something to stop it.
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  1. FACT: Child sexual abuse often takes place under specific, often surprising circumstances. It is helpful to know these circumstances because it allows for the development of strategies to avoid child sexual abuse.
  •   81% of child sexual abuse incidents for all ages occur in one-perpetrator/one-child circumstances.
  •   Most sexual abuse of children occurs in a residence, typically that of the victim or perpetrator – 84% for children under age 12, and 71% for children aged 12 to 17.
  •   Sexual assaults on children are most likely to occur at 8 a.m., 12 p.m. and between 3 and 4 p.m. For older children, aged 12 to 17, there is also a peak in assaults in the late evening hours.
  •   One in seven incidents of sexual assault perpetrated by juveniles occurs on school days in the after-school hours between 3 and 7 p.m., with a peak from 3 to 4 pm.
  1. FACT: SCAN trained 213 individuals last year in the Stewards of Children curriculum, and we are scheduling trainings NOW for the year ahead across Northern Virginia.

    We need YOU to invite us to train individuals in the agencies, school districts, childcare centers, rec centers and faith groups in your community.

Ready to take action to protect children and empower adults in 2017? Contact Tracy Leonard, Public Education Manager, at tleonard(at)scanva.org for details or to schedule a training.

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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.)

 

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.

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:

red_ribbon_infographic_2016

  • 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.

 

 

 

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, tleonard@scanva.org

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:

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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!

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 NetSmartz.org
  • 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.”

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

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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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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