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YoungAdultBooksWhen we first launched our Kids Need Connections child abuse prevention campaign in 2014, our “Children’s Stories That Build Resiliency” was a huge hit.  We have presented at various conferences and given several workshops throughout Virginia highlighting not only the 15 stories but also resiliency theory and how to build resiliency in children.

We were asked to consider coming up with a list of young adult stories that build resiliency so that we could reach an even wider audience of children, youth and the adults who connect with them, so we did.  We have only chosen 6 from the thousands of titles that are out there, but we think that you will find they address a wide array of topics, family dynamics and social issues all with the end goal of creating more resilient children and youth.

Our list is available here, along with questions that you should use as discussion points as you connect with the tweens and teens in your life.  The thoughtful questions can provoke great conversation and better prepare youth to handle life’s obstacles and develop empathy skills.  These stories–along with your listening skills–provide them with a safe environment to talk through how they might handle themselves in similar situations, and how they can relate to the strong male and female characters of these stories.

The titles would make great stocking stuffers and Holiday presents for the young adults on your list.  Just be sure to give them the questions that go along with them – that is where the true gift lies.

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

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

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.

L-12-MOMENTSINVA-022815We’re wrapping up the first full week of Child Abuse Prevention Month, a time filled with planting pinwheel gardens to raise awareness, providing prevention trainings with partners in Alexandria and sharing our Kids Need Connections campaign materials with thousands across the region.

But it’s important we pause in our hectic schedules to remember why we do all of this work. Consider these statistics from Prevent Child Abuse Virginia:

  • 1 baby is born in Virginia every 5 minutes.
  • 1 child becomes homeless in Virginia every 14 minutes.
  • 1 child drops out of school in Virginia every 60 minutes.
  • Every 77 minutes, a child is abused or neglected in Virginia.
  • In an average moment, there are 4,475 children in foster care in Virginia.

Our work focuses on Northern Virginia, and we know that some of the children in these statistics are OUR CHILDREN. They attend our schools, live in our neighborhoods, maybe even have dinner at our tables. They are the reason we do so much this month and all year long to focus on CONNECTION and PREVENTION.

April is an important month at SCAN, but not because we’ve filled our schedule with events and ordered extra pinwheels and have our name in local newspapers. It’s important because it’s a very special opportunity to change those statistics. To change the lives of our community’s children, whom we are all responsible for.

We hope you’ll help.

Wondering how you can get involved? Volunteer, plant a pinwheel garden or make a donation on April 22nd during Spring2Action, one incredible day of giving. 

Every spring, SCAN celebrates five individuals from each region of Northern Virginia at its annual Allies in Prevention Awards Luncheon. The award winners (there have been more than 60 since the awards began in 2003!) have come from all walks of life — from social workers and foster parents to judges and doctors — and each have made unique efforts to prevent child abuse and strengthen families in their communities and beyond.

This year, five more individuals were selected by a task force of SCAN’s Allies in Prevention Coalition and they are another remarkable group of heroes for children and families:

  • Laurie_BandWLaurie Meyer was the founding Team Leader for Alexandria’s Community Wraparound Team in the Department of Community and Human Services until 2014. For 24 years — she began as a social worker in 1990 — she provided incredible children’s behavioral health services for the most at-risk children in her community. The Community Wraparound Team she founded and her development of its programming have transformed how the city serves (and thinks about) its most at-risk families. “As far as I’m concerned,” noted one community partner, “Laurie is the center of Alexandria’s System of Care.”  Studies note that whenever possible, the best place for children is in their community with family-driven and youth-led service plans. Laurie knew this, and worked with intense dedication to create a system of care that was best for the children. In 2008, Alexandria had 66 children in congregant care. Today, there are only six. “We recognize that without Laurie’s wisdom and leadership,” said her nominators, “this would not have been possible.” Even during personal illness, Laurie remained committed to the children and families of Alexandria. Last September, she passed away at the age of 53 leaving behind a husband and three daughters as well as many close family members and colleagues. But the children of Alexandria will be touched by Laurie’s work and compassion for generations to come.
  • Jennifer_BandWJennifer Landis-Santos is a Parent & Youth Workshop Facilitator, Program Coordinator and Mental Health Therapist for Arlington County. In that multi-faceted position she administers a grant from the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Families (which she won) to help the county provide parenting classes and other programs for youth and families, and also coordinates the Strengthening Families parenting program in Arlington. But her passionate commitment to children goes far beyond her work in Arlington. Jennifer also founded Career Definitions, a project which provides tools to help youth plan for future careers, stay connected with parents during the college application process and go on “Career Tours,” opportunites for students to see jobs up close in the DC area. Focused on positive interactons between children and parents, the initiative helps youth believe in themselves and strengthens families to provide support. “Jennifer’s dedication to serving families, generous commitment to helping children and her respect for ALL persons is reflected in the response the families have to her work and initiatives,” noted her nominator. Jennifer also sits on the board of HACAN (Hispanics Against Abuse and Neglect). She and her husband, Carmelo, have two young children.
  • Cheryl_BandWCheryl Keiper has witnessed some incredible changes in Fairfax County over the past three decades. Today she supervises the county’s Parent Education Programs, but her experience also includes work as a CPS caseworker and a Foster Care & Adoption specialist. Perhaps it’s those first experiences that ignited her passion for prevention through parent education. “I have never known anyone who believes in the importance and impact of parenting programs as strongly as Cheryl,” notes her nominator. For 16 years, Cheryl has managed a rapidly growing parent education program in the county. In 2000, the county offered 13 classes and reached 127 families. Last year, it was 40 classes reaching nearly 400 families! But it’s not just about numbers; Cheryl was committed to improving the programming for an increasingly diverse community. Under her leadership, the county added three African American Culture curricula, a variety of new targeted classes for specific parenting groups and Spanish-language classes. Cheryl’s belief in connections with families kept her facilitating classes even when she was managing the program, and when her workload grew she remained committed to visiting every class in person. Her work with faith-based organizations, community centers and schools also helped grow the program and provided a wonderful example of private-public collaboration. This May, Cheryl will retire after 39 years serving children and families, but her inspiration will continue to impact the program. “For Cheryl,“ notes her nominator, “serving families has not just been a job; it has been her passion.”
  • DONNA_BandWDonna Fortier has long been an active citizen in Loudoun County. But four years ago, she took a bold new step. While working as the Director of Community Affairs at Inova Loudoun Hospital, Donna became aware of a staggering statistic — though living in one of the nation’s richest counties, over 1,100 children were identified as precariously housed, homeless, or at risk. She immediately launched the Mobile Hope Program to improve access to care and break down service barriers, while working to meet the daily needs of this often “invisible” population. Donna soon left her position with Inova to focus on growing Mobile Hope, knowing that the program could forever impact at-risk youth in Loudoun County. “Donna’s passion to protect children is evident in everything she does,” notes her nominator. Last year Mobile Hope served more than 550 diverse youth every month in Loudoun County, distributing thousands of clothing and hygiene items as well as more than 11,000 meals and bags of food. In addition, Mobile Hope provides services that can reduce family stress. “Our job is to help these young people so they don’t become invisible,” notes Donna. “We strive to make their lives easier so they have an opportunity to succeed.”
  • Kristiana_BandWKristiana Poole is a Victim Advocate for Quantico Marine Base’s Family Advocacy Program (FAP), and in just three short years has made an incredible impact on both its programs and the families it serves. Bringing experiences from Child Protective Services and Empower House, where she was a community victim advocate, Kristiana now facilitates the highest number of groups ever offered by the FAP. In addition to workshops and classes, she is also the primary abuse prevention trainer for the base’s two Child Development Centers. Kristiana also piloted a SAFE Dates program for students last year, and has been instrumental in other programs for children including a psycho-educational group called Stepping Up to the Challenge and a REAL Talk for Girls Group. “Kristiana always presents as enthusiastic and flexible,” notes her nominator, “with a contagious positive attitude towards her duties.”  Those duties have included everything from absorbing cases and on-call duties to organizing a training on human trafficking with Department of Homeland Security. During Kristiana’s work, Marine Corps Headquarters recognized Quantico FAP as leading the USMC in providing direct services to children.

So many of the people working in child abuse prevention are going above and beyond in their efforts with children, parents and families across Northern Virginia. The Allies in Prevention Awards are one small way we can celebrate and lift up the stories of those making the connections for children that are changing lives. We encourage professionals to stay connected with SCAN by joining our Allies in Prevention Coalition and using our Kids Need Connections campaign in their own communities.

11050284_10152739148935735_1822931701725045529_oThis month SCAN’s Allies in Prevention Coalition held a quarterly meeting with one question in mind: How can we be more intentional about making the time and effort to connect with the kids in our lives? 

As discussion continued, it became clear that as resource providers, we think about this almost constantly. But we’re thinking about it as parents and colleagues as well. Are there simple ways — both in our work with children and families and in our own families — that we can make connections more possible? Are there simple games and activities that can help us build our connections on a daily basis, whether it’s with the children in our own lives or those we serve as professionals?

Yes!

SCAN Public Education Manager Tracy Leonard led a vibrant discussion of ideas, including suggestions like:

  • Simple “Bright Beginnings” and “Happy Ending” questions to use every day around the dinner table, in the classroom, etc. that help spark discussion and guide adults to listen to their children
  • “I’m Special” body tracings, where children are given an outline of their bodies to fill in with words and pictures detailing what they like about themselves
  • Children’s Stories that Build Resiliency, such as The Invisible String by Patrice Karst, with questions to discuss how a child is connected with others in their life as well as an activity (making an invisible string bracelet) to reinforce the discussion in a lasting way

For a complete list of the activities covered in Tracy’s presentation, download the Activities with Intention PDF here.

In April, we’ll kick off the 2015 Northern Virginia Child Abuse Prevention campaign during National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Stay tuned for more about our Kids Need Connections campaign, a special focus on fathers and connections, and many more ideas about being intentional as we build connections with the children in our communities. (Follow the campaign on social media with #kidsneedconnections!)

WhitePaper_BuildingResiliencyChildrensStoriesThis fall, SCAN published its first white paper for child and family welfare professionals. A resource focused on building resiliency in children through books, it includes research, directives, references and calls to action. It is the next step in a multi-year initiative to use SCAN’s “Kids Need Connections” campaign to educate and empower local parents and community members to BE those positive connections for children through tangible steps and projects.

> Download the white paper here: Building Resilient Children, One Story at a Time

This first white paper was written by Tracy Leonard, SCAN’s Public Education Manager. In October, Tracy will be a guest at Beatley Central Library where she will put this research into action, leading a story time and showing caregivers how to use books as powerful tools to build resiliency and connect with children.

Additional white papers will be developed in the coming year. In the meantime, we invite you to explore the other resources for professionals we have developed to date, including Connections Assessments, Build Up/Tear Down Jenga game and Children’s Book Lists & Worksheets.

The newest data from Kids Count, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, is nothing short of staggering.  There are so many factors to consider when service providers are trying to use best practices to help children grow up in safe, stable, nurturing homes.  Or, when granting organizations and foundations are trying to determine what groups of children are at high risk or underserved.

blog_2014KC_profile_VA

Virginia may rank 9th overall, but what does that mean? 

There are 1.8 million children (ages 0-17) in Virginia.

  • 728,000 are in the 5 to 11 age range
  • 15.5% live in poverty
  • 41.2% receive free or reduced lunch at school
  • 9.7% do not have health insurance
  • 17% have one or more emotional, behavioral, or developmental conditions
  • 5,664 are confirmed by Child Protective Services as a victim of maltreatment

Which number do you settle on?  An overall ranking of 9? Our economic well-being rank of 11?  A family and community rank of 12?  A health rank of 11?

Or, don’t settle on a ranking at all. Instead, focus on 1: 1 child at a time, and 1 connection for that child at a time.

Think of it – what would 1 connection for one of the 5,664 abused and neglected children in our commonwealth have meant?  Perhaps that number could have been 5,663. And wouldn’t that matter in a big way to that one child? Her family? Her community?

Numbers can feel equal parts cold and overwhelming. Perhaps we need to think about it like this: Every child counts. Which means every connection you make can count, too.

Learn more about SCAN’s Kids Need Connections campaign here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

blogblock_simpleconnectionsEver since launching our Kids Need Connections campaign last spring, we’ve had countless discussions with service providers, families and staff about how to build the connections that we know are so critical for happy, healthy and safe children.

One of the tools we’ve developed is a series of Children’s Stories that Build Resiliency, a list of children’s books with questions to help adults and children connect and engage in discussions to build resiliency.  And we often hear from child welfare professionals about other games, workshops and more that can help build those connections as well.

But a recent blog post — from a business website, of all places — reminded us that making a connection can often be so SIMPLE.  Here are some of our favorites (with a few notes from us on how it might apply to children, too!)

[Re-posted from Young Entrepreneur Council and wework.com: “10 Habits of People Who Connect With Anyone”]

#1 Smile. This is by far the fastest way in the world to create a connection.

#4 Be genuine. There is only one type of connection — one you genuinely care about.

#6 Pay attention. The easiest way to be interesting is to be interested. Find excitement in what you can learn from others. Hear what they say. Listen and learn about what matters to them — not so you can say something back as soon as possible, but so you can get a window into their world. People (especially kids!) want to tell their story. Be the person excited to hear it (or they’ll stop trying to tell it to you).

#8 Be open to conversation. Embrace conversation with those around you. (Be a safe, open place for your kids to come when they want to talk.)

# 10 Be uniquely YOU. Be vulnerable and open. Share your real story and goals…Talking about the weather does not build connection. Being real does. (Sharing your feelings and being open with your kids is a GREAT way to make them feel cherished and trusted.)

You can read all 10 tips from the original blog post on wework.com here.

How will you be building connections with kids this week?

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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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