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For many parents, talking about race with children is a difficult concept. Adults often question how much children already know and how much information is appropriate to share, while balancing a need to protect children from the United States’ complicated (and often violent) racial history.

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We recently taped a Parenting Today segment on this topic with guest Natalie Bailey from the Department of Family Services in Fairfax County through out partnership with iHeartRadio. LISTEN HERE!

It is important to note that children are perceptive, and often pick up the nuances of race even without direct commentary. Adults need to realize there may be awkward moments, but by engaging children in conversations about race at an early age and continuing to do so throughout adolescence, parents have an opportunity to shape children’s self-esteem as well as perspectives in regards to race. Each moment is a learning opportunity to affirm children’s questions, challenge stereotypes, and teach children how to navigate an increasingly racially diverse community in positive, productive ways.

In the radio show linked above, Sonia and Natalie also mention three books that may be a good starting point for families:

How are families in your community talking about race and racism?

– Today’s blog post was written by SCAN MSW Intern Chamone Marshall

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There have been countless (and often conflicting) news stories in recent weeks about immigration in the United States. In our networks, the discussion–for years–has simply focused on how we can best care for and support these families. What is it like to be an immigrant and a parent? What are the unique fears, challenges, and needs faced by these families?

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Please consider sharing our resources with the professionals and parents in your own networks:

We also highly recommend browsing our new Parent Connection Resource Guide for parenting classes and support groups for parents facing immigration and reunification.

What resources do you depend on in your work with immigrant families?

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.

 

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.

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!

 

The Arlington Partnership for Children Youth & Families (APCYF) recently launched a new “Parent Chats” initiative, an easy way for groups of parents to come together and talk about parenting:

“The Partnership believes that, when parents share wisdom with one another, we all become better parents.”

The chats can be as simple as a one-time gathering to discuss a specific topic, or an ongoing group providing support and resources. The end goal is to help create communities of parents who are interested in helping a wider circle of children and parents grow up to be happy, healthy and competent.
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How did APCYF develop tools for the program? With help from SCAN! APCYF is a member of SCAN’s Allies in Prevention Coalition (AIPC), where they learned about a Working Parent module that Public Education Manager Tracy Leonard had developed for SCAN’s new series of workshops. APCYF’s Michael Swisher adapted the module into conversation starters that help parents have intentional, supportive conversations.

Through our Public Education Program, we are able to create unique tools that allow our Allies in Prevention Coalition members the ability to adapt to the children and families with whom they work. APCYF is a perfect example of how SCAN builds capacity in our community and in our families.

p.s. Parents talk with one another naturally — and often find the greatest source of support from one another. If you know a group of parents who want to have a focused conversation on parenting challenges, share these online resources from our friends at APCYF. Download their tools for free to help spark the conversation!

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.

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
 

 

 

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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