Parenting. There’s an app for that?

Are you a parent with a smartphone? This post is for you! Over the summer, one of our interns compiled some of the top-ranked parenting apps available on iTunes. We thought we’d share them here on the blog, and also invite you to browse our online Parent Resource Center whenever you’re searching for tips on how to handle specific parenting challenges.

It can be good to have information available at your fingertips, but we also have to put in a plug for good, old-fashioned human interaction. Every parent should have a real, live network of support: other parents, neighbors, mentors and others who can help you whether you’re struggling or celebrating as a parent.

appsSo have fun checking out the apps, but also consider learning more about our educational parent support groups here. Both could be great sources of information and support on your parenting journey!

Total Baby is touted as the most comprehensive baby logging and tracking application available, and was cited by many of the surveyed parents as a must-have. The app tracks feedings, immunizations, nap length, time nursing (and on what side), growth, allergies and milestones.

Cry Translator claims to be able to identify the reason for a child’s cry with 96 percent accuracy and within 10 seconds. Whether it’s boredom, hunger, stress or downright exhaustion, the app also provides tips on handling the child’s needs.

WebMD is free, and provides a wide variety of physical and mental health information. The app also includes a symptom checker and a drug & treatments guide.

iHomeopathy is an “at your fingertips” guide to treating first-aid emergencies, childhood ailments and common illnesses.

Easy Parenting is an app that covers many of the challenges of parenting today, including those “from pregnancy to teenage years to leaving the nest for university or work” with tips for meeting challenges along the way.

The Family Matters app is designed to help engage family members in virtual discussion. Some of the questions and activities are simple, while others go a bit deeper. You can choose from hundreds of location-driven activities as well, which makes it ideal for family vacations and travel.

Surf Balance Safe Browser combines a fun, full-screen mobile browser with unique parental control features that go beyond simple website filtering. You can guide, limit and verify your child’s web usage from your mobile device.

Do you use other apps as a parent? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below!

Keeping Kids Safe in Cars

Today’s guest post is from SCAN’s Summer Intern Iliana Panameño, who recently graduated from Union College and hopes to empower the Latino community through advocacy work and policy analysis. Her work at SCAN this summer focuses on public education and advocacy issues.

blogblock_kidsandcarsOur community has experienced two tragic deaths this month due to children being left alone in a hot car. Let’s help one another, and let’s get involved in tackling this important summer safety issue.

Mikey was the most loved and adored baby on earth.  He was our miracle baby, the last survivor of 14 embryos conceived through in-vitro fertilization.  We loved Mikey like the air we breathed…”

Mikey Warschauer’s story – from – is worth reading in full. Ten years ago, Mikey was one of the 38 children (on average) who die in hot cars each year from heat-related deaths. Many have wondered, “How can a parent completely forget that their child has been left alone in the car?” The answer is that even the best of parents or caregivers can unknowingly leave their baby sleeping in the car. According to Parents Central, most deaths due to heat exhaustion occur when there is a change in a daily routine, and your partner or caregiver who will take care of the child for a few hours, forgets that your child is in the back seat.

It is important to remember that disasters happen quickly. Here are 6 tips on how you can keep your child safe from heat exhaustion this summer:

  1. Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle.
  2. Do not let your child play in an unattended vehicle. Teach them that a vehicle is not a play area.
  3. Never leave infants or children in a parked vehicle, even if the windows are open. The inside temperature of a vehicle can rise almost 20 degrees within the first 10 minutes!
  4. Keep a large teddy bear or other stuffed animal in the car seat when it’s empty. Move the teddy bear in front of the seat when you place your child in the car seat as a visual reminder, or…
  5. Put your purse/briefcase, etc. (something you will need when you get to your final destination) in the backseat next to the baby which will force you to check the backseat when you arrive so that you see the baby is there.
  6. Make a habit of looking in the vehicle – front and back – before locking the door and walking away.
  7. If you’re dropping your child off at childcare, and normally it’s your spouse or partner who drops them off, have your spouse or partner call you to make sure the drop-off went according to plan.

“I cannot bring Mikey back…but at least I pray that the story of his death may help prevent other similar tragedies,” writes Mikey’s father in his story here. For more information on how to protect your child and others from heat exhaustion (as well as other car safety tips) click on the following links:

The Supervision Decision

At this time of year, we get a lot of questions about Supervision Guidelines and when it’s “okay” to leave children at home alone. As much as we’d love to give parents a simple answer, it’s not a one-size-fits-all question. The fact is, every child—and family—is different. Instead of an “answer,” we like to provide guidelines, questions and tips for parents as they make this important decision for their families:

blogblock_supervisionFirst, we encourage parents to ask these questions:

  • Can my child solve basic problems? Discuss “What if?” questions to see how your child would handle different situations (a knock at the door, broken glass, etc.)
  • Does my child follow directions and remember instructions?
  • Can my child say “no” to friends who might encourage him/her to break rules?
  • Does my child have trouble getting to or from school on time?
  • Can my child be away from adults without feeling lonely or afraid?
  • Does my child read and write well enough to take telephone messages?
  • Can my child ask for help from friends and neighbors?
  • Does my child understand the role of police officers, firefighters and rescue squads?

Second, are YOU ready for the responsibility of leaving your child home alone?

  • Can you stay in touch and supervise your child even if you’re not at home?
  • If not, will a trusted nearby friend or relative be accessible by phone and able to help in case of an emergency?
  • Have you discussed and posted rules? Have you prepared your home so that it is safe?

And finally, how does your CHILD feel about being home alone?
It’s important to consider their fears, anxiety and/or other reactions to the idea so you can make a decision that is best for their wellbeing and safety.

Each jurisdiction in Northern Virginia provides different age guidelines.  (Remember, these are ONLY guidelines!) In our area, most require that a child be between 8 and 10 years old before a parent even consider leaving them alone. Find your city or county below for specific age suggestions and additional resources:

Alexandria: Call 703-838-0800 or read Leaving my child alone at home (in English) Leaving my child alone at home (in Spanish)

Arlington: Call  703-228-1500 or read Arlington’s Guidelines here

Fairfax: Call 703-324-7400 or read Fairfax’s Guidelines here

Loudoun: Call 703-771-5437 or read Loudoun’s Guidelines here and here

Prince William: Call 703-792-7500 or read Prince William’s Guidelines here under “Child Supervision Guidelines”

What is Trauma-Informed Practice?

Imagine a preschool child who has great fun on the school playground but every time he hears the teacher say it is time to go back inside, he tends to go the other direction. He’s hard to “corral” back into the building and then has trouble concentrating or focusing on the next activity. His teachers get frustrated because they see this as “acting out” and “being difficult” and they even wonder about ADHD…

But what if you also knew this little boy had been sexually abused; that even though he’s now in a safe home environment, there’s something about that hallway back into the classroom and the way the lighting changes that reminds him viscerally of the traumas he endured at such a young age. He’s too young to understand that connection but his body language and behaviors communicate for him.

  • How does knowing this additional information change your advice for those involved? Anxiety, behavior problems, concentration problems, interpersonal conflicts and physical symptoms like stomachaches can be symptoms caused by trauma.
  • Is there a better way to respond to this vulnerable child? Absolutely. The move toward trauma-informed practice is designed to help us think differently about how we address, treat and interact with children – and with parents who may have suffered trauma themselves during childhood.

blogblock_AIPCTraumaSCAN of Northern Virginia’s Allies in Prevention Coalition recently met to learn more about trauma-informed practice and how professionals working with children and families can use an awareness of the signs and consequences of trauma to more effectively address the needs of children and families with whom we work.

“There is always hope,” said Cynthia Agbayani, a panelist at the meeting from Lifeworks Outreach Services in Woodbridge. “We want to talk to children in terms of being survivors and heroes instead of victims.” Trauma-informed practice can help.   With trauma-informed practice, practitioners infuse trauma awareness, knowledge, and skills into their work with children and families. They work collaboratively, using the best available science, to screen and treat children and help them develop resiliency.

Many jurisdictions now have trauma screenings for children in the child welfare system and use evidence-based or promising interventions, such as Trauma-Focused Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT). TF-CBT adapts traditional cognitive behavioral therapy to be trauma-sensitive for children with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or other problems related to traumatic life experiences, as well as their parents. Children and parents work to develop skills for processing the trauma; managing distressing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors; and enhancing safety, parenting skills, and family communication.

Trauma-informed practice is not just about therapy – it’s a change in the way we think about behavior and the survivor’s need for healing, safety and support. “You want to demonstrate this practice and engage parents to model it as well,” said Ann Knefel, with Fairfax County DFS, who also participated on the panel.   CASA volunteers, caregivers, social workers, lawyers, therapists and others each have a role to play in ensuring children have access to trauma-informed care. To learn more about the principles of trauma-informed care, visit some of these resources:

Celebrating Foster Care (and being glad there’s less of it)!

SCAN's CASA Volunteers are one group of adults working to support children in foster care.

SCAN’s CASA Volunteers are one group of adults working to support children in foster care.

“As a Nation, we have no task more important than ensuring our children grow up healthy and safe. It is a promise we owe to the hundreds of thousands of youth in foster care – boys and girls who too often go without the love, protection, and stability of a permanent family. This month, we recommit to giving them that critical support, and we recognize the foster parents and professionals who work every day to lift up the children in their care toward a bright, productive future.Thanks to those efforts, the number of young people in foster care is falling and fewer children are waiting for adoption. But even now, more than 400,000 kids are looking for permanency with caring parents.”President Barack Obama’s Proclamation for National Foster Care Month

Here in Northern Virginia, we are also celebrating National Foster Care Month. It is a time to recognize all those who help support children in foster care (like SCAN’s CASA volunteers) and to acknowledge the progress we’ve made as a region, state and nation. But there are still far too many children without permanent homes.

Fewer Children in Foster Care

There were just over 5,000 children in foster care in Virginia as of April 2013 – an almost 40 percent reduction from April 2006. The story is similar in many Northern Virginia jurisdictions, with a 57 percent decrease in the number of kids in foster care in the City of Alexandria, a 44 percent decline in Arlington County, and a 32 percent decrease in Fairfax County. The numbers of children in foster care have been more stable in Prince William and Loudon Counties.

Why the Decline?

There are a variety of reasons that fewer children are now in foster care. Much of the change is likely to due to an increased child welfare focus on keeping as many children home as safely possible. Following the 2008 federal Fostering Connections Act and state changes, social workers are trying to keep children in their homes whenever possible, with extra supports for families to help keep children safe. There is also an increased focus on placing children with relatives (also known as kinship care) if their parents cannot care for them, instead of placing children with strangers in foster care. Changing demographics in our area – as the cost of living continues to increase – may also be responsible for the decline.

Still Work to Do

While fewer children in foster care is a positive step, there is still work to be done. First, we must ensure that children are receiving the services they need and that every child is in a safe home. We must also ensure that children in foster care return home as quickly and safely possible, after their parents have addressed the issues that brought them into care. Every child deserves a safe, permanent home and we must all work together to get there!


May is National Foster Care Month, and we’re happy to bring you the first post of a two-part blog series on foster care. Today’s post was written by Lindsay Ferrer, CASA Case Coordinator, and the second post will be written by Adam Robe, CEO of Foster Care Alumni of America. Be sure to subscribe to our blog (enter your email address in the upper left-hand corner of this page and click “Subscribe via email!” button) to receive an email update when new posts are published.

CASA ASKS: Do CASA volunteers make a difference?

This is the second post in a series of three from SCAN’s CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) Program, written by Lindsay Warner Ferrer. Lindsay is a CASA Case Supervisor and was previously a trained volunteer with the program.

AR_FemaleCasaThe Alexandria/Arlington Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Program provides trained volunteers appointed by the Court to serve as a direct voice for children in the juvenile court system. Volunteers conduct interviews with the children, families, and professionals involved in the case, monitor compliance with the Court orders, and attend Court hearings where they advocate for the best interest of the child.

While it’s difficult to evaluate a CASA volunteer’s impact, many local and national studies have tried to capture some of the important ways CASA volunteers help court-involved children. One large study using CASA program data and a national data set found that:

  • Children with a CASA volunteer received significantly more services than children without a CASA volunteer, particularly mental health services and medical services.
  • Parents of children with a CASA volunteer received significantly more services than parents of children without a CASA volunteer.
  • In over 80 percent of cases, all or almost all of CASA volunteers’ recommendations to the Judge were accepted.

Another study, a large survey of judges in areas with CASA programs, found that:

  • 97 percent of judges agree that children and families are better served because of CASA volunteer involvement.
  • 97 percent agree than the personal knowledge that CASA volunteers have about children is beneficial to the judges’ decision-making.
  • Judges particularly value volunteers’ ability to consider the best interests of children and monitor the case.

More rigorous studies, such as those that randomly assign children to a CASA volunteer or a control condition, would be invaluable to help better isolate and quantify the impact of CASA volunteers.

While CASA volunteers love their role and want to help children, we all wish that the CASA role wasn’t necessary. Stay tuned for an upcoming post on a great way to prevent abuse and neglect from happening in the first place – home visiting programs for new parents.

– Lindsay

CASA volunteers advocate for the best interests of many of these children in court. In Alexandria and Arlington, 77 volunteers served 177 children in 2012. Stay tuned for an upcoming post on how CASA volunteers can make a difference in the lives of abuse and neglected children.

Supporting—and understanding—the immigrant parent

blogblock_immigrantparentsImagine you’re a parent. Raising a child is one of the hardest jobs you have EVER had. Now imagine you’re suddenly doing it in a new country, where very few people can speak your native language. Where you know little about the resources available to your family. Where few—if any—of your family and friends are there to support you.

This is the life of an immigrant parent.

More than 24 percent of children in the U.S. – about 17 million kids – have at least one foreign-born parent. Parents raising a first generation in the U.S. face a very special and difficult set of challenges. Obvious issues such as language barriers and lack of access to resources often mix with the more personal stresses of isolation, confusion about cultural identity and legal issues.

Last month, SCAN produced a Parenting Today radio show on the topic, with guest Shirley Jones from HACAN (Hispanics Against Child Abuse and Neglect).

“Parents are isolated because of the language—because of everything, really—and so they’re just trying to cope the best way they can,” explained Shirley. “They need a lot of support, a lot of help, to obtain some degree of safety for their family.” [Listen to the FULL RADIO SHOW here.]

At SCAN, we serve hundreds of immigrant families every year through multiple programs. Many of the parents in these families have shared their fears and frustrations with us, and as an organization we want to be a source of support. Over the last few years we’ve developed a number of fact sheets for our Parent Resource Center covering topics such as:

Resources from organizations for immigrant parents are valuable, but we understand very well that the isolation issue—when parents are feeling like they are on the outside of the very community in which they live—requires action on a person-by-person basis.

“They don’t know who to ask and where to go; that exasperates the isolation,” says Shirley. But by listening and being available, she insists each of us can have an impact.

“Slowly and carefully and lovingly, it can be done,” she says. “Invite an immigrant family that plays with your child to go to a movie, and now that family knows where the movie is and they will invite another immigrant family. Those sorts of things—just a little thinking and a little heart—will do it every time.”

This unique parenting experience is the norm for MILLIONS of parents today; the parents raising nearly a quarter of this country’s future citizens. It’s critical that we support immigrant parents as well as take the time to understand them.

Have you put “a little thinking and a little heart” into connecting with the diverse families in your community? Share with us – we want to know!

CASA ASKS: What does child abuse and neglect look like in Virginia?

This is the first post in a series of three from SCAN’s CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) Program, written by Lindsay Warner Ferrer. Lindsay is a CASA Case Supervisor and was previously a trained volunteer with the program.

What do you envision when you think of an abused or neglected child? A school-aged child with bruises? A hospital discovering past trauma? While many of us have a specific picture in our heads of what it does (or doesn’t) look like in our communities, the data often show a very different picture. Here are a few key facts about what abuse and neglect looks like in Virginia:

graph1The numbers: The latest data from State Fiscal Year 2012 show that over 6,000 children were officially abused or neglected (1,081 in Northern Virginia), meaning that an investigation occurred and a review of the facts suggested that the abuse or neglect report was “founded”. An graph2additional 37,000 children (7,291 in Northern Virginia) worked with Child Protective Services to complete a family services needs assessment, develop agraph3 written safety plan and receive needed services.

The faces: Data show that two-thirds of Virginia children in founded investigations were white and one-third were black.

Contrary to popular belief, physical abuse is not the most common type of abuse. Over half of children in founded investigations were physically neglected, meaning that caretakers failed to provide food, clothing, shelter graph4or supervision to a point where the child’s health and safety were in danger. Another quarter of children were physically abused.

Young children are at the highest risk for abuse and neglect. One third of children in founded investigations were younger than age 4 and 42 percent were ages 4 to 11.

The reporters: School staff, parents/relatives, law enforcement, and counselors/therapists were the most common reporters of abuse and neglect in Virginia.

– Lindsay

CASA volunteers advocate for the best interests of many of these children in court. In Alexandria and Arlington, 77 volunteers served 177 children in 2012. Stay tuned for an upcoming post on how CASA volunteers can make a difference in the lives of abuse and neglected children.

NEXT IN THE CASA ASKS SERIES: DO CASA VOLUNTEERS MAKE A DIFFERENCE? Subscribe here to receive an email when posts are published.

True love. True story.

blogblock_sarahself2When I first began working at SCAN over ten years ago, I did not have children but was passionate about the work we were doing in the community to prevent child abuse and neglect. As years went by – and my family grew to include three young children – not only did I begin to have a more emotional connection to the things we were working on, but I also started to see a pattern in the messages we shared with parents and community members. Whether we were launching a new parenting class or distributing fact sheets at a community fair, we were often helping families learn how to better express their love. Helping a father see the power of saying, “I love you” every day to his son. Empowering a concerned neighbor to show love and support for a struggling parent next door. Encouraging a mother to believe in and love herself enough to practice self-care and not be afraid to ask for help.

As Valentine’s Day approaches, I can’t think of a better time to ask you to share a little bit of that love.

As an employee, I’ve always loved my work at SCAN. But as a mother, I will be forever grateful to have heard those messages of love first-hand and I’m quite certain they got me through some of my most challenging days as a new mom. I used to take my eldest son (now 8!) to one of SCAN’s early playgroups, at first just to learn more about the program, but soon found myself attending for the information on child development, for the voices so similar to mine who were facing daily challenges, for a reminder that I didn’t have to do it all alone or be embarrassed to ask for help.

If only every parent could connect with SCAN’s programs and support in some way – what a difference that could make to the thousands of families in our region!

In the next week, we invite you to share love for a parent you know by telling them you admire their hard work or offering to help in some small way. If you’re a parent, make a special effort to express your love to your child. We’ve collected some fantastic, creative ideas over on Pinterest here and invite you to check them out. Also be sure to visit the Attachment & Bonding page over on our Parent Resource Center this month.

Love is certainly in the air. Let’s make sure every family possible gets to take a nice long, deep breath this month.

~ Sarah Self, Public Education Coordinator at SCAN of Northern Virginia

p.s. Have any special ideas for sharing love with a child or parent? I hope you’ll share in the comments section below!

2013: Time to share our favorites!

It’s a new year! As we plan for 2013 here on BuildingBlocks, we thought it was the perfect time to share a little love and highlight some of the other blogs WE follow. Know another great blog we should add to our “favorites” list? Don’t forget to suggest it in the comments section below!

  • The National CASA Blog: Written by National CASA CEO Michael Piraino, this blog provides fantastic news and insight into the national child welfare system, foster care and child advocacy issues. You might recognize some of his posts from Huffington Post, where he has a regular column covering foster care. (Check out his most recent piece here.)
  • Changing the Way We Think About Prevention: A weekly blog from Prevent Child Abuse America, where our favorite posts are often written in response to national events. In the past year this has included everything from the Jerry Sandusky trial to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary. A helpful national perspective, often with resources from organizations such as the Child Welfare League of America and the National Movement for America’s Children.
  • Darkness to Light Blog: SCAN partners with Darkness to Light to bring the Stewards of Children child sexual abuse prevention trainings to communities here in Northern Virginia. Their blog is a fantastic source of commentary on child sexual abuse issues across the nation, as well as success stories from other local  affiliates. (They’ve even posted some of SCAN’s very own D2L-related blog posts in the past year! Check them out here and here.)

What about you? What are your favorite blogs covering children & families, parenting issues and child abuse prevention? Please share in the comments section below!