What Does it Mean to Be a Trauma Informed Organization?

Have you explored our trauma informed care resources for parents? You’ve heard us talk about this topic from a direct child services perspective (see our blog post here), as well as an advocacy perspective (such as this blog we re-posted from Voices for Virginia’s Children) as it relates to legislation. But how do we change whole organizations to better serve individuals who have experienced trauma?

We’ve developed a helpful new resource that can get you started. Trauma informed organizations make a commitment to understand trauma, how to respond to trauma, and how it affects those they work with. Being trauma informed is an organizational cultural change. We hope you’ll download our Trauma Informed Organizations fact sheet, and let us know how your organization is making changes in 2018. We also recommend you learn more at:

• “Changing the Lens” by Voices for Virginia’s Children
• This report on Trauma Informed Care in Human Services from SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)
• The National Council for Behavioral Health, including the recent 60 Minutes’ segment with Oprah Winfrey:

Gathering Our Safe Sleep Partners: News + Trends from Operation Safe Babies

As a requirement of grant funding, we gather all of our Operation Safe Babies partners together twice a year. But we think of it as much more than a “requirement”. It truly is a special opportunity to get together and share success stories and challenges of not only the Operation Safe Babies program, but also of working with expecting mothers. It is a time where those of us involved are able to get support, share ideas, discuss research and trade resources. At our January meeting, we were packed with over 25 partners! Here are some of the things we shared with them:

When talking to mothers, think about saying this: “How often does baby sleep with you?” (Instead of, “Where does baby sleep?”) This allows for a more honest discussion. We know that moms are co-sleeping with their babies, and this provides us with a chance to talk through why it is not safe, rather than taking a more accusatory tone of “don’t do it”.

When caregivers ask, “Won’t my baby get cold?” use this response: “Baby should only have 1 more layer of clothing than an adult when sleeping, like a Halo Sleep Sack.” Caregivers should know a safe option (i.e. the Halo Sleep Sack) and that babies do not need to be bundled in blankets. They will overheat and be at an increased risk of SIDS.

When parents ask about swaddling, share this recommendation: Stop swaddling when a baby develops sufficient motor skills that would allow them to roll from their back to their stomach. (This could be as early as 3 months). Even when swaddled, babies must always be placed on their back.

We were also able to share data from a recent study done by the CDC: Vital Signs: Trends and Disparities in Infant Safe Sleep Practices – United States, 2009-2015

Among reporting mothers (PRAMS):
21.6% reported placing their infant to sleep in a nonsupine position
61.4% shared their bed with their infant
38.5% reported using soft bedding

Noted risk factors:
American Indian or Alaska Native mothers
Non-Hispanic Black mothers
Those under 20 and who have had less education

And we were also able to share with them the new Cribette that Cribs for Kids is providing as a safe sleep option. We had one on-site that partners could see in person and then we watched the following video that shows how to put one up and take it down:

— Tracy Leonard, Public Education Manager

Child Abuse in Northern Virginia: The Numbers

As we reflect on the impact of our programs in 2017, it’s an important time for us to gather new data about children and families in our communities. One of our favorite resources for statistics is Voices for Virginia’s Children, especially their links to the Kids Count Data Center, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. We also refer to the Virginia Department of Social Services’ online information system here.

The newest numbers on child abuse in Northern Virginia report that more than 6,500 children were involved in valid cases of child abuse or neglect last year. We are committed to these children, and will continue to work in 2018 on both advocacy and prevention — and we hope you will too. (Perhaps 2018 is the year you join our Allies in Prevention Coalition!)

Please download our new Child Abuse in Northern Virginia fact sheet and refer to it in the coming year as we work together to protect children and prevent child abuse in 2018.


On November 16th, a Chance to Hone Your Advocacy Skills

For individuals committed to the well-being of Northern Virginia’s children and families, SCAN’s 6th Annual “Speak Up for Children” Advocacy Training event — made possible by Verizon — is a unique opportunity to learn more about a legislative process that impacts both how children and families receive care, as well as the institutions that deliver said care. In reviewing the legislative process and engaging with elected officials, Advocacy Day participants develop a better understanding of how to be an effective advocate for vulnerable children and families.

While Northern Virginia families face a variety of challenges, this year’s Advocacy Day highlights two key issues: Virginia’s need to reduce the incidence of substance exposed infants and closing the teacher licensing loophole in relation to child sexual abuse. Special guests will include:

• Delegate David Bulova
• Delegate Mark Levine
• Delegate Kenneth Plum
• NBC4 Investigative Reporter Scott McFarlane
• Charol Shakeshaft, Ph.D., Virginia Commonwealth University
Prevent Child Abuse Virginia‘s Johanna Schuchert
Voices for Virginia’s Children

By joining SCAN at Advocacy Day 2017, participants will be empowered to contribute to the collaborative message and region-wide efforts to support our community’s most vulnerable families and children.Register here. 
(Be sure to follow the event on social media on 11/16 using #speakupforchildren!)

The Crisis We Must Address For Our Children: Helping Parents with Heroin and Opioid Addiction

Last month, SCAN hosted an Allies in Prevention Coalition meeting to discuss the crisis—and our response as child welfare professionals—in Northern Virginia, where in 2016 we experienced 248 drug related deaths, 80% of which were opioid related .

Professor Valerie Cuffee, LCSW, MSW, CPM from George Mason Univerisity (and a SCAN board member) led a presentation entitled Helping Parents with Heroin and Opioid Addiction Using SBIRT (Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment).

Those in attendance learned how to:

  • Recognize heroin/opioid addiction as a health epidemic
  • Emphasize the impact of heroin/opioid use or addiction on parenting
  • Introduce & practice SBIRT tools to address use and addiction
  • Emphasize the importance of assertive & collaborative referral to treatment

Opioid use, including prescription oxycodone and fentanyl as well as illicit heroin, is widespread in the United States, cutting across virtually all health, racial, socioeconomic, and geographic boundaries. Experts estimate that more than 2.5 million people abused or were dependent on opioids in 2015. As the nation’s opioid use has skyrocketed, more individuals are being impacted by opioids’ adverse effects, including Northern Virginia residents.

This means an increasing number of children are born into families and environments that revolve around an addiction to these drugs. ChildTrends reports that at least 2 million children annually have a parent who uses illicit drugs, including opioids. Parents who abuse drugs often place their children in danger. This danger may result in neglect, physical abuse, or domestic violence. Nearly 1/3 of children entering foster care do so in part because of parental drug abuse. Even with early intervention, many children of opioid-dependent parents are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder later in life, in part due to the diminished care and unpredictability associated with opioid use.

Opioid use is also impacting adolescents with greater frequency. Among youth, prescription opioid use is often intentional and for recreational use. Many youth need to go no further than a medicine cabinet to find opioids. Adolescents may be at an increased risk due to the common misbelief that prescription opioids are safer than heroin, and that noninjecting routes of administration are associated with less risk of overdose. Adolescents may be more likely to overdose from prescription opioids because they underestimate the strength of the drug they are using and they see their use as very different from that from what they consider to be “street users”.

Adults and adolescents also utilize opioids as a coping mechanism for childhood trauma and/or mental illness. In working together to stem opioid use it is important for communities to reduce the stigma associated with seeking assistance. Innovative programs are growing in places like Massachusetts and Ohio, as well as in Family Drug Treatment Courts like those we have in some of our own local communities.

We need to help abused, neglected and otherwise traumatized children by providing tools that are tailored to their specific issues before they turn to drugs for self-medication. And for those already dependent, the message needs to be clear: it is not too late. Opioid use is not just an individual crisis; it is a community health crisis affecting our children and families. To reduce opioid dependence, the community needs to be educated and involved.

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


Addressing Trauma Together: Inspiration from Voices for Virginia’s Children

Last month, Voices for Virginia’s Children published an important blog post about state-wide collaboration and its impact on children who have experienced trauma. They shared three states we can watch for best practices and policy, and we’re re-posting their thoughts today as we continue the discussion about Trauma Informed Care (listen to our recent radio show on the topic) here in Northern Virginia: 

Local and regional Trauma Informed Community Networks (TICNs) across Virginia are bringing partners together from local government, schools, and services providers to transform their approaches to working with children who have experienced trauma. Their goal is to work across silos, develop a shared framework, coordinate resources, and innovate new approaches to caring for children and families. Voices is considering how state-level policy approaches could strengthen this work at the local level. To help facilitate this conversation we researched state-level approaches to trauma-informed policy efforts in three other similar states- Wisconsin, Tennessee and South Carolina. While Virginia is strong in partnerships and interventions at the local/regional level, these states are farther along in elevating the issue to the state level and, in turn, using that platform to strengthen local networks.

Here is what we found most interesting about these three state-level approaches:


Wisconsin has several state-level initiatives working in partnership to develop trauma-informed approaches. It was a top-down initiative, primarily influenced by First Lady Tonette Walker as the champion. However, much has developed beyond the First Lady’s initiative (called “Fostering Futures”): the Department of Children and Families is home to the Wisconsin Trauma Project, the Department of Health Services houses the “Shift Your Perspective” initiative, there is a legislative Children’s Caucus focused on the issue, and the Governor has created a new Office of Children’s Mental Health.


Wisconsin’s work has focused in 3 areas:

  1. Training in Trauma-Focused Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for a wide variety of practitioners.
  2. Expanding the “Resource Parent” curriculum for foster parents and birth parents.
  3. Systems- change efforts focused on transforming practices and policies. For example, in this area, the First Lady’s initiative supported an organizational assessment of trauma-informed practice.

Leadership: The work is coordinated among various departments but there is no one state lead. The closest is the Steering Committee for the First Lady’s initiative made up of high level government officials and stakeholders from outside of government, such as pediatricians and philanthropy.

Funding: The total budget is about $1.6 million which is primarily used to  support he training for providers and parents. Localities apply to participate and determine which models they would like to utilize. Some of the initial funding came from federal Promoting Safe and Stable Families funds. The state has also added general funds.

Click HERE to read about Tennessee and South Carolina in the full post on the VAkids.org website.

Foster Care Awareness

May is National Foster Care month, a 31-day period set aside to recognize the many individuals, families, agencies and communities that support the 427,000 children in foster care nationally.

In Northern Virginia, approximately 5,000 children and adolescents are involved in the child welfare system at any given moment. These youth range in age from birth to age 18, represent every racial and ethnic demographic and have varied economic backgrounds.

The individuals who provide a continuum of care for foster youth by becoming a resource parent, volunteering, or making donations, can be just as diverse:

Resource Parents
Of the 5,000 foster youth in Northern Virginia, 63% are placed in a non-relative foster home. These placements represent community members who have undergone background checks and extensive trainings in order to open their home to a child in need. In providing consistent physical safety and emotional support to youth with a history of trauma, resource parents are champions for youth in care. Being a resource parent is not reserved for one type of family. Resource parents are married couples and single parents, home owners and apartment renters, and have varied incomes. The common thread is their desire and ability to provide foster youth with a safe, stable, loving environment so they can pursue the promising future every child deserves.

Volunteers are another way individuals make a difference in the lives of foster youth. Many volunteers elect to serve in local chapters of the nationally recognized Court Appointed Special Advocate program (SCAN runs the CASA Program in Alexandria and Arlington), but long-term advocacy is just one of countless ways to support children in foster care. Volunteering at a local child welfare organization can provide necessary help for case workers, children and families. Do you paint in your spare time? Imagine creating a mural in a childcare room. Are you a certified yoga teacher? This skill could easily translate to teaching emotional regulation. Everyone can play a role in supporting agencies, foster youth and families.

Many agencies across the country–including agencies in Northern Virginia–accept in-kind donations. Gently used clothing and supplies can help foster youth feel confident when starting at a new school, walking into job interviews, or sharing in the prom experience Individuals can even grant a foster youth’s specific wish through online platforms or send care packages to youth in college.

There is a way for everyone to advance the lives of local foster youth–how will you help?



Helping Immigrant Parents Keep Their Families Safe

Many parents in our community face the normal, daily challenges of being immigrants raising children in the United States. Cultural and linguistic barriers can be difficult to navigate.  Dealing with family reunification is never easy. But recently, an intense national conversation about immigration and immigrants has added a brand new layer of stress and fear to these parents’ ongoing work to raise their children and keep them safe.

While  Immigration law in the United States has not changed; what has changed is the enforcement of immigration law. Under the previous administration, convicted felons were a priority for deportation. Now, under the current administration, all undocumented immigrants are a priority. After a series of community events, SCAN recently developed some helpful guidelines for parents (see below) as well as recorded a new Parenting Today segment on the topic with special guest Erin McKenney, Executive Director of Just Neighbors.

We hope you’ll share these timely resources with parents in your own communities, and continue to encourage at-risk families to build connections and ask for help:




We have more resources for immigrant families on our Parent Resource Center (and FREE app!) including:

3 Facts on Child Sexual Abuse, Prevention and SCAN of Northern Virginia


  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.
  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.

Help Parents Prepare: Safe Sleep for Babies on New Year’s Eve

Although the exact cause of SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, is unknown, we do know what risk factors can contribute to SIDS.
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.)