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.


TAKE ACTION: Child Trafficking is Happening in Our Community. Do You Know How to Stop It?

Attendees included representatives from three local child advocacy centers: Center for Alexandria's Children, SafeSpot Children's Advocacy Center in Fairfax, and the Loudoun Child Advocacy Center.

Attendees included representatives from three local child advocacy centers: Center for Alexandria’s Children, SafeSpot Children’s Advocacy Center in Fairfax, and the Loudoun Child Advocacy Center.

This past week, SCAN’s Allies in Prevention Coalition hosted a Darkness to Light supplemental training and panel discussion at Charles E. Beatley, Jr. Central Library in Alexandria. More than 40 service providers came from around Northern Virginia for the meeting. What subject drew so many people? The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children.

The short video training from Darkness to Light started the event with a shocking statistic: more than 90% of children who are commercially sexually exploited have been sexually abused in the past. 

“Most of my work/agency work focuses on what happens after abuse occurs,” noted one attendee. “But I learned a lot about prevention and will be looking in to how I can incorporate this with children and families.”

The panel discussion after the video training included Detective Betty Sixsmith from the Alexandria Police Department, Besty Young from Prince William County schools, and Detective Cervantes Armstrong from Prince William County Police.

Being aware of the warning signs of child sexual abuse and the sexual exploitation of children is a key take away from the training. As Detective Armstrong noted “The grooming process…it’s all around us. We see it every day.” As service providers it is about learning how to recognize those signs and then take the action to prevent the abuse from occurring or continuing.

It is incredibly important to be able to recognize the warning signs and to have open conversations with children and teens. As panelist Betsy Young stated about victims, “They have a smokescreen and if you take the time to listen and connect with them, that screen fades.” Once you recognize and are aware of abuse you can take the necessary steps to provide support services and resources.

Resources & Support Services to be aware of:

Call to Action! What can you do to further awareness and education on the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children?

  1. Attend a Darkness to Light Stewards of Children training. Contact Tracy Leonard ( for a schedule of upcoming trainings.
  2. Host a Darkness to Light Stewards of Children training to provide more education within your organization. Contact Tracy Leonard ( to schedule a training.
  3. Go to and take the training online.
  4. Download our Human Trafficking Fact Sheet for Parents and share it with your colleagues and the parents and families with whom you work.

If you see something, say something. Be a voice for children.

The “Shame on U.S.” Report, and what it means for us (and children) in Northern Virginia

Shame_on_US_CoverA recent report by The Children’s Advocacy Institute and First Star entitled “Shame on U.S.” puts the blame equally on all three branches of the U.S. government when it comes to failing to protect children from abuse and neglect:

“Each branch of our federal government plays an integral role in the child welfare system, and when even one fails to perform its role in an appropriate manner, children are put at risk of harm…all three branches must be performing optimally to ensure a well-functioning child welfare system.”

The report shares that at least 686,000 American children were the victims of abuse or neglect in 2012, and a conservative estimate notes that abuse or neglect leads to the death of at least 4–5 children every day in the U.S.

Numbers like this demand attention on the national level, and also give us here at SCAN pause to think about how we — today — can improve those numbers, both as organizations working in cooperation with one another and as individual community members connecting with the children around us. There are actions that we can take, as organizations and as individuals, to protect the children within our own communities. Here are just a few:

  • Through SCAN’s CASA program, we are able to provide children with a voice and help advocate for what is in their best interest as they and their families navigate the courts.
  • Using our Parent Resource Center allows parents to arm themselves with tips for navigating through the wonderful life experience of raising children.
  • Our Public Education campaign, Kids Need Connections, encourages all of us to take an active role in a child’s life by connecting with them on all levels.

Every Child Matters offered a straightforward, helpful commentary on the report here.

View the full report — including details from every state — here.

Kids Count, In More Ways than One

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.


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.







New Directions in Child Abuse Research

IOM_childabuseneglect_infographicThe research on child abuse and neglect continues to develop every year. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) and National Research Council (NRC) recently released an update to a 1993 report on the state of child welfare research. The new report, New Directions in Child Abuse and Neglect Research, focuses on child abuse and neglect as a serious public health issue and examines the research advances over the last 20 years, as well as remaining gaps in knowledge.

A great infographic summarizing the report can be found here. Here are the key points from a recent report webinar:

  • Neurological development is a new area of research that has blossomed in recent years. Child abuse and neglect can literally change parts of a child’s brain and its functioning, especially if the abuse occurs during certain critical periods, is severe and lasts a long time. Researchers noted some children fare better than others as a result of differences in resilience. SCAN is working to build resilience in children and families throughout Northern Virginia through our Kids Need Connections efforts.
  • Researchers noted that physical abuse and sexual abuse have fallen considerably over the last two decades, but there is no evidence of a decline in neglect. Why are different types of abuse and neglect following different patterns? The researchers called for more long-term research to figure out why this trend is developing and how we can reduce neglect more effectively.
  • Over last 20 years, we’ve learned a great deal more about promising programs to help prevent abuse and neglect. Approaches like early home visiting, parenting programs and public awareness campaigns can all make a difference. We’ve also learned more about how to respond to abuse victims, such as with trauma-focused therapies and practice.
  • From a policy perspective, many child abuse and neglect laws are not based on research and little evaluation has been done on the impact of policies like differential response, mandated reporter changes and safe haven laws. The report identifies four areas to look to in developing a coordinated research approach: a national strategic plan, a national surveillance system, a new generation of researchers, and changes in federal and state programmatic and policy response. The researchers also outline questions to guide future research.

While the report perhaps raises as many questions as it answers, SCAN is thrilled to see the continued progress of child abuse and neglect research, and we look forward to continue using the results to guide our work with children, families and communities moving forward.

– Lindsay Ferrer

Child Abuse Prevention Grows Up — Almost

Today we welcome guest blogger Laura Yager, the Director of Partnerships and Resource Development for the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board.  Laura has worked in the prevention and treatment field for over 25 years, and offers an important perspective for SCAN and its supporters as we celebrate our 25th anniversary.

scan25_logoFINAL_VECTORPreventing a problem before it starts might sound like common sense. From Smokey the Bear —“Only YOU can prevent forest fires!” —to seat belt safety— “Click it or ticket!”—we’re inundated with simplified but effective messages about how we can prevent something bad before it happens.  If only protecting children could be that easy.

As a social issue campaign, child abuse prevention also has come a long way in the past 25 years.  The protection of children from harm and maltreatment has long been touted as a cultural value in the U.S.  In colonial times, adults had ideas about “right” and “wrong” ways to treat children, but the focus was less on child abuse prevention than punishment for a child’s misbehavior.

A century later, in 1875, the New York Society to Prevent Cruelty to Children was established as the first organization dedicated to child protection, its roots emerging from animal rights efforts. By 1920, the Child Welfare League of America began supporting agencies serving vulnerable children and families. In 1962, the modern age of child protection took off with amendments to the Social Security Act requiring states to organize statewide child welfare services that were in place nationwide by 1975.

Prevention has nearly always focused on raising awareness as the first step in inspiring positive change.  But the methods used have evolved, becoming increasingly sophisticated to reflect changing societal norms and values:

  • In the 1950s and earlier, scare tactics and shame were seen as appropriate ways to change/correct children’s behaviors.
  • By the 1960s and 70s, efforts to change child behavior took on a psychological focus, with an emphasis on the importance of self-esteem (i.e. “If your child feels good about him/herself, their behavior will improve.”).  While changing feelings were important components of behavior change, they were narrow in focus and only mildly effective.
  • A new focus on youth resistance skills emerged in the 1980s that had limited success (think “Just say no!”).
  • The late 1990s saw more research and scientific approaches used to determine effectiveness, including learning more about “risk factors” that put people in danger of becoming victims and “protective factors” that help buffer against risk.  We also began working across spheres of influence—peers, school systems, families—and building individual resiliency skills, such as problem-solving, relationship-building, and managing risk.
  • In the past decade, we’ve learned that focusing on preventing just one danger (whether it be substance abuse, child abuse, delinquency, etc.) is not the best approach.  Factors placing someone at risk for one problem often correlate with risk factors for others.  In response, we are moving beyond traditional “prevention programs” and are focusing on multi-faceted efforts—both practice and policy—that are geared towards the whole community.

Sonia Quiñónez is the executive director of a local nonprofit organization called SCAN (Stop Child Abuse Now) of Northern Virginia. “Our organization turns 25 years old this year,” says Quiñónez, “and over the years, we’ve seen a real shift in how people view and address child abuse and neglect, producing positive results in our community.” The real challenge, though, is securing sustainable funding to invest in prevention programs. When a crisis occurs, the ensuing public outcry almost always includes demands for more prevention efforts. Yet funding for prevention is often the first budget category cut in lean times.

Prevention begins when a child is put first.  The next evolution for prevention will be growing our community commitment to prioritizing funding, supporting parents and facilitating cooperation among agencies and organizations.

When that becomes our community’s collective common sense, that’s when we’ll begin to see significant progress in how we protect and nurture our youngest citizens. That’s why putting children first has to be more than a slogan.

– Laura Yager

Laura Yager, M.Ed., LPC, CPP-ATOD  Laura is the Director of Partnerships and Resource Development for the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board in Fairfax County, Virginia, and has worked in the prevention and treatment field for over 25 years. With a focus on community capacity building, mobilization, community strengthening, and, more recently, primary and behavioral health integration, she has been involved in the development of  prevention programs that have received national recognition including: the Leadership and Resiliency Program, named a SAMHSA Model Program in 2000 and an OJJDP Promising Program in 2003; and  Girl Power, named a NASADAD Exemplary Program in 2005. In March 2013, the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare awarded her office the “Impact Award” honorees for the Mental Health First Aid program. She is a past Chair of the Prevention Council of the Virginia Association of Community Services Boards and served on the Governor’s Prevention Advisory Council.

SCAN (Stop Child Abuse Now) of Northern Virginia is a 25-year-old nonprofit located in Alexandria, VA working to build hope for children and families through parent education, public education and child advocacy. It is the local organization affiliated with Prevent Child Abuse Virginia, Prevent Child Abuse America and National CASA Association.

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:

CASA ASKS: How do home visits help prevent child abuse & neglect?

This is the third 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.

blogblock_homevisitsOne of the best ways to prevent abuse and neglect is through home visiting programs for new parents. There are many different programs, with varying levels of research evidence. These in-home programs pair trained nurses or paraprofessionals with new parents to help them develop parenting skills, access community resources and ensure their children are safe and thriving. Virginia communities offer many different home visiting models.

One of the most effective programs for preventing child abuse and neglect is the Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP). NFP pairs low-income, first-time mothers with a trained public health registered nurse beginning in the second trimester of pregnancy and lasting through a child’s second birthday. Several high-quality, randomized control studies show that abuse and neglect can be cut in half among children whose mothers participate in NFP, compared to children whose mothers are left out. Children whose mothers participate are also less likely to later become involved in crime. Participating mothers have better prenatal health and are less likely to have closely spaced births than mothers left out. The first NFP program in Virginia was launched in 2012, thanks to federal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program funding.

Another nationally established program, Healthy Families, can also improve outcomes for young children and their families. Healthy Families Virginia works throughout the state to promote positive parenting, improve child health, promote responsive parent-child interaction, and prevent child abuse and neglect among pregnant women and families of children under age 5. The most recent Virginia data show that over 90 percent of participating families received recommended prenatal care, were delivered at an appropriate birthweight, were connected to medical providers and were immunized. The FY 2011 statewide rate of confirmed cases of child abuse and neglect among program participants was only 0.7 percent, a very low rate for such a high risk population.

SafeCare is an example of a home visiting program that can help families who have already had an incidence of abuse and neglect or are deemed at a very high risk. A high-quality, randomized statewide study in Oklahoma found that adding SafeCare to the state’s existing child welfare in-home service program helped prevent repeat abuse. SafeCare reduced reports for neglect and abuse by about 26 percent compared to the same in-home services without SafeCare for parents of children ages 0-5. Few programs have had success with families with a history of abuse, making these results even more impressive. SafeCare does not yet operate in Virginia.

These are only a few of the many program models that can help Virginia families thrive and keep their children safe from abuse and neglect. Since 2006, the Virginia Home Visiting Consortium has been improving the quality, efficiency and effectiveness of early childhood home visiting services in the state.

April: It’s time to get personal

Today’s guest blogger is Kim Fiske, a longtime supporter and current Board Member of SCAN. Kim’s perspective on SCAN’s change and growth over the years is valuable, but it’s her personal connections and networking that we find especially uplifting. She is an individual who has put her heart into her commitment to SCAN on many levels, and we’re so glad she’s sharing a plea to make SCAN “personal” with our readers today:

blogblock_kimfiskeApril2013This is an exciting year for SCAN – we are celebrating 25 years of helping vulnerable children and educating our community. During this year we are taking some time to review our accomplishments and growth (see a timeline of our history here) while looking forward to new ways to engage with the community (see information about our upcoming 1st Croquet Day here).

One accomplishment I am particularly proud of is the Allies in Prevention Luncheon.  Eleven years ago, SCAN launched this event to thank and celebrate those who work every day to protect children and support families in Northern Virginia. Many contribute to make the event special, including hosts like ABC7’s Leon Harris, keynote speakers (learn more about past speakers here) and our long time Campaign Sponsor Verizon, often represented at the luncheon by our friend Doug Brammer.

Each year, we honor five individuals who have gone above and beyond to prevent child abuse and neglect in their communities, but everyone in that room is a hero.  The work they do is emotionally difficult; I often wonder how they can keep on going day after day. This year we asked past award winners what inspires them to continue their work in prevention.  Some shared stories of a single child’s success making it all worth it. Others noted that sincere gratitude from families they serve proved motivational. And several respondents said they were inspired by the work of others – their colleagues and members of their community.

That last response made me think about the many people who have told me they volunteered with or donated to SCAN because of a single person. Because of Dave Cleary, our founder.  Or because of Jason Osser, a board member. Or Sonia Quiñónez, our executive director.  People are inspired by the works and actions of people they know and respect.  Members of my book club, friends, employees and even clients have become involved with SCAN in one way or another because they have heard me talking about my personal involvement with the organization over the years.

Think about that as April – Child Abuse Prevention Month – draws to a close.  Someone might be inspired by YOU and YOUR actions this month.

So I challenge you to get personal with SCAN today. Share a volunteer experience. Tell someone that you made a donation. The impact you have will be very personal for the children and families in our programs. I can promise you that.

– Kim

Kim Fiske, SCAN Board Member

A mid-month update: Smiles, pinwheels & so many more opportunities to make a difference!

blogblock_midApril2013We kicked off National Child Abuse Prevention Month in a blur of smiles and blue pinwheels! On April 2nd we distributed thousands of public education materials at our exciting Allies in Prevention Awards (smiles courtesy of ABC7’s Leon Harris and our amazing 2013 honorees!), and we haven’t slowed down since. From visits to dozens of local businesses and faith groups (otherwise known as Pinwheel Partners) to attending the statewide Virginia Child Abuse Prevention Conference to media coverage in the local papers and even on the ABC7 evening news, SCAN staff and volunteers have found a renewed energy and commitment this month to empowering adults right here in our community to prevent child abuse and neglect.

SCAN’s “regular” work continues, too. Our Alexandria/Arlington CASA Program just completed a new round of Volunteer Training and hosted a swearing-in for 14 new volunteer child advocates this month. Our Parent Education Program kicked off a new ABCs Para Padres (ABCs of Parenting) Class for Spanish-speaking families in April, and is hosting a number of fantastic Parent Workshops this spring covering topics like immigration law and family financial planning.

To top it all off we’re thrilled to report that through our participation in Alexandria’s amazing one-day Spring2Action event yesterday, generous donors helped us raise over $4,000 for SCAN’s programs!

So we may be half-way through Child Abuse Prevention Month, but there are still SO MANY opportunities to take action this April:

1. THIS SATURDAY, APRIL 20th, attend a Stewards of Children Training with SCAN at McLean Baptist Church. We’ll be training participants to recognize, respond and react to signs of child sexual abuse. EVERY adult in our community should have this training. Consider your faith group, local youth sports organization or neighborhood. Who else might be interested in this information? Learn more (and register) here.

2. THROUGH APRIL 30th, donate your change at a local Burke & Herbert Bank location and they will match up to $1,000 for SCAN! Simply let your teller know you want to donate your coins to SCAN, and they’ll take care of the rest. For participating locations, see the official flyer here.

3. ALL MONTH LONG, visit our Pinwheel Partners in your community. Tell them you appreciate that they’re making a commitment to your community’s children and families. Buy a pinwheel from them to support SCAN, and then plant that pinwheel in your front yard, at your workplace or with your faith group.

4. ALL YEAR LONG, spread the word that EVERY CHILD & FAMILY MATTERS by sharing SCAN’s The Little Picture campaign. Check out our resources for community members and organizations to share here.

p.s. And don’t forget – we love to hear about everything you’re doing this month for SCAN! Plant a pinwheel? Send us a pic! Visit a Pinwheel Partner? Message us on Facebook!