In Session: Advocating for Children with an Understanding of Resilience and Trauma

The General Assembly is now in session, and we’ll be closely following the legislative issues affecting children and families in Virginia. For a helpful list of strategies to best advocate for children, explore our recent Advocacy Day recap. Today we’re also sharing this excellent post from Voices for Virginia’s Children; their Northern Virginia consultant Mary Beth Testa offers excellent insight and inspiration for legislators to work this year with a focus on building resilience and understanding the impact of trauma on children and families:

Recommendations to the 2018 General Assembly
(Reposted from the Voices for Virginia’s Children blog.)

Written by Mary Beth Testa, Voices’ Northern Virginia consultant

Research shows that chronic, severe stressors in childhood can cause toxic, traumatic biological responses to the developing brain, often with long-term consequences for health and wellness. Yet this research also tells us that responsive relationships with caregivers and strong community supports can buffer the effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), allowing children to develop to their potential.

ACEs are potentially traumatic events that can have negative, lasting effects on health and well-being. These experiences range from physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, to parental divorce or the incarceration of a parent or guardian. A growing body of research, based on the ground-breaking 1998 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente study, has sought to quantify the prevalence of ACEs and illuminate their connection with negative behavioral and health outcomes, such as obesity, depression, and other chronic health conditions later in life.

ACEs do not have to dictate the future of the child. Children can thrive despite trauma in their lives.

A child’s first five years of life are the most critical period for brain development. Despite trauma, children are resilient and can thrive if the right supports are in place in their family and their community.

We have reached a pivotal moment to build off the momentum of local work and point to a new direction of trauma-informed policy at the state level. In the months ahead, Voices will continue to incorporate more trauma-informed policy into our advocacy.

Voices for Virginia’s Children offers these recommendations to the General Assembly in 2018:

Promote trauma-informed best practices

  • Establish an interagency working group to evaluate the commonwealth’s policies and practices that address ACEs and promote resiliency. This working group should develop a state framework to implement evidence-based trauma-informed policy and practice and use it to help identify innovations, interventions, and resources to support resilient children and communities.
  • Create state-funded grants for local organizations that promote innovative trauma-informed care.

Continue supporting the Governor’s Children’s Cabinet

  • Maintain funding and staff support for the Governor’s Children’s Cabinet to ensure its continuance in the Northam administration. Established by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, the Children’s Cabinet is a cross-secretariat, multi-agency collaborative dedicated to developing and implementing a comprehensive policy agenda to promote the well-being of the commonwealth’s children from birth to age 21.

Please advocate with us to promote resilience and prevent trauma.

Download our fact sheet, which includes these recommendations and data we can use along with stories and experiences to highlight the urgency of action.

To find out more about opportunities to promote resilience and address childhood trauma, sign up for legislative updates from Voices for Virginia’s Children.

(Link to the original post on Voices for Virginia’s Children‘s site here.)

4 Questions to Ask About Virginia’s Kids (with Answers!)

When we work directly with children and families on a daily basis, it can be helpful to take a step back and look at the “big picture” of the greater community. Voices for Virginia’s Children is an excellent source of data, trends and advocacy alerts related to child welfare in the commonwealth. Their clickable maps make it easy to look specifically at the five jurisdictions we serve in Northern Virginia (Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William) as well as compare with other regions. They recently asked (and answered) four important questions:

 

Colton Powell & Beth Nolan’s recent blog post (here) invites child welfare advocates and professionals to explore their new and improved interactive data page:

Get the answer to these questions and more in this new series of interactive stories, covering child demographics, economic well-being, education, and health. Each story contains maps, graphs, and tables that you can manipulate and interact with.

We hope you find these stories and its data useful in seeing how kids are faring in your locality and across the Commonwealth!

For additional information on the stories, its data, or to have a personalized presentation for your region or organization, please contact KIDS COUNT Director, Beth Nolan at Beth@vakids.org.

SCAN Staff Book Picks: Winter 2017

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.

7 “Take Action” Tips from Advocacy Day

Last month, SCAN hosted its 5th Annual Speak Up for Children Advocacy Training, bringing together more than 40 attendees for a day of public policy education and advocacy training. Partners from Prevent Child Abuse Virginia and Voices for Virginia’s Children along with a diverse group of child welfare experts and elected officials led discussions during the day-long, interactive workshop. The group discussed effective advocacy tactics at all levels; critical legislative updates; and policy priorities for the upcoming 2017 Virginia General Assembly session. The training was sponsored in part by Verizon, and volunteers from Boeing also supported promotion, planning and facilitation of the event.

Wondering what Advocacy Day attendees are going to do next? Here are some of the action items they plan to take in th ecoming months, and you can do them too:

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  1. Attend an Advocacy Day in Richmond during the upcoming 2017 short session of the Virginia General Assembly.
  2. Work towards having Erin’s Law passed in Virginia. Read an article on Erin’s Law, including comment from Advocacy Day guest Senator Jennifer Wexton, here.
  3. Share advocacy information with others in your network. Voices for Virginia’s Children has some excellent 2017 Tools for Advocates available here.
  4. Call, write and visit your legislators. Find out who your local legislators are here.
  5. Support the families you serve in our programs. One way to support them is by finding creative ways to share their stories with your legislators!
  6. Work with other organizations, across issues, to encourage more progress. Legislators told us again and again that the more cooperation and work they see behind an issue, the easier it is for them to bring attention to it! You can learn more about SCAN’s policy focus in the comine year here, and Prevent Child Abuse Virginia shares specific Bills they are following (along with many other useful advocacy tools!) here.
  7. Thank your political representative for working on behalf of children. (See number 4 above.)

You can download an overview of Advocacy Day here, or visit SCAN’s Advocacy page on our website here for more resources from the day, including a Legislative Glossary, Intro to the VA General Assembly and a Self-Assessment tool!

The Neurobiology of Trauma: An Important Introduction

 

On October 5, SCAN—with support from LAWS (Loudoun Abused Women’s Shelter) and its Loudoun Child Advocacy Center—brought together 129 local human service providers to hear Dr. Chris Wilson talk about The Neurobiology of Trauma.

01172016_NeuroofTrauma.jpgThis relatively new approach allows those of us who work with children (including law enforcement, school staff, social workers and foster parents) to rethink not only how we question children but also about how we process the information that a child is giving to us.

With more than 20 years of experience in the neurobiology of trauma, vicarious trauma, victim behavior, how to be trauma informed, and group process, Dr. Wilson has worked with a wide variety of audiences and is currently a trainer for the United States Army’s Special Victim Unit Investigation Course, Legal Momentum, and You Have Options Program.

Dr. Wilson reminded those of us attending that defining trauma looks something like this:

extreme fear/terror/horror + lack of control/perceived lack of control
=
very real changes in the brain at the time of the incident and after the incident

 

When a child experiences something traumatic, the pre-frontal cortex becomes impaired, meaning “we lose the ability to control our attention, integrate data, and make logical decisions” and the hippocampus is directly affected, thus affecting how a child remembers the traumatic event.  This direct physiological impact must be taken into consideration not only when we first interact with children who have experienced a traumatic event, but also in how we continue the relationship with the child and how the child heals from the event.

Key training takeaways:

  1. We must remember that trauma is subjective because threat is subjective.  It means different things to different people and therefore, every individual’s response to traumatic events vary.
  1. Children overwhelmingly blame themselves because of their egocentrism – it’s the only context they have.
  1. Victims from 9/11 have given us a “map of danger” that didn’t exist before.
  1. It’s not the relationship that is abusive, it is the perpetrator; we need to say “she was raped”, not “she was victimized.”
  1. Use “soft eyes” not “hard eyes” when talking to children who have experienced trauma.  Make the conversation about feelings to help the child recall specific facts that may have otherwise been forgotten or repressed.

This valuable training would not have been possible without the support of our funders: Loudoun Child Advocacy Center, Northern Virginia Health Foundation, Ronald McDonald House Charities Greater Washington DC and LAWS Loudoun Abused Women’s Shelter. Thank you!

At SCAN, we strive to bring quality training and workshops to the region and to YOU at your place of work or your local community organizations.  Continue to follow us to learn more about what we are doing in the community to prevent child abuse and neglect – and how you can become involved and empowered to help.

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

What Just Happened? And What’s Next?

 

fate-of-2016-legislationOur Executive Director Sonia Quiñónez spent time meeting with Prevent Child Abuse Virginia and other regional affiliates this week. Much of the discussion focused on what’s next for children and families in the Commonwealth. We’ve blogged a few times this year about the General Assembly and what’s happening in Richmond.

Now that the dust has settled on the most recent session, it’s an important time to look at bills passed—and those that didn’t make it—as we begin talking with our partners like Voices for Virginia’s Children and thinking about how to best advocate for children and families next year. Check out this great infographic from the Virginia Public Access Project, and stay tuned for details on our plans for advocacy in 2017.

Becoming a Voice for Kids: A Glimpse Into Volunteer Training

wood-light-fashion-peopleSCAN’s volunteers have varied backgrounds in both experience and culture but are brought together because of a shared commitment to our mission.  One such volunteer is Emma Pazos.  She is a part of our newest CASA volunteer group going through training right now.  And although she has not yet been assigned a CASA case (this new class will be sworn-in next month), she has already made an impact that I am not sure she even realizes. Which is why we wanted to take time to learn more about her story…

Emma was driven to find a volunteer opportunity that helped children who were abused, which is how she found SCAN. She wanted to do something meaningful – “to help children in the healing process, and help them to change their lives – a better future without pain, and a chance to have a normal childhood.”

Once she was accepted into the training program for CASA volunteers, Emma wanted more!  She asked about bringing a Darkness to Light Stewards of Children training to a small group at her place of work.  Emma “wanted to create consciousness in other people. It is a team effort. Children can’t do it alone. People need to be aware of this societal problem.”  So she decided to begin with the adults closest to her, her co-workers. I asked Emma how her co-workers felt about the training.

“They liked it a lot and they felt great to learn about this,” she said. “In fact, a co-worker told me that she has shared some tips with her brother in Germany who has a seven-year-old kid, and other co-workers are using the techniques learned in the training to talk with their children.”

I also asked Emma how CASA training is going:

“It is going great. It is really enriching to hear the different speakers and topics associated with this problem. It opens your mind and makes you understand the mission we all have to protect children and all the parties that participate in this process…

I am so thankful for CASA because they are giving me this wonderful opportunity to help children. I strongly believe that it is going to change my life, as well.” 

Emma knows she will have an impact on children as a CASA volunteer.  She says “I will contribute to change a child’s present life for a better future, for a permanent home. It is a great responsibility because our reports will make a great impact in the judge’s decision, as well. Hopefully, step-by-step, we can make a difference for them forever. I can’t wait to pass the final interview, and be ready for the fieldwork!”

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

 

Success in Richmond and Sending a Thank You

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A number of state legislators participated in SCAN’s Advocacy Day, discussing many of the issues where progress was made in 2016. 

This year’s General Assembly came to a close on March 11th, and it is important to give thanks to our elected officials who have worked diligently on behalf of Virginia’s children and youth. Back in January at the start of the legislative session, SCAN focused on three issues: early childhood education, kinship care, and foster care and youth. It is very exciting to be able to say that Fostering Futures has been included in the 2016 budget and the General Assembly made a significant expansion of home visiting programs & additional investments in the Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI).

Voices for Virginia’s Children recently blogged about the progress and gave an excellent overview here. Here is an excerpt:

Even if there were not a lot of headlines, or committee hearings, on early childhood this session we are pleased to see that the groundswell of support from champions cultivated by the early childhood community over the last few years has translated into support for comprehensive investments in early childhood. We also know that we will keep early childhood policy on the radar in the coming weeks and months because of the various groups that will be asked to weigh in on policy recommendations in the future.

Below is the progress we made during the 2016 General Assembly Session:

Budget Items:

  • Significant expansion of home visiting parent and health education services- The final budget includes additional TANF funding- an additional $9.5 M for Healthy Families, $2 M for CHIP and $2 M for Resource Mothers over the biennium. This funding more than doubles the current Healthy Families funding.
  • Increase to early intervention (Part C) services to keep pace with referrals– The legislature accepted the Governor’s proposal to increase state funds for early intervention by $1.7 M in FY17 and $2.5 M in FY18.
  • Increase to VPI per pupil amount- Along with repurposing lottery funds to have more flexibility in the K-12 funding formula, the legislature recognized that the VPI per pupil amount had not increased since 2008 and recommended a 2% increase. The rate will change from $6,000 per pupil to $6,125. This equates to an additional $2.8 M over the biennium.
  • Statewide eligibility criteria for VPI with local flexibility– The legislature accepted the Governor’s proposal to establish a statewide income eligibility below 200% of poverty while allowing states to enroll up to 15% of their VPI students above the income cut-off if they met locally established risk factors.
  • New mixed-delivery preschool grant pilots– The legislature accepted the Governor’s proposal and approved a companion piece of legislation (HB47- Greason) to establish a two-year pilot of $1.5 M each year for testing new approaches for public-private preschool partnerships. We hope to see more of the successes we highlighted in our Preschool Partnership Stories from Alexandria and Fairfax.
  • Child Care Workforce Scholarships- The legislature recommended $600,000 the first year and $1.3 M the second for the creation of scholarships and a competency-based credentialing system through VECF.

A total of $25.4 M in new investments in early childhood education over the biennium…

[Read the full blog post from Voices for Virginia’s Children here.]

We hope you’ll take the time to thank your elected official for the progress made! Here is an example of what you can say:

The Honorable [Elected Official’s Name]

Address City, State, Zip

Dear [Elected Official],

I am writing to thank you for your support of Virginia’s children, youth, and families. Because of your support Virginia’s children and youth have a greater opportunity to grow up with the supports they need to contribute to stronger communities today and as adults tomorrow.

Sincerely,

[Your name]

— Sydna Cooper, MSW Intern with SCAN

In the Moment: 4 Ways to Prepare for the Next Time You Witness Aggressive Parenting

02192016_BlogPublicAggression_imageWe’ve all been there – in line at the grocery store, at a child’s sporting event, or even in our professional work with a family – a moment when we see a parent react a little (or a lot) too harshly to their child. Our gut may tell us to do something, but we often don’t know exactly what to say or do in that moment. And just like that, our opportunity to take action for a child has vanished. We’ve become a bystander.

Every instance is different, and so is every parent. But we’ve collected some helpful suggestions and resources to be better prepared the next time you feel compelled to take action on behalf of a child:

  • Be prepared. There are some simple tactics – like distracting the child or starting a friendly conversation with the parent – that can come in handy when you see a family in conflict. Read the Public Displays of Aggression fact sheet (available in English and Spanish) on SCAN’s Parent Resource Center for a detailed list.
  • Be aware of the complexities. Charles Howard’s piece in The Huffington Post on the complexity of witnessing abuse in public, including the psychology behind the child, parent and witnesses involved, is spot on. (He also offers a great, prevention-focused tactic for the next time you’re watching a situation unfold.)
  • Be a part of the village. The Wakanheza Project – developed by St. Paul-Ramsey County Public Health in partnership with the community in Minnesota – is a nationally recognized approach to reducing harsh treatment of children and isolation of teens in public places. Wakanheza is the tribal word for “child,” and its direct English translation is “spiritual being.” The project was originally intended to specifically support abuse prevention, but its impact has been far-reaching on community safety, health and wellbeing.
  • Be sensitive, not judgmental. This blog post from Robbyn Peters Bennett of The Stop Abuse Campaign shares a personal story – and inspires the careful consideration of both child and parent when an observer feels compelled to intervene. Rather than speak out immediately when she witnessed a mom being aggressive with her son, she offered a very frustrated parent the chance to share her feelings. This reaction to public aggression is complicated and time-consuming (and not always realistic or in everyone’s comfort zone), but Bennett’s commentary on kindness and empathy is inspiring for every adult.

Have you spoken up for a child in a public place before? We’d love to hear about and learn from your experience in the comments below.

 

For Every Child: A Thank You Note

During 2015 SCAN remained steadfast in our mission to promote the well-being of children, improve parent-child relations and prevent child abuse and neglect.

Through new initiatives such as Operation Safe Babies, our
continued dedication to CASA, and our increasing outreach of parenting classes and workshops, we are making sure that EVERY CHILD in Northern Virginia will grow up in a safe, stable, nurturing family, with the supports they need to contribute to stronger communities today and as adults tomorrow. SCANAnnualReport_2015_page1

SCAN is privileged to have friends like you that are also looking out for EVERY CHILD. The work you do in supporting children and families is critical to keeping children safe and nurturing their growth and development.

As we look to 2016, with your help, SCAN will:

  • launch new programming that supports our Kids Need Connections community education campaign for child abuse prevention,
  • add to the over 1,000 adults trained in the prevention of child sexual abuse, to recognize the signs, and to react in a responsible way to prevent or intervene in abuse or suspected abuse, and
  • provide our communities with the tools they need to advocate for children at all levels.

We express our sincerest gratitude: for every blog post read, email answered, hour given, thought written, or word spoken on behalf of SCAN.

“Every child deserves a champion: an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists they become the best they can possibly be.”   ~  Rita Pierson

Thank you!

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

 

(We invite you to read our 2015 Annual Report and make a year-end donation to SCAN here.)

SCAN