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.

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.

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.

SCANStop: Becoming a CASA…One volunteer’s experience from training to swearing-in

This week’s guest blogger is Kelly Harbitter. Kelly recently completed the Spring 2012 Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer training and was sworn in on May 22, 2012. Kelly is currently working her first CASA case.

I don’t remember when I first learned about SCAN’s Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Program, but when I did it immediately intrigued me.

I did a little of my own investigation and interviewed several CASA volunteers. As I began to better understand CASA, I felt deep down it was right for me. I was intrigued by the idea of using my professional skills in a volunteer role that would impact my community.  A CASA advocates for the best interest of a child (or children) engaged with the legal system as a result of alleged abuse or neglect. But I had never dealt with children who were abused or neglected, and it seemed a tremendous responsibility to advocate for them.

Was it really right for me? I had to find out.

Back to School

Becoming a CASA requires training, and a good deal of it – five hours a week for six weeks, and one full day on a Saturday, to be exact. For most of the Spring on Tuesday and Thursday nights I hauled my 3-inch, 2.5-pound curriculum binder, highlighters and note pad to my evening class. After 20 years in a career, I was a student again! I met up with 10 other volunteers-in-training from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences: attorneys, parents, teachers, private industry, military, law enforcement, retirees and students.

The energetic, experienced and knowledgeable CASA staff choreographed and provided our training during the six-week program. We were also joined by a range of experts in child welfare, family support, mental health and the legal system. We learned about child development, the effects of abuse and neglect, poverty, substance abuse, domestic violence and family dynamics. We studied how to effectively interview a variety of individuals, fact-find and write strong reports. We learned sensitivity regarding the cultural issues and ethnic differences inherent in each one of our lives. But most importantly, we learned how to identify the strengths that reside in all families – even if they are not always immediately apparent.

Some of the most important experts we heard from were individuals directly impacted by the CASA program. During an all-day, rainy Saturday classroom session, a young woman who was in foster care as a child (and then adopted by her foster mom) riveted our class as she spoke about her childhood, her challenging relationship with her biological mom, dealing with the court situation, her adoption and now adulthood. On several occasions we heard from CASA volunteers who shared their experiences on cases – sometimes heart wrenching – as well as their advice, tips and thoughts.

A Courtroom Observation

As part of our training we experienced the culmination of a CASA’s work: a juvenile court hearing. Each member of our class attended a dispositional or review hearing along with our CASA staff and a veteran CASA volunteer. In the hearing I observed the judge re-read and then refer to the CASA report as a first order of business, asking the CASA volunteer responsible for the report if he had anything to add. It was enlightening to see the system in action, the real people and lives involved (and impacted), and how important the CASA’s role and report was to the judge.

The Interview

On our last day of training, we were each interviewed by a panel of experienced CASA volunteers. Daunting? A little. But it was an interesting test of the knowledge we had gained over the past six weeks. My interviewers posed various case and family scenarios and asked me how I would handle them. As I answered their questions, I was pleased with the volume of information I had absorbed, how much I had learned, and how much I had grown in my understanding of a CASA’s role and the program. I thank the CASA staff for that!

Swearing In

On May 22, 2012, my class was sworn in at the Arlington Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. Four judges, two each from Alexandria and Arlington presented us with our training certificates. The judges spoke with such passion and support for the program that it made the time we had invested in training, homework and the self-reflection that goes along with it all the more worthwhile.


So is CASA right for me? Let’s see (now that I have my first case): I’m advocating on behalf of a child, working with families to hopefully help make a difference, meeting new friends in the other CASA volunteers, and working with the CASA staff, a group of people who never fail to motivate me with their energy and commitment to CASA and the children the program serves.

Yes, being a CASA is for me.

– Kelly Harbitter

Scoop on SCAN: Balancing a budget on the backs of our community’s children

How can legislators vote FOR legislation to increase reports of child abuse and at the same time propose a budget that CUTS funding for the programs to serve those at-risk children?

Last week we blogged about talking WITH children. This week, we’re all about speaking up FOR children. Our board’s Legislative and Advocacy Committee is working hard to keep us up to date on some critical decisions being made at both the state and federal level impacting the children and families in OUR community. Here are the details and how YOU can help:

1. Urge the Virginia General Assembly to restore funding for Healthy Families and Child Advocacy Centers (CACs) in the state budget. At SCAN we work closely with these groups in Northern Virginia to coordinate outreach and support for children and families. On March 21st, the House will reconvene for a special session. CONTACT YOUR LEGISLATORS TODAY and tell them how critical you believe this work is.

2. Urge the Federal Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce and Justice to restore appropriated funding of $12 million for the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program. For 10 years National CASA (with whom our Alexandria/Arlington CASA Program is affiliated) received $12 million in funding for the CASA program through the Victims of Child Abuse Act. Last year Congress reduced the funding to $4.5 million. And now, the Administration has proposed eliminating ALL funding for this vital program in FY 2013. A team of CASA representatives met with 40 congressional representatives last week and learned that there is a chance to restore full funding for this program provided enough congressional offices urge appropriators to do the right thing. But timing is critical. TELL THE SUBCOMMITTEE of your support for restoring the CASA program in appropriations.

3. Urge your federal elected representatives to protect Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) funding for crime victims and ensure that it is not diverted to other purposes: SCAN of Northern Virginia’s Board of Directors has signed on to a letter being presented by the National Association of VOCA Assistance Administrators (NAVAA) regarding the FY 13 VOCA budget. You can learn more at their website. CONTACT YOUR SENATORS AND CONGRESSMEN to urge them to protect the VOCA funding. This funding forms the pool that SCAN’s CASA Program competes for and has provided approximately $50k for our CASA Program EACH YEAR in recent years.

Talking to your children about tough topics is not always easy. But speaking up FOR THEM is simple. Get in touch with your state and federal leaders TODAY to voice your concern about a budget balanced on the backs of children and families. SCAN and many other local organizations rely on this funding to protect children, educate parents and support families in Northern Virginia. And you can help us continue to make an impact.

SCANStar: CASA Volunteer Vicki Strimel

Eleven years and more than 20 CASA children later, Vicki Strimel is a volunteer who continues to be an incredible advocate for children in our community. Since being sworn in as a CASA volunteer in the fall of 2000, Vicki has helped those 20+ children have safe, stable homes where they’ve been able to thrive. Her calm demeanor and willingness to go above and beyond during a case have an even greater impact because she gives parents involved the respect, support and encouragement that makes a difference for the entire family. Being a CASA volunteer can be a challenging responsibility. So how has Vicki remained so committed and effective for more than a decade? We sat down with her to find out:

BuildingBlocks: How long have you volunteered with SCAN and what have you done as a volunteer?
Vicki: I’ve been a CASA for ten years.  My focus has been on each case I have been assigned, doing whatever I could to help children to be safe and to be nurtured.

BB:  Why did you decide to join SCAN as a volunteer?
Vicki: It was hard to resist an opportunity to help make a difference in the lives of children in our community.

BB:  Describe your favorite SCAN memory.
Vicki: There have been several occasions when I was present that parents in my cases graduated from Alexandria Drug Court.  The process for them was long and involved a lot of work and personal commitment. To witness the happiness and pride of these parents, their families and the professionals who helped them along the way has been my most cherished memory.  Lots of tears of joy have been shed! [BB: Wondering what Alexandria Drug Court is? More than 10 years ago, SCAN’s CASA Program and the Alexandria Juvenile Court collaborated on a Model Court Project. As part of that project, an Alexandria Family Drug Treatment Court (FDTC) was created to focus on parents entering substance abuse treatment more quickly and families being more likely to be reunited.]

BB: Why have you continued volunteering with SCAN?
Vicki: It has been a great experience for learning and emotionally rewarding for me as well.

BB: Has anything about being a SCAN volunteer surprised you?
Vicki: I have been both surprised and pleased to observe the level of commitment of those who work to help and support children and families.

BB: When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?  What do you do now?
Vicki: As a child, I thought about becoming a nurse, but as an adult, I became a Manager of Human Resources for a large consulting firm.  Now, I am retired from my profession but remain very active with my family, community and parish.