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


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?



UPDATE: 2016 VA General Assembly


Virginia State Capitol (PHOTO: Ava Reaves, 2015) Source:

Every January, the Virginia General Assembly convenes, and this year children’s issues are once again at the forefront of many discussions. The three main agenda items SCAN will be focusing on in 2016 are early education, foster care and youth, and kinship care. A significant development this year that has the potential to greatly impact children, youth and families in Virginia is Governor McAuliffe’s announcement at the joint money committee of his biennial budget, which included support for early childhood education.

Bills that have been introduced in the legislature that pertain to these issues include:

Early Education and Child Care

A major focus of this year’s agenda is the Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI) and other aspects of early education. The bills listed below cover a range of issues from early education and childcare providers to providing funding for a mixed delivery approach, which is a major component to reforming VPI.

Click on the following links to track related bills:

  • HB 46: Establishes an Early Education Workforce Committee
  • HB 47: Funds for a mixed delivery preschool program
  • HB 242: Removes the requirement for local communities to provide matching funds to qualify for VPI funds
  • HB 500: Requires national background checks for day care providers and anyone living in the home of a day care provider
  • SB 269: Replaces the requirement that 2 members of the State Board of Social Services represent stand-alone child care center that meets state standards and a religiously exempt child care center

Foster Care and Youth

Reforming Foster Care has been a large part of SCAN’s policy agenda, and was recently addressed at SCAN’s Advocacy Day 2015. In the upcoming General Assembly, Virginia lawmakers have introduced bills surrounding issues of expansion of foster care services and maintaining records.

Click on the following links to track related bills:

  • HB 81: Expand time frame for maintain foster care records until age 22.
  • HB 203: Extends foster care services for children 18-21.
  • HB 271: Parenting time; replaces “visitation” in statutory language.

Kinship Care

Both of the bills introduced this year work towards amending and reenacting exiting laws referring to Kinship Care. (What is Kinship Care? Learn more here.) The third item is a study commissioned to have a better understanding of the feasibility in lessening the restrictions of barrier crimes in order to promote kinship foster care and adoptive placements while ensuring that they are a safe placement for children.

Click on the following links to track related bills:

  • SB 433: Kinship Guardianship Assistance program
  • HB 674 Kinship foster care; waiver of foster home approval standards
  • SJ 73 Study: Department of Social Services; feasibility of lessening restrictions of barrier crimes

The current session continues through February – will you track bills or contact your legislators? We hope so!

— Sydna Cooper, MSW Intern with SCAN

New in Foster Care: The Science of Connections

CASA070297-hVolunteers in our CASA Program are one of the most powerful examples of a positive adult connection in a child’s life we can think of. Our Kids Need Connections campaign celebrates the nurturing, transformative power of positive adult relationships in the lives of children. For abused and neglected children who already find themselves in the system, a CASA volunteer might be one of the last few positive adult connections a child still has. Foster parents fall into this same category. May is Foster Care Awareness Month, an opportunity to think about these critical connections for at-risk children. National CASA CEO Michael Piraino recently offered an excellent perspective on how foster care and positive connections can affect real change on a larger scale:   

(Excerpted from a blog post on by National CASA CEO Michael Piraino and previously featured on the Huffington Post)

A glaring hole in the foster care data on well-being is information on the number, quality, and consistency of adult relationships for children. For years, it has been understood that a consistent and appropriate adult presence is a key factor in a child’s well-being. More recently, research has added to the understanding of what such a relationship should look like, how it can affect healthy development, and why children should be surrounded by multiple relationships that contribute to his or her healthy development. The Search Institute, well-known for its excellent work in identifying the key developmental assets in a child’s life, is now looking into the importance of what it calls “developmental relationships” for children. These are relationships that are caring, supportive, inspire growth, share power and expand possibilities for children and young people. For foster youth, these characteristics can typically be found among CASA and volunteer guardian ad litem programs, and in well-designed mentoring programs.

Research elsewhere has begun to confirm that children’s well-being may be dramatically improved if the adults who have these developmental relationships with children also help them develop a “mindset” that is oriented toward growth and success. The key point is this: mindsets can be changed. Developing a growth mindset can allow you to move beyond adverse experiences and help you follow strategies that are in your best interest according to Carol Dweck in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

We also know that when young people, particularly adolescents, develop a balanced understanding of the positive and negative futures they might face, they are much more likely to be able to work around the negative and back to the positive. These “balanced possible selves” can lead to improvements in academic success, behavior, and rates of depression.

What is particularly exciting about this research is the potential it has for positively affecting the educational success and mental health of foster youth, even in the absence of large scale system reforms. By strengthening relationships that protect foster youth from the effects of adverse childhood experiences, we can help them build on their own strengths so that the trauma they have experienced does not become a permanent barrier in their lives.

Every abused or neglected child in the nation’s foster care systems should have a well-trained, caring adult to speak up for them and help assure their healthy development and well-being.

Read the complete post here.

Ominous Trends in Foster Care | Sharing an important post from the National CASA Blog

Our Alexandria/Arlington CASA volunteers are intimately aware of the local foster care system, its challenges, and its impact. As they work closely with families here in our community, we also keep an eye on foster care and adoption trends around the country, which is why this recent post from National CASA CEO Michael Piraino caught our eye. We’ll certainly remain focused in our work on Mr. Piraino’s challenge — to “ensure all children in foster care achieve positive outcomes regardless of geography, economic circumstances, or such factors as race or ethnicity” — and we hope you will too.

[Re-posted from National CASA Blog: “Ominous Trends in Foster Care”]

For several years, CASA volunteers and staff around the country have been concerned about an ominous trend. Despite a general decline in the number of children in foster care, the family courts were requesting more volunteer advocates for more and more foster youth. Additionally, the children who had CASA and guardian ad litem advocates were coming from more challenging home situations. It is a sadly familiar pattern we have seen after previous recessions.

Last year we also noted that the decline in children in foster care was leveling off. The new numbers now confirm what our volunteers feared might happen. The number of children in foster care nationwide increased in 2013 for the first time in seven years. At the same time, we have received a report that child welfare spending actually declined nationwide between 2010 and 2012. That’s the first time spending has gone down in twenty years.

This drop in spending is not accounted for by the declining numbers from 2012, according to Child Trends’ research. Plus, now that we know the number of children in care is rising again, it looks like a perfect storm: less money for services, but more children, from more difficult circumstances, coming into care…[Read the full blog post on National CASA’s Blog here.]


The “Age-Out”: Why it’s critical we work together to help foster care alumni make the transition to adulthood

Guest blogger Adam Robe, MSW, is the CEO of Foster Care Alumni of America (FCAA). In April, FCAA co-located its national offices with SCAN’s location in Alexandria.

Every year there are over 25,000 teenagers and young adults that “age-out” of the foster care system. This transition to life outside of foster care can be an exciting time for them, but can also be overwhelming, scary, and stressful. An alumnus of the foster care system may not have developed meaningful connections to help them on their journey, and not know who they can turn to for help and support. They may resist seeking out previous contacts they had within the foster care system because they fear that they may be required to go back into the “system” in order to receive help or support. Or they may not know what services are available to them, which may cause them to struggle to gain footing once they leave foster care.

Foster Care Alumni of America (FCAA) is a national membership organization that provides support and encouragement, personal and professional development training, mentoring and coaching, resource education, and encourages alumni to use their voices to make changes to the foster care system. We currently have 17 chapters in 17 different states across the country. Our chapters provide many opportunities for alumni (and our allies), to find support and opportunities to give back to their communities. During the month of May, many of our chapters hosted family reunions within their state. Our family reunions allow members to come together and to feel a part of our family; and to bring awareness to foster care issues during Foster Care month.

FCAA believes that it is important for public and private agencies to work together to ensure the well-being of children and families. In March, SCAN of Northern Virginia graciously agreed to share their office space with us and because we value the work that they do, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to be associated with their organization. Through our association, we look forward to future opportunities to enhance and support one another’s missions.

If you are interested in learning more about FCAA and how you can get involved, you can visit our website at If you work with teens and young adults who are getting ready to transition from foster care and could use additional support and connections, please send them our way. If you would like to support a local chapter or our national efforts, we’d love to talk with you.

– Adam

Adam Robe, MSW
CEO Foster Care Alumni of America


May is National Foster Care Month, and Adam’s post is the second of a two-part blog series on foster care. The first post, Celebrating Foster Care (and being glad there’s less of it)! was written by Lindsay Ferrer, CASA Case Supervisor.

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.

SCANStop: Foster care and my family

This week’s guest blogger is Dan Fleig, a member of SCAN’s Public Education Committee and 2011 recipient of the Allies in Prevention Award. Dan is President of We-R-Safe, an all-inclusive program providing tools to make sure volunteers are checked and trained before being given the responsibility of being around youth. He is also a foster parent, but we’ll let him tell you about that now…

May is National Foster Care Month, and as such is intended to draw attention to the efforts and needs of foster care programs throughout the country.  But one needn’t look any further than our own neighborhoods in Northern Virginia to see the crucial role these programs play in making a difference in the welfare of children.

As a foster care family in Fairfax County, VA, we’ve witnessed first-hand how these programs benefit children. When their lives have been turned upside down, foster care programs and foster parents (or “resource parents” as we’re sometimes referred to today) provide hope and a chance those children might not otherwise have been given.

Children in foster care are those who, through no fault of their own, have experienced some form of abuse or neglect, or have been subject to some life-altering circumstances which put them at risk.  As a result, many different parties such as the child’s family members, local child welfare and legal advocates, and in some instances the child (if he or she is old enough) each offer their perspectives regarding the child’s current home environment and caregiver(s) to a judge who ultimately makes the decision about whether or not a child will be placed in foster care.

Amazingly enough, all many of these children need is love, support and a renewed sense of safety. Which is exactly what foster care families are enabled to provide, and the very same conditions most of us take for granted.

While the ultimate goal of foster care is to reunite children in care with their families, it can’t always happen. In my family’s case, it resulted in the adoption of a beautiful and loving boy who now calls me dad. (In Fairfax County, VA, more than 70 percent of adoptive families begin as foster parents, then commit to adopting the child in their care. Source: Fairfax County DFS)

It never ceases to amaze me when someone (usually a neighbor) discovers we are a foster family. The typical response is one of unnecessary praise: “How wonderful,” or “You are such special people.” The reality is that we are a family who has many of the same resources as any other family in our neighborhood: an extra bed and a warm place in our hearts for children. We’ve just decided to use those to make a tangible difference in the life of a child and family in need.

If you have ever entertained the prospect of becoming a foster care family, I implore you to contact your local agency and attend a no-obligation orientation meeting.  Becoming a foster family will require training, background checks, an in-home study and much more! Fairfax County has an informational brochure available online.  Please check it out for yourself. Like me, I’m sure you will be amazed at the incredible resources available to foster care families and most importantly, the families of children in need.

– Dan Fleig
SCAN Public Education Committee Member

More local resources:

Foster Care in Alexandria
Foster Care in Arlington
Foster Care in Fairfax
Foster Care in Loudoun
Foster Care in Prince William
– Learn more about Volunteer Emergency Families for Children