How does it feel to be a kid in today’s world? How can we help children and teens manage new 21st-century realities — from the impact of online bullying to LGBTQ issues to the tragedy of rising suicide rates among youth? Earlier this month, we gathered in Arlington to discuss this new “Culture of Kids” with our Allies in Prevention Coalition.
Ask kids about their support network. (Explain what it means to have a support network, if they don’t know.) Who would they go to if they needed help? What is the best way to get in touch with those connections? Kids should be aware of and think through this network before a crisis occurs. EXPERT TIP:Identify trusted adults. It doesn’t have to be a parent – help them brainstorm possible contacts.
When it comes to bullying, peer training is key. Bullying prevention programs that include peer training – kids working with kids to model positive behaviors — are more successful and tend to increase parent involvement by linking families to community resources. EXPERT TIP:If online bullying is an issue and kids need help, there are some great resources for kids (and parents) at NCMEC’s NetSmartz.org
Gauge (and be sensitive to) every child’s safety level. When talking to youth, we must try to understand how safe they are in their home and in their greater community. (Neighborhood, school, etc.) For example, is it safe for a gay teenager to “come out” to her family? Her circle of friends? Her school community? Sensitivity when asking questions is also key: “Are you dating anyone?” is better than “Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?” Even intakes should be considered — instead of a simple “gender” it might work better to include “gender at birth; current gender.” EXPERT TIP: Post a rainbow or HRC (Human Rights Coalition) sticker in your workplace so LGBTQ youth recognize a person and/or space that could be helpful for them.
Don’t be afraid to have touch-point conversations with teens. And don’t be afraid to talk about difficult topics and open conversations around things like suicide: “Do you feel like hurting yourself?”, “Have you thought about killing yourself?” EXPERT TIP:Don’t talk about someone who “committed suicide” because it carries a note of guilt/crime. Instead, use “killed themselves” or “died by suicide.”
When we first launched our Kids Need Connections child abuse prevention campaign in 2014, our “Children’s Stories That Build Resiliency” was a huge hit. We have presented at various conferences and given several workshops throughout Virginia highlighting not only the 15 stories but also resiliency theory and how to build resiliency in children.
We were asked to consider coming up with a list of young adult stories that build resiliency so that we could reach an even wider audience of children, youth and the adults who connect with them, so we did. We have only chosen 6 from the thousands of titles that are out there, but we think that you will find they address a wide array of topics, family dynamics and social issues all with the end goal of creating more resilient children and youth.
Our list is available here, along with questions that you should use as discussion points as you connect with the tweens and teens in your life. The thoughtful questions can provoke great conversation and better prepare youth to handle life’s obstacles and develop empathy skills. These stories–along with your listening skills–provide them with a safe environment to talk through how they might handle themselves in similar situations, and how they can relate to the strong male and female characters of these stories.
The titles would make great stocking stuffers and Holiday presents for the young adults on your list. Just be sure to give them the questions that go along with them – that is where the true gift lies.
– Tracy Leonard, Public Education Manager
The family reunification experience is a growing challenge for child welfare advocates, school districts and other service providers here in Northern Virginia and across the country. In the United States, 20% of children are growing up in immigrant homes and a large number of these children joined their parents after years of separation. They come to escape gangs, poverty, violence or political unrest, to reunite with their families, and to find better educational and long-term opportunities. Most have experienced multiple losses: first from their parent(s)’ departure, and then from having to leave the relative they were living with in their home country. According to Family and School Partnerships at Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), children from reunified families may experience issues of rejection, abandonment, resentment, anger, confusion, guilt, grief and loss at being left behind by parents who were trying to create a better life in the US. Parents may face financial challenges and may be unable to support the child in their adjustment to a new country and school. As a result, the child may have academic, attendance, behavioral, communication, socialization or other issues.
One year ago this week, SCAN published its first white paper. In an effort to provide a deeper understanding of some of the complex issues we address in prevention and advocacy work, we continued to develop more in-depth tools for resource providers and child welfare advocates in our community. Since last fall, we’ve published two more papers. SCAN’s current list of White Papers includes:
Building Resiliency Using Children’s Stories
An overview of resiliency in children, the importance of connections with adults and specific tools and techniques for using reading, stories and specific books to build resiliency in a variety of settings. A Call to Action at the end of the paper includes “6 Steps to Build Resiliency in the Children in Your Life.” Download the white paper here.
The Power of Fathers in the Lives of Children Why are fathers important in a child’s physical, social and emotional development? Fathers are underserved in many parent-focused resources, but their involvement has a great impact on outcomes in children. A Call to Action at the end of the paper includes “10 Steps to Help Fathers Connect with Children.”Download the white paper here.
Operation Safe Babies: Reducing Child Fatalities in Northern Virginia
Inspired by SCAN’s new Operation Safe Babies initiative, we explore the impact of Severe Head Trauma (SHT) and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS/SUIDS) on child fatalities as well as the power of educating new parents in safe sleep, soothing techniques and seeking parent support. A Call to Action at the end of the paper includes “7 Steps to Keep Your Infant Safe During Their First Year of Life.”Download the white paper here.
We have plans to develop additional white papers in 2016. What topics would be helpful in your work with children and families?
Anyone can report suspected child abuse or neglect, but if you are identified in the Code of Virginia (§ 63.2-1509) as a mandated reporter or you have received training in recognizing and reporting suspected child abuse and neglect – then you are a mandated reporter. Over the summer, we have trained mandated reporters everywhere from summer camps to childcare centers to schools.
As a mandated reporter, you are required, by law, to immediately report your suspicions to the local department of social services or to the Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline. The purpose of mandated reporting is to identify suspected abused and neglected children as soon as possible so that they can be protected from further harm.
When should I report?
When you suspect that a child is being abused or neglected. You do not need proof. You make a report when you suspect or have reason to suspect that abuse or neglect is occurring. If you wait for proof, it might be too late.
What if I do not report?
If you, as a mandated reporter, fail to report as soon as possible but no longer than 24 hours after having reason to suspect a reportable offense, you can be fined.
What are my rights as a mandated reporter?
Under the Code of Virginia, a mandated reporter who either makes a CPS report or participates in a court hearing that results from a CPS report, is protected from criminal and civil liability unless it is proven that the person acted with malicious intent.
What if I am not sure abuse or neglect has occurred?
If you are not sure about what to do, you should discuss the situation with your local department of social services, child protective services unit, or with staff at the Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline.
If a child has told you about abuse or neglect, this is enough for you to call.
What do you do when you witness an adult behaving aggressively with a child?
Avoid negative remarks or looks. When you intervene, try to keep the conversation positive otherwise; it could make the situation worse.
Start a conversation with the adult to direct attention away from the child. The goal is to start a conversation that moves the adult away from the negative interaction they were having with the child.
Divert the child’s attention. If you can, talk about anything positive that the child is doing; use that as a way to start the conversation.
Look for an opportunity to praise the adult or child. By finding a way to compliment either the child or the adult, you can potentially diffuse the situation and reframe it for the adult.
Use humor, experience or friendliness to break up stressful moments. As long as it is done in a way that does not belittle either the parent or child, acting in a lighthearted way can offer perspective, a change of pace, or the reframing that can help diffuse a situation.
If the child is in immediate danger, TAKE ACTION. If the child is at risk of being physically harmed or in need of any assistance, offer it to them as soon as possible. This includes taking actions like calling over a security guard or calling the police if the situation requires intervention.
Make a report if you suspect abuse, a child has disclosed to you that they have been abused, or you have witnessed abuse.
When children have strong, healthy relationships with nurturing adults, they become safer, stronger & happier.
Positive adult-child connections are critical to keep children safe and nurture their growth and development.
Kids with meaningful connections are more resilient in the face of daily life challenges and even more severe trauma.
Still have questions? Please contact SCAN or any of your local Child Protective Services offices to get more information, more training, and to dispel any myths that you or your staff may have.
Alexandria CPS: 703-746-5800
Arlington CPS: 703-228-1500
Fairfax CPS: 703-324-7400
Loudoun CPS: 703-771-5437
Prince William CPS: 703-792-4200
Manassas CPS: 800-552-7096
– Tracy Leonard, Public Education Manager
A report recently published in Pediatrics and funded by the National Institutes of Health spotlights a troubling statistic: 20 percent of new moms said they did not receive advice from their doctors regarding current recommendations on issues like safe sleep and breastfeeding. This reflects a greater challenge we’ve noted in our community — new parents often feel isolated, in need of resources and hungry for connections that can make them more nurturing parents. Our new Operation Safe Babies initiative is one way SCAN is working to address the issue in Northern Virginia.
Many new mothers do not receive advice from physicians on aspects of infant care such as sleep position, breastfeeding, immunization and pacifier use, according to a study funded by the National Institutes of Health.
Health care practitioner groups have issued recommendations and guidelines on all these aspects of infant care, based on research which has found that certain practices can prevent disease and even save lives.
The study authors surveyed a nationally representative sample of more than 1,000 new mothers, inquiring about infant care advice they received from doctors, nurses, family members and the news media.
Roughly 20 percent of mothers said they did not receive advice from their doctors regarding current recommendations on breastfeeding or on placing infants to sleep on their backs—a practice long proven to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). More than 50 percent of mothers reported they received no advice on where their infants should sleep. Room-sharing with parents—but not bed-sharing—is the recommended practice for safe infant sleep.
The study appeared in Pediatrics and was conducted by researchers at Boston Medical Center, Boston University, and Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut.
“Earlier studies have shown that new mothers listen to their physicians,” said Marian Willinger, Ph.D.., of the Pregnancy and Perinatology Branch at NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), which funded the study. “This survey shows that physicians have an opportunity to provide new mothers with much-needed advice on how to improve infant health and even save infant lives…”
We were thrilled to hear about Lainie Morgan’s experiences during her first volunteer experience with SCAN. Enjoy her story — we hope it inspires you to volunteer, too!
As someone who used to teach children and families in Baltimore but now supports educators from a national office and misses being in the classroom, I sought out the opportunity to work directly with my new community through www.volunteermatch.org. SCAN’s mission and activities seemed to align well with what I’d learned supporting family resiliency strengthening for 15 years, so I signed up after attending one of SCAN’s monthly volunteer orientations.
Paired with the class of children five years and older, I assumed that the kids would come begrudgingly, antsy after a day of school, and be completely uninterested in the curriculum. Instead, students asked if they could come more than once a week, ran to the door each evening excited to start, greeted me with a big smile and stories of their week, and for the most part, engaged fully with our class. I was truly taken aback by how much the kids opened up and shared their talents and enthusiasms. From computer coding, patiently helping younger students and balancing with closed eyes to reading eagerly during snack, inventing new ways to explain an idea and really witty humor, these students have a ton to offer and build upon.
One week, our lone second grader gave me a card she’d made to celebrate her graduation from ESOL. I felt so special after she’d thought about me at school and wrote this beautiful note that I decided to write all the kids individual cards for the next class so they could enjoy that same feeling. During the volunteer debriefing that same evening, a parent educator asked if I’d share my observation about how well one of the kids was doing with her parent the following week. It can be hard for parents to recognize all the gifts children have when they spend a lot of time with them while managing the frustrations and annoyances of everyday life, so I was happy to reflect back what I was experiencing with the kids.
The next week each student got a letter describing what I’d noticed them doing especially well and how their presence in class specifically contributed to what we were all getting out of it. I also made a copy for each family, so that parents and caregivers could see how their kids were thriving. Parents and students alike were more excited than I expected; families talked about how grateful they were to hear such a glowing report and kids were surprised they’d achieved so much. One student gave me a big hug, another recited back to me one of the talents I’d mentioned in a later class, and a third made his own thank you card for me.
Strong self-esteem and consistent connections with a supportive adult greatly impact a child’s development. I feel extremely privileged to get to contribute even a tiny bit to that by working with the children touched by SCAN’s Parent Education Program. I would strongly encourage others to get involved as well; matching your talents with SCAN’s various needs ultimately puts you in a place to serve the needs of children and parents right here in our community.
– Lainie Morgan, SCAN Volunteer
p.s. SCAN’s next Volunteer Orientations this summer will be held on July 14 and August 6. Register here.
For two years, we’ve been talking about the power of connections in the lives of children. (#kidsneedconnections) When children have healthy relationships with positive adults in their lives, their resiliency grows and our ability to prevent abuse does too.
But what if we also focused on the connection between adults and organizations, and the impact that could have on keeping children safe?
Human services organizations are on the front lines with families every day, often when they have already met with trauma and challenge in their own lives. Faith groups also interact with children regularly, and are in a unique position to serve as a trusted source of support and information for families. What if these two groups could connect in stronger, more empowering ways? What could it mean for children?
Earlier this month, we worked with George Mason University to host Mobilizing Connections toStrengthen Families: A dialogue between faith communities and human services. Fifty participants joined us at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Arlington to build connections and to address the issues surrounding child abuse and family violence.
“Without connectivity between faith groups and social services, you can throw resources at the problem but they won’t be received,” said featured speaker Dr. Joseph Henderson, Bishop and Senior Pastor at Kingdom Family Worship Center in Fredericksburg, Va. “When you bring faith groups and human services together, they both become stronger.”
Dr. Henderson is also Chairman of the Advisory Committee for the Virginia Faith Based and Community Initiative of Virginia’s Department of Social Services. He sees the potential for faith communities and agencies to connect in new ways that could change the lives of children.
“We must recognize the value that each brings to the table. Government can’t do what faith communities can do. And vice versa,” said Dr. Henderson. His sentiments were echoed by Doug Brown, acting director of Child Protective Services for the City of Alexandria, another featured speaker at the event. In addition to his role in human services, Brown is an active member of his own faith congregation. He challenged guests from both human services and faith groups to consider the common desires to keep kids safe.
“Common beliefs exist between faith communities and human services agencies – now we must mobilize connections to make a difference,” noted Brown. “We must understand how to connect with each other and break down barriers in order to make a difference for children.”
As a first step, participants worked in small groups for more personal, intimate discussions about what it takes to build meaningful connections and what the barriers are to making it work. Groups came up with excellent lists:
What makes faith community and human service partnerships work?
Creating and maintaining a shared base of knowledge
Establishing a foundation of mutual trust
Commitment to shared goals and values
Dedication to communication and collaboration
Strategic, unified, and well-organized approach
Committed leadership in all collaborating groups
Creating structures to facilitate communication among groups
Relationships based in respect – approached with open minds and genuine listening
Face-to-face time, such as sharing food or shadowing
Understanding one’s own capacity to help client or sent them to a known resource – and then following up
Capitalizing on areas where the two communities intersect
What are obstacles that faith communities and human services face in partnerships?
Lack of mutual understanding and trust
Difference in values, or perception thereof
Failure to address issues, or one’s own role in the solution
Regulations regarding the separation of church and state
Competition for scarce resources/capital
Lack of sharing between communities
Misinformation or lack of information leading to fear, which creates “us vs. them” dichotomy
Discrepancies between individual opinions, experiences, traditions
So if we know what the obstacles are, we need to do something to overcome them. And if we know what makes partnerships work, we need to make sure those ideas are at work. Do any of these resonate with you? Will you stand up for child abuse prevention and seek out the support of the faith communities in your area?
We cannot do this work alone. And we all believe in keeping children safe. Let’s start here.
As we approach Fathers’ Day, we’re reflecting on a project we’ve been working on at SCAN over the last several months to place special emphasis on engaging men, particularly (but not limited to!) fathers, in preventing family violence. One of our Master of Social Work interns this year compiled research around how to connect with, value, and engage fathers in the important roles of raising children, connecting with kids, and strengthening families. You can review the white paper summarizing her research here.
Then, in March, we invited LaMar Henderson to speak from his own experience as a son, father, and social worker interacting with dads and families from all walks of life. The very personal experiences he shared about having, as he put it, “three moms” (his biological mom, an aunt who helped raise him, and a foster mom) as well as the intermittent relationship he had with his biological dad opened a window for all of us. As I told Lamar after the event, so many attendees later commented to me on what a model of resilience he is. He inspired us to remember that the children we work with and worry about can overcome, can emerge into loving responsible role models for the rest of us. Working in child welfare requires that we acknowledge childhood pain and its lingering effects while also celebrating resilience and the adults who have overcome early traumas and difficult life circumstances. We thank LaMar for his willingness to be vulnerable and welcome others into his story in a way the helps us better empathize with many of the children with whom we work.
LaMar’s story exemplified the conflictive relationships many children (and adults!) have with parent figures and yet also how most kids truly crave relationships with their biological parents no matter what their experiences. As a community, we need to find creative ways to keep children safe but still cultivate those connections that are so important to a child’s evolving identity, connection to heritage, and sense of self. We also need to be flexible in engaging informal supports around a child at-risk, recognizing that non-traditional “parent figures” can be powerful positive forces in a child’s life, especially when those special adult relationships don’t usurp a parent’s role but rather support and add to the variety of adult-child relationships and connections that help a child mature, build social-emotional skills, and truly thrive.
Through support from Verizon, SCAN has developed special outreach materials with tips for dads on connecting with kids (see a rack card and fact sheets here to share), and later this month — airing on Father’s Day — we’ll have a special Parenting Today radio show focusing on the special father-child relationship.
In the human services field, we often hesitate to emphasize the valuable impact a positive father-child relationship can have because we know some children don’t have that opportunity due to an absent father or a father relationship that just isn’t safe or healthy. Instead, we need to dig in and be creative as a community in how we support all children, knowing that Kids Need Connections. How can we encourage moms–especially single moms–to intentionally foster their children’s other adult relationships in safe ways, to understand that encouraging the relationship with an estranged dad, an uncle, a coach, a teacher, a pastor, an employer doesn’t detract from her role and relationship with the child but, as long as done safely, can be critically important as that child grows? How do we honor the unique role step-dads can have – understanding its awkwardness sometimes but also encouraging healthy, positive, safe engagement with that child?
After the luncheon where LaMar spoke, he shared with me…
“As you know, victims typically grapple with an emotional dilemma: Abuse made me who I am, or I am a victim of abuse. Your work at SCAN lets people be victims, but does not let the abuse define them or steal their voices. Your transforming message is invaluable as these casualties of pain develop into triumphant cheerleaders for justice and unconditional love. Your efforts continuously provide a platform for people to hold themselves and others accountable in the face of child maltreatment. Moreover, it provides families the environment to grow and heal together. I want to humbly thank you again for giving me the opportunity to hold people accountable and be the cheerleader for physical and emotional justice in Stopping Child Abuse Now!”
May all of us involved at SCAN – staff, board, volunteers, donors, parents, and families – strive to live up to the ideal LaMar describes. As you prepare for Fathers’ Day – whatever this day means to you, I hope you will join SCAN in continuously striving for an “environment for families to grow and heal together.”
Happy Fathers’ Day!
– Sonia Quiñónez, Executive Director
SCAN of Northern Virginia
Volunteers 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:
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.