The Reality of Family Separation: Children, Trauma, and What We Do Next

As a leader in the prevention of child abuse and neglect in Northern Virginia, SCAN is dedicated to educating the community about the scope, nature, and consequences of child abuse and neglect. The separation of immigrant parents from their children after they have crossed the U.S. border “is a form of child abuse,” said Dr. Colleen Kraft, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. SCAN is deeply concerned about the traumatic experiences immigrant children and their families are enduring as a result of this separation and the lasting effects this will have on these children’s health and development.

Trauma occurs when a person is overwhelmed by events or circumstances and responds with intense fear, horror, and helplessness. Potentially traumatic events can include separation from a loved one, surviving a war zone or refugee experience, enduring abuse and neglect, exposure to violence, or the effects of poverty. Children’s exposure to traumatic events and prolonged stress due to trauma can damage the developing brain of a child and lead to negative health outcomes in adulthood such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and cancer. Traumatic experiences can also lead to difficulty learning, impaired memory, poor attachments, difficulty sleeping, anxiety, depression, and an inability to control physical response to stress.

While the potential harmful effects of trauma are serious and alarming, children can heal if they have safe, stable and nurturing support. Parents, family and supportive adults can help children heal by building their resiliency, or their ability to “bounce back” after negative experiences. Some ways to build resiliency in children include:

  1. Create a safe environment that meets children’s basic needs. This includes safe housing, nutritious food, appropriate clothing, access to good health care and education.
  2. Establish and maintain consistent routines to help children feel safe.
  3. Help children identify their feelings and manage emotions. Maintain open communication where fears and worries can be discussed openly.
  4. Build supportive social connections with friends, family, neighbors, or faith groups.
  5. Care for yourself. Parents and caregivers should model self-care and recognize and seek help to manage their own traumatic experiences.

Calls to Action—2 ways you can help immigrant children and families:

  • Volunteer with or donate to organizations directly serving the families involved in this crisis, such as the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), the largest immigration nonprofit in Texas that provides free and low-cost legal services to underserved immigrants (https://www.raicestexas.org/); the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, which advocates for many of the separated and unaccompanied children (https://www.theyoungcenter.org/); or Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, which provides legal representation to low-income immigrants and families seeking reunification (http://las-americas.org/).
  • Educate yourself and your community on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and Trauma using tools from SCAN’s Parent Resource Center.

 

What We Learned at our “RESILIENCE” Film Screenings

This Spring, SCAN hosted a series of free film screenings and panel discussions about the award-winning documentary Resilience: The Biology of Stress and The Science of Hope. Held with partners in Alexandria, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William, we engaged  parents and professionals in discussions about what it means when a child is resilient, how trauma affects the brain and body, and what we can do as a community to use this research in our work with children and families.

Here are the top 5 things we learned by hosting these screenings:

  1. Attendees are committed to creating a common language around trauma informed care in our communities.
  2. Hundreds of viewers left with greater knowledge of childhood trauma and resilience.
  3. We need to have a greater appreciation of the connection between the physical body and mental health.
  4. Attendees appreciated the professional insight from the panelists and the value that the post-movie conversation added.
  5. It takes one caring adult to make a difference in the life of a child.

We’d like to send a special thank you to our panelists:

  • Dr. Katherine Deye
  • Judith Martens
  • Diana Bermudez
  • Ana Bonilla-Galdamez
  • Maria Genova
  • Ramona Simmons
  • Kendra Kilbasa
  • Steve Liga
  • Karin Spencer
  • Laurie Warhol
  • Pat Victorsen
  • Carissa Shifflett

If you’d like to learn more about the movie and the possibility of future screenings, please contact SCAN’s Public Education Manager Tracy Leonard: tleonard(at)scanva.org

SCAN to Host Screenings, Discussions on Film “Resilience”

April 7, 2017 — With a diverse group of community partners, SCAN is hosting a series of movie screenings of the award-winning documentary “Resilience: The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope”. SCAN hopes to spark discussion with parents, community members, teachers, human service providers, doctors, and more with communities across Northern Virginia!
Everyone is welcome. To attend, you simply need to be willing to help teach your child, a family you know, or the community in which you live, how to become resilient in the face of adversity. Watch a film preview here: https://vimeo.com/139998006
The April 7th screening in Fairfax was sold-out!

To RSVP for May 16th in Alexandriahttps://resiliencemoviealexandria.eventbrite.com
> Download a flyer for the Alexandria event HERE

To RSVP for May 23 in Loudounhttps://resiliencemovieloudoun.eventbrite.com
> Download a flyer for the Loudoun event HERE

To RSVP for June 7 in Manassas/Prince Williamhttps://resiliencemoviemanassas.eventbrite.com
> Download a flyer for the Manassas event HERE
 
The film and panel discussion will teach guests that an ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience) score:
  • should be used as a tool to better understand family and community health needs
  • can empower a parent to make changes in their lives and for their children
  • supports the need to interrupt cycles of abuse and neglect in order to have a healthier community
  • is about teaching individuals to become resilient in the face of adversity

Learn more about ACEs on our Parent Resource Center here.

Learn more about Resiliency on our Parent Resource Center here.

5 Topics to Help Parents Start the School Year Off Right

Back-to-school season can be a time of changes and challenges for families with school-aged children. Sharing information and tools like these can be a great way to connect with parents when they need it most:

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  • Advocating for Your Child in School: Help parents connect with teachers and school staff in constructive ways at the beginning of the school year, and learn how to communicate throughout the year by working with teachers to put the child’s needs first.
  • Bullying: Increase parents’ understanding of bullying, how it happens and what they can do to be aware of its impact on their own children.
  • The Importance of Routine: The beginning of the school year means new schedules and activities – how can parents establish healthy routines, and why does it matter?
  • Positive Communication with Children: How can parents keep kids talking to them about their experiences and feelings? (And how can they really listen and respond in the best way?) Positive communication is critical for parents who are working to connect with their kids in meaningful, lasting ways.
  • Unplug with your Child: What are the best ways to reconnect after spending the day apart at school and work? How can unplugging as a family help children and parents lower stress, grow closer and build resiliency?

And one more thing—perhaps “back-to-school” is the perfect time for parents to take a class, join a support group or attend a workshop to strengthen their parenting skills. Browse SCAN’s Parent Connection Resource Guide for a list of offerings for parents from dozens of organizations and agencies across Northern Virginia this fall.

Summer Book Picks from SCAN

We’re reading some great books this summer at SCAN! Here are some of our current picks:

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  • Our CASA volunteers just finished reading Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble and Coming of Age in the Bronx by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc as part of their quarterly book club for in-service hours. LeBlanc chronicles the lives of two teenage girls in this New York Times bestseller, giving a glimpse of the tragedy they endure through homelessness, betrayal, the heartbreaking separation of prison, and, throughout it all, the damage of poverty.
  • Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids by Susan Stiffelman, MFT, was recommended by SCAN’s Parent Education Program Manager. An easy, non-academic read, the book covers concepts through the author’s own experience working with families. Stiffelman expresses the challenges many families face, and provides insight on why certain behaviors are happening, ways to help parents build awareness about these behaviors and small changes families can make that can make a big difference.
  • Know a tween/teen reader? Check out Auggie & Me: Three Wonder Stories, R.J. Palacio’s sequel to the wildly popular Wonder. These stories are an extra peek at main character Auggie before he started at Beecher Prep and during his first year there. Readers get to see other perspecties of Auggie and his life through Julian, the bully; Christopher, Auggie’s oldest friend; and Charlotte, Auggie’s new friend. Wonder is a book in SCAN’s Young Adult Stories that Build Resiliency series; discussion questions and other resources can be found here.

What are YOU reading this summer? We’d love to hear!

What Does “Wealth” Really Mean for a Community’s Children?

Being the wealthiest county in the United States might sound like a great thing, but for the vulnerable children and families living in Loudoun County, it simply isn’t.

During 2016, SCAN will be helping agencies who serve children and families in Loudoun County to determine where gaps in services exist, explore what obstacles children and families are facing, and sift through data to paint a more accurate of picture of “wealth” in Loudoun County.

Through a grant from the Northern Virginia Health Foundation, SCAN has been conducting focus groups in Loudoun County with INMED, LAWS, the Loudoun Child Advocacy Center, Health Works, CPS, Ayuda, Loudoun County Public Schools, VOA, and the Loudoun Community Foundation (just to name a few!)  At these focus groups, we are taking the time to talk about what is going right in Loudoun County, what community supports exist, and what unmet needs and obstacles are facing children and families every day.  We are proud to be a part of this new Loudoun County Partnership for Resilient Children and Families in its very first stages.

The focus groups have been an informative way for SCAN to get to know the community better as well as an exciting new way for organizations to talk to one another.  At the end of our grant, we will produce a report for agencies in Loudoun County to use when seeking funding for their programs and when having open conversations with the decision makers of Loudoun County.  Funding, government supports and individual contributions will be able to be more efficiently used to fill in gaps and further develop the “wealth” of Loudoun County. Because wealth means many things, including a more connected community that protects children from abuse, helps foster positive parenting skills and ultimately builds stronger families.

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

p.s. You can download an infographic about our work in Loudoun here.

Give Great Books (and Build Resiliency) for the Young Adults in Your Life

YoungAdultBooksWhen 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
tleonard@scanva.org

One Year. Three White Papers. What Next?

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 StoriesCover_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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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?

With Intention: Great ways to work at connecting with kids

11050284_10152739148935735_1822931701725045529_oThis month SCAN’s Allies in Prevention Coalition held a quarterly meeting with one question in mind: How can we be more intentional about making the time and effort to connect with the kids in our lives? 

As discussion continued, it became clear that as resource providers, we think about this almost constantly. But we’re thinking about it as parents and colleagues as well. Are there simple ways — both in our work with children and families and in our own families — that we can make connections more possible? Are there simple games and activities that can help us build our connections on a daily basis, whether it’s with the children in our own lives or those we serve as professionals?

Yes!

SCAN Public Education Manager Tracy Leonard led a vibrant discussion of ideas, including suggestions like:

  • Simple “Bright Beginnings” and “Happy Ending” questions to use every day around the dinner table, in the classroom, etc. that help spark discussion and guide adults to listen to their children
  • “I’m Special” body tracings, where children are given an outline of their bodies to fill in with words and pictures detailing what they like about themselves
  • Children’s Stories that Build Resiliency, such as The Invisible String by Patrice Karst, with questions to discuss how a child is connected with others in their life as well as an activity (making an invisible string bracelet) to reinforce the discussion in a lasting way

For a complete list of the activities covered in Tracy’s presentation, download the Activities with Intention PDF here.

In April, we’ll kick off the 2015 Northern Virginia Child Abuse Prevention campaign during National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Stay tuned for more about our Kids Need Connections campaign, a special focus on fathers and connections, and many more ideas about being intentional as we build connections with the children in our communities. (Follow the campaign on social media with #kidsneedconnections!)

Resiliency: New resources, children’s books and a request

photoforweb_1Resiliency. It’s a buzz word we’ve heard more about in child welfare circles in recent years, but educating our communities on what it actually means can be a challenge.

When SCAN developed its Kids Need Connections campaign earlier this year, the importance  of resiliency was at the heart of every discussion. First, how can we help parents understand what resiliency is? Second, how can we empower community members to be aware of resiliency in their community? And finally — how can we give professionals the tools they need to assess and build resiliency in children and families?

With the official launch of the campaign in April, SCAN began sharing a series of tools related to resiliency, including:

We’re also thrilled to share a brand new resource this month: Children’s Books that Build Resiliency. We’ve provided a list of 15 children’s books, each with a specific set of questions to facilitate discussion with children around resiliency.

Our plan is to continue to develop tools like this, with a focus on resiliency in children, families and even professionals in child welfare. One place we’re collecting ideas is Pinterest, on a board called “Children’s Stories that Build Resiliency,” here. We’d love to hear from you — what are some other resiliency-building resources or exercises you use in your work with children and families? Please share in the comments below!

 

 

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