As Loudoun County’s population continues to grow, so does the need for services and support for children and families. For example, Child Protective Services caseloads within the county are some of the highest per caseworker in the Northern Virginia region. In FY16 alone, Loudoun County’s Child Protective Services assessed or investigated 1,209 valid referrals of child abuse and neglect and provided intensive ongoing services to 59 families. This was the fourth largest number of valid referrals received by a local department of social services in Virginia.
One of the many factors that contribute to the vulnerability of children is unstable housing and the combination of unrelated individuals in a household, which often occurs when low-income families face the high cost of living in Loudoun County. And, a Stop Child Abuse Now (SCAN) report highlighted the fact that children who live with a single parent with a live-in partner are at the highest risk and are 20 times more likely to be victims of child sexual abuse than children living with both biological parents.
In truth, all children in our community are at risk. Child sexual abuse crosses all ethnic, economic, regional and gender boundaries. One in 10 children will be sexually abused before his or her 18th birthday.
“Protecting children from sexual abuse is an adult responsibility, and education is the first critical step as well as the catalyst for larger cultural and societal changes,” Sonia Quinonez, MSW, executive director of SCAN stated. “To achieve this, SCAN partners with Darkness to Light, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting children from sexual abuse by diminishing the incidence and impact of child sexual abuse and raising awareness of the prevalence and consequences of child sexual abuse in our communities.
“Through Stewards of Children, we increase education and awareness on the part of adults, who are crucial to protecting our community’s vulnerable children,” Quinonez explained.
With its 2017 grant from 100WomenStrong, SCAN is training 10 new Stewards of Light facilitators, who will then educate 150 or more teachers, police officers, social workers, parents and others about the facts, recognition and appropriate response to child sexual abuse. They also will empower and motivate them to take actions to protect the children with whom they interact. According to SCAN, after training participants will understand the facts of child sexual abuse; recognize that adults are responsible for the protection of children, as well as the signs to look for; and understand how to react responsibly to incidents of child sexual abuse.
“SCAN’s mission is to promote the well-being of children and prevent child abuse and neglect by educating the community about the scope, nature and consequences of child abuse and neglect,” according to Quinonez explained. “Ninety percent of children who are abused know their abusers, so we also provide direct education to parents/caregivers in how to help minimize risk, respond appropriately and advocate effectively for their children in the community, legislature and courts.
“When the taboo of sexual abuse is diminished, children can receive timely supportive treatment to be resilient in the face of that experience, and all Loudoun children can live in an environment of safety.”