Loudoun County has a lot going for it. It boasts top-performing schools, an above-average employment rate, and one of the highest median household incomes in the nation.
But a lot of those positives allow the needs of some of its youngest residents to go undetected.
A report released this week puts a spotlight on the needs facing children in Loudoun and provides recommendations for how the county can support them and their families. The 24-page report, “Resilient Children, Resilient Loudoun!,” says that last year alone, 1,209 children in the county were identified as victims of child abuse or neglect and that one in 25 school-aged children lived in poverty.
“That’s one child in every classroom,” Sonia Quiñónez, executive director of SCAN (Stop Child Abuse Now) of Northern Virginia, said as she presented the report Monday. “In many ways it’s harder to be poor in a community like Loudoun, where there’s a high cost of living and scarcer resources like public transportation, free youth programs, and social services.”
The SCAN report was made possible with a $29,000 grant from the Northern Virginia Health Foundation. Last year, SCAN convened a steering committee of representatives from public, private, and nonprofit organizations that serve children and families in Loudoun County and set out to identify needs in the community and present recommendations to address those shortfalls.
The steering committee included representatives from Loudoun County Public Schools, Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, Inova Loudoun Hospital Children’s Emergency Department, Loudoun County Department of Family Services and Loudoun County Mental Health, Substance Abuse and Developmental Services, as well as several from the nonprofit community.
Quiñónez presented the findings of their report to nonprofit, business and government leaders at an event held at the County Government Center on Monday afternoon. The report offers four recommendations: to increase community outreach to underserved and isolated families; to support parents in the difficult job of parenting; to improve and increase reporting of children in danger of abuse or neglect; and to increase funding and training for Loudoun County human service providers.
Quiñónez noted that the report does not ask for the county government, business community, or nonprofits to fund a specific program. “It’s not about a Band-Aid. Our call is for a community-wide commitment to all kids in the county. … We need to shift our paradigm in the community, toward prevention, toward resiliency for every child in Loudoun County.”
County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large), who joined Quiñónez at the mic, agreed that Loudoun’s high incomes often mask the real needs of its residents. “Income has nothing to do with child neglect or many of children’s needs,” she added, and she urged everyone to watch for signs of a young person in destress.
Randall, who worked as a mental health therapist before she was elected to the Board of Supervisors, said that a black eye is easily spotted but many kids’ hurt is not visible. She said to look for signs of stress, such as kids sneaking food in their pockets to take home from school, kids who were once social start withdrawing, and kids getting overwhelmed from pressure at school or at home.
“These are the things we need to teach the community to look for,” she said.
Randall noted that the supervisors have agreed to increase health services funding next fiscal year. But, she said, she will also do her part to keep the needs, especially of children, in the public eye. “One of my favorite parts of being county chair is that. … I have a big megaphone,” she said, and fighting back tears added, “No matter how hard it is, we need to continue to talk about these things.”