Across Tennessee, there is no training for foster siblings. Yet, across the state, there are 7,859 children in foster care. A Blount County Girl Scout designed a program to meet this need. When Johannah Bay’s family began fostering children in 2016, her parents received intensive training before and during their foster placements, while she and her sister did not. Inspired by the need, Johannah designed a clinic with training, group discussion and a panel for children of foster families for her Girl Scout Gold Award project. The clinic not only impacted those who attended but has become the launching point for future state-level foster care initiatives.
Johannah enlisted help from staff of local children services groups to participate in creating the clinic content.
Fourteen high school and middle school students attended the first clinic, held in August 2018 at Maryville College. Session topics included confidentiality, the effects of trauma on the behavior of children and the correct way to respond to stressful situations. The group asked questions from a panel of experts, including Blount County Department of Children Services, a Guardian Ad Litem (a legal aid for foster children) and a recently adopted teenager who had been through the foster system.
Attendees provided glowing feedback for Johannah’s clinic and many personally thanked her for creating such an impactful program.
“As cliché as this sounds when people say you can change the world, you really can try and you might be successful,” said Johannah. “I believe I actually changed some peoples’ lives.”
Even with the completion of her Girl Scout Gold Award, she knew she wasn’t done yet; providing permanent resources, like monthly support groups or bi-annual training events, is her new goal. Since the success of the clinic, Johannah has been invited to speak to the staff at the DCS and Harmony Family Center, generating great enthusiasm.
“As an agency, we have lots of training for staff and foster parents,” said Wendy Forster, regional administrator for DCS, “but we hadn’t considered the impact of the children already in the home. (Johannah’s) personal story really awakened a need for additional support for the whole family. We’ve brought up how to include components involving the whole family in an age-appropriate level.
“We were just blown away by her insightfulness, and you could see it resonating with (the staff). She brought recognition to a need that may not have been explored previously. She definitely made an impression.”
The Girl Scout Council of the Southern Appalachians has almost 14,000 girl and adult members in 46 counties from southwest Virginia, through eastern Tennessee and northern Georgia. Girl Scouts is open to all girls from kindergarten through high school. Girls can join throughout the year. Info: girlscoutcsa.org or 800-474-1912.