Johannah Bay’s Girl Scout Gold Award project took shape years before she ever started the planning process. Her family started fostering children in 2016, opening her eyes to a unique need. While her parents received intensive training before and during their foster placements, Johannah and her sister did not receive any training or support. As a result, gaining a foster sibling was an intimidating transition that she didn’t feel prepared for. She decided to change that, and her efforts have unexpectedly impacted her life, as well as the lives of future foster families.
The Gold Award project took shape organically while talking to trainers and fellow foster siblings. Johannah, a Girl Scout since kindergarten, quickly learned the extensive need for training and support for those in her shoes; in fact, there was nothing across the whole state to train foster siblings. Yet, in the state of Tennessee, there are 7,859 children in foster care.
Ultimately, Johannah designed a clinic with training, group discussion, and a panel for children of foster families. She reached out for help to staff of the Blount County Department of Children Services (DCS), Harmony Family Center, and the Blount County Foster Care Association to help participate and partner in creating the content. By earning the Joyce Maienschein Leadership Grant, she was able to cover the costs of the event.
Fourteen high school and middle school students ended up attending the clinic in August of 2018 held 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 was also able to question a panel of experts, including: an employee with the Blount County Department of Children Services; a Guardian Ad Litem (a legal aid for foster children); the president of the Blount County Foster Association; 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. She really felt her hard work had paid off and helped others.
“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. And that it [was] a lot of fun!”
Even with the completion of her Girl Scout Gold Award, she knew she wasn’t done yet; providing permanent resources was her new goal, like monthly support groups or bi-annual training events. 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. Navigating the risks and rules are huge for both adults and youth involved. We’ve brought up how to include components involving the whole family in an age appropriate level.”
Johannah’s clinic not only impacted those who attended and became the launching point for future state-level foster care initiatives, but it also revealed something about herself: a passion for public policy, which she has decided to declare as her major as she enters college in the fall.
“We were just blown away by her insightfulness,” continued Wendy Forster,” 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.”