New partnership calls for increase in community engagement in Tennessee’s foster care system

Tennessee

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Gov. Bill Lee and first lady Maria Lee have announced a new partnership between the governor’s office, the state Department of Children’s Services, and two nonprofits they say will help Tennessee become the example for the nation when it comes to helping children in foster care find safe and loving homes.  

Maria Lee sat down with WATE 6 On Your Side recently. She told us, “It’s going to take all of our communities and neighbors across the state.”  

The scale of the need can be disheartening. There are nearly 8,000 kids in the foster care system across the state, according to Lee.

In the Greater Knoxville area, there are nearly 700 children between the ages of 1 and 18 years old in state custody according to DCS.  

That’s where Tennessee Fosters Hope comes in. It’s a new partnership with DCS, Tennessee Kids Belong, and Show Hope that has been created to get everyone on the same page so that every child has the chance to thrive in the state of Tennessee.    

“It’s hard enough to get foster parents and it is, while very rewarding, it’s very challenging,” Maria Lee said. “So if you can go into this and say, ‘I can do this, but I’m going to need some help,’ and realize that there’s communities and businesses and churches and neighbors that are willing to come alongside and help, it [might] entice someone to go, ‘OK, I can do that. I’ve got a support network.'”  

One of the major obstacles the foster care system faces is a lack of coordination

“There are so many great groups that do things, and everything can be siloed so when we do the collective impact program where we bring everybody together,” Tennessee Kids Belong Executive Director Kristin Allender said. “You know, a rising tide lifts all ships. Everyone can do their work and move towards impact faster, and we’ll see much more success working together.” 

Tennessee Kids Belong works in the community with religious organizations, social workers, and businesses connecting the needs of foster children with support from the community.   

“Businesses can become foster friendly in offering jobs or internships to some of those teenagers, or maybe they’ve aged out of foster care, and we’ll work closely with them (businesses),” Allender said. “We’ll work with them. We’ll provide trauma training to set everybody up for success.”  

Tennessee Kids Belong has created an app called Foster Friendly to link foster families with community support. Foster parents can find discounts, events, or community support near them. Meantime, businesses can become “foster friendly” partners to help or show appreciation for foster families. You can find Foster Friendly on both Android and iOS app stores.  

As we mentioned, the other nonprofit working with Tennessee Fosters Hope is Show Hope. Show Hope offers grants to help break down some of the barriers for adoptive parents.

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