by Jonathan Rockoff •
I recently had a chance to speak with foster parent Sollenski “Sky” Webb. Sky is licensed through Methodist Home for Children, a private foster care agency serving youth throughout the Central and Eastern part of North Carolina.
Sky was born and raised in Snow Hill (pop. 1,595) in Greene County, North Carolina, where she has been a foster parent since 2015. Over those three years, Sky has successfully fostered three different teenagers while also raising her two biological sons.
Throughout our conversation I asked Sky about how she has helped her agency and her community by assisting in the recruitment of foster homes, and why it is important to her to get involved in this process. (This interview has been edited for style and length.)
First, why did you decide to become a foster parent?
I was actually raised by my grandmother, who took me into her home when I was at a young age. She was also quick to take in other children that needed a safe place to stay. I learned a great deal from her and quickly saw the importance of helping others. As I grew older I had two sons of my own. I wanted to have more children, but I decided it would be better if I helped out kids in my area that needed someone to care for them. I then made the choice to become a foster parent.
“I’m happy to share the truth about foster care…. I always try to be honest about my experiences and encourage people to foster teenagers.”
Why do you think it is important for foster parents to participate in recruitment efforts?
I see my role in helping with recruitment as very important. I have seen there are several misconceptions about what being a foster parent is really like, mostly because people haven’t seen it in action for themselves.
People make assumptions based off of stereotypes or things they have heard. I have overheard people making sweeping statements about how all foster kids are “bad” and questioning my decision to provide foster care.
I feel a responsibility to go out to tell and show people in my community that kids in foster care need someone to care for them. I need to model it so they can see me and say, “If Sky can do it, so can I!” It is manageable, even for a single mother with two children of her own.
What can foster parents share about fostering that staff may not be able to?
I actually made the decision to become a foster parent myself after speaking with a foster parent in my community.
A foster parent can share experiences and give advice in a way a staff person may not be able to because they live it every day. It is one thing to hear about the intricacies of foster care from a staff person, but it means a little more coming from a foster parent. However, it’s still important to have assistance from staff to help with coordinating events and answering questions.
What are some ways you have helped with recruitment?
I have held information sessions alongside staff where people from the community can walk in off the street and learn more. I’ve also spoken to prospective parents at TIPS-MAPP panel nights, posted flyers throughout my community, volunteered at agency events, and shared social media posts.
You’ve been busy! Are there positive recruitment experiences you can share?
I have helped recruit five licensed families from my community. I have really enjoyed having the chance to meet people and helping the amount of foster homes in my area grow, as I know there is certainly a need. I’m happy to share the truth about foster care and be a face for it. I always try to be honest about my experiences and encourage people to foster teenagers.
I have also seen my biological sons mature and grow throughout this process. They are welcoming and open to all of the children that come into our home, which makes me proud.
Why is it important for foster parents to help with recruitment in more rural areas with limited resources?
I’m able to help the staff secure locations and make connections they wouldn’t have normally had. I can find spaces for information sessions and know where there is foot traffic for flyers. I can gather up groups of people and help to spread the word quickly. I have a certain knowledge about the area where I live, since I’ve lived here my entire life.
When foster parents speak with you, what advice do you give them when they’re choosing an agency to work with?
Go with an agency that you have a good feel for. Choose to work with the agency that is responsive, supportive, and meets your needs. Do not be afraid to “shop around” a little to make sure you have found the right fit.
How can foster parents get involved if they want to help with recruitment?
Reach out to your contact in your agency and let them know you want to get involved! Explain that you can help them and explain the benefits of getting foster parents directly involved.
What would you say to a foster parent interested in assisting with recruitment?
Get out there and help! There is likely a need for great homes like you in the town you live in. Understand the tremendous positive influence you can have on other people when they see you doing great work. Be a role model to the youth in your home, and to your peers.
Jonathan Rockoff is a Training Specialist with the Family and Children’s Resource Program at the UNC School of Social Work.
Ways Resource Parents Can Help with Recruitment
Sky describes many ways she partnered with her agency to help with resource parent recruitment efforts, including participating in agency information sessions, speaking during foster parent pre-service training, posting flyers in the community, and spreading the word through social media. Here are a few more ideas:
- Coordinate with your agency to make follow-up calls to prospective foster and adoptive parents.
- Reach out to your friends, family, and neighbors.
- Advise agencies on how to be culturally sensitive in their recruitment efforts.
- Share information with the agency about the newspapers you read, radio and TV stations you tune in to, and places you shop so that agencies can target their community education efforts.