Finding true value and acceptance - fostering with a disability

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Jon Powton became a foster carer with the National Fostering Agency, part of the National Fostering Group, eight years ago. He started fostering because he wanted to steer his life in a new direction. Jon has muscular dystrophy – a muscle wasting condition that is life limiting. He became a foster carer not despite his disability but due to his abilities. Read here why Jon thinks more disabled people should be recruited to foster and what he loves most about his role.

I grew up in a household where disability was part of everyday life. My grandfather was confined to a wheelchair and lived with us until his death when I was eleven. He died from complications caused by muscular dystrophy – the very same condition I was diagnosed with six years later. I have seen both sides of disability, firstly not having a disability and being able-bodied, then having a disability and not being fully able bodied. I perhaps have a unique perspective of both points of view. Now that I am a foster carer, I have gained a third perspective: I am the person with the condition doing the caring.

The skills to foster

I have two fostered children living with me. They have been with me for eight years, since they were little. They rarely take notice of disability or outwardly observe it in people and are not intimidated by a person with a learning disability, a facial disfigurement or in a wheelchair. For my fostered children, disability is just part of life and nothing to fear. They see a disabled person for what they are: people. I foster because of my abilities, not my disabilities. I am resilient, compassionate and have a dogged determination. Due to my condition, I also have an understanding of adversity which I can use to relate to the children who I care for. I know how it feels if you have to come to terms with circumstances that can neither be changed nor have been self-inflicted.

Rethinking recruitment

We are all aware how inclusion should work, but also know how it all too often plays out. Traditionally, a person’s value within society is judged by their productivity. This can paint disabled people as incapable of certain things, overlooking their actual abilities and what they can contribute to society. This might include the ability to constantly adapt or the inherent drive to overcome challenges. I agree that fostering is not for everyone. It is a huge commitment and you need dedication and perseverance. It is a professional and difficult role for which you must be trained. The disabled community holds a lot of potential that could be tapped into when recruiting foster carers. There are 13,000,000 people in the UK who live with a disability. If just 0.07 per cent of those started fostering, we would have recruited the number of foster carers we need over the next 12 months.

Being a foster carer

Fostering takes great mental strength. It is challenging and it can be emotionally draining. But it is also the greatest role I have ever had. It quickly becomes a vocation for those who love it. Foster carers are professionals who play a major role in the rehabilitation of children’s wellbeing and while no fostering allowance pays for the love, care and attention I give my fostered children – that’s for free and always has been – it goes some way to covering the cost of looking after a child. Fostering has given me a purpose beyond myself. It has given me back a sense of self-worth and made me a better person.

Advice to the community

If you have a disability and want to find true value and acceptance, I would suggest enquiring about fostering. You can use the unique perspective and skills you have to improve the lives of children and young people and simultaneously enrich your own. I have experienced first hand what it feels like to see children accept and inherently promote disability as normal. It is an amazing thing to witness and a great skill to give them.