Fostering with a Disability | Interview with Jon Powton

Disabled father, sat in powered wheelchair looking out to sea with a pair of binoculars with a young boy with blonde hair standing on the back of his wheelchair smiling

Welcome to a brand new series on ‘Life of an Ambitious Turtle’ where we’re going to be unlocking doors, challenging stigmas and leaving no stone unturned on an alternative and incredibly rewarding route to parenthood – Fostering!

Wait a minute… Can people with disabilities/medical conditions even apply to be a foster carer in the UK? Every disabled person I have asked assumed you had to be fit as a fiddle or face being denied at the first mention of the D-bomb! It was this mindset I held too, that stopped our family 8 years ago from applying to adopt, despite my parents had encouraged me to go down the adoption path from a very young age rather than have my own children due to the complexity pregnancy would hold with Muscular Dystrophy. My fiance and I simply assumed like so many others, we wouldn’t stand a chance and went on to risk pregnancy, twice, to have our family dreams come true.

Near a decade on I’ve been doing some research to see what the process of fostering looks like if you have a disability, chronic illness or medical condition. To my delight when looking at my LA’s (Bolton) fostering page, “Can I foster if I’m disabled?” was one of their frequently asked questions beside – “Can I foster if I have pets/smoke/don’t own my own home?” The answer to all three of these questions is in fact – YES!!

Here to tell us about his fostering journey Disability Consultant and long-term foster carer Jon Powton, from Burnley who lives with Becker Muscular Dystrophy.

Introducing Jon…

My name is Jon Powton, I am a former engineer and property developer, but for the last nine years, I have been a foster carer with my wife. In the last six years, I’ve been a public speaker, training provider and a disabled advocate for the improvement of the recruitment of disabled people into fostering. Working with some of the largest fostering providers in the country, published several National articles in both magazines and newspapers and have been closely involved with the University of Worcester and their D.R.I.L.L project on this very subject. The recruitment of disabled people as foster carers is something close to my heart being disabled myself. I have fundamentally changed the perception of disabled people in this sector and almost singlehandedly began the now large scale changes that have begun to take shape throughout the Fostering provision sector, for disabled people.

What is your disability and how does it affect you?

I was diagnosed with Becker Muscular Dystrophy at the age of 17, but I also grew up with my maternal grandparents living in my family home, so I have also seen the illness’s progression in my own Grandfather. My condition affects me in my ambulation, I can still walk and am not confined to a wheelchair, but steps and walking are difficult, It affects me in all the obvious ways this illness shows itself. I suppose I’m fit and well, I’m mentally resilient, and in no way am I defined by my condition. I truly believe that my condition and my disability have shaped me into who I am, and in many ways, it has made me a better person for it. It has given me experiences and emotional maturity that I have found not only helpful as a foster carer, but invaluable.

What inspired you to foster?

I became a foster carer for a multitude of reasons, the most important one is obviously to help improve children’s lives, but I also did it to improve my own life. I spent quite a lot of time trying to get back into my field of expertise as an engineer after being made redundant and found the whole employment thing as difficult and biased as most people with a disability do, so I ended up self-employed as a property developer. That came to an end in part because of the financial crash, but also because it was just to hard work with my illness.

Was fostering difficult to pursue because of your condition?

It wasn’t a difficult decision for me, as I didn’t really have much expectation of being allowed to do it, I had become used to being told “no” when I went for jobs. So I just really threw my hat in the ring and hoped for the best. I was told at first that I couldn’t do it because I was ‘too disabled’. Regardless I persevered and eventually found an organisation willing to see what my capabilities were. I’ve never looked back. Never being the type of person to take no for an answer. I’m too driven and determined.

Were there any challenges in the assessment process?

I am certain it is different for everyone, but there were no challenges in the assessment process as such for me, I’ve got a very open and straightforward personality, I have no embarrassment about my illness or who and what I am, so I found the process relatively simple, yes it’s probing and intrusive, but it has to be. It’s important to remember why you get asked the questions and remember they are not looking for picture-perfect people. Real-life experiences and a can-do attitude, even some poor life choices that you have learned from, all make people better foster carers.

What age range did you choose and why?

I am approved to foster from 0-18 years and up to three children at a time.

This increases your ability to have children placed with you, as you are not putting restrictions on your availability. It’s a misconception that very young children are easier to care for, so the ‘Ideal’ is babies, who are often much more challenging than teens in my opinion. Babies that come into care often have very complex issues. Fostering is financially rewarding, but anyone who thinks it is easy money is in for a shock, NO foster carer does it for the money, but none can do it without it.

Tell us about your first foster placement…

My first foster placement was a 17-year-old sex offender. This was four days after approval. I would imagine that makes a lot of people panic, but it really wasn’t very difficult, he was still a child in desperate need of help, and the fact he had been accused of something didn’t change that. He taught me a lot that’s for sure. My condition didn’t play any part in fostering him, he knew I had a problem and was kind and helpful to me as I treated him with courtesy and respect.

Have there been any difficulties you’ve been faced with in regards to your condition as you’ve continued to foster over the years?

My illness doesn’t stop me from providing everything my children need or want, I can’t play football or run around with them in the park, but I can facilitate them doing it. I make up for my physical limitations by using my brain, I don’t foster on my disabilities I foster on my abilities. Disability doesn’t stop many people from having children, it doesn’t mean those children miss out, it just means things are done a little differently.

My MD is just there, it makes things harder I’m sure, but so what, I just get on with it, I don’t allow it to define the care I provide or become a barrier.

I think it is important for me to point out that my condition has positively impacted on the children I foster, they are kind and caring kids who have no fear of a disability, they happily talk to disabled people without mocking or fear, they don’t even really see it in people anymore. To them it is just normal life.

Is there much support for foster carers with disabilities?

In terms of support for people with disabilities in fostering, I think things are improving, but to be fair I don’t think support was in a bad place to start with.

Support for foster carers varies from provider to provider, some are better than others, but most are good to start with, some are amazing. In my humble opinion, I would only really recommend fostering with an Independent Fostering Agency, This is largely based on the number of resources they have, which tends to be more than local authorities. It is also something that I can help directly with. It can be very hard to get a seat at the table in the first place without the right advice and help. I can’t promise anyone that they can foster, I can only promise I can get them listened too.

Do you have any advice for people out there who are disabled and are thinking about fostering?

My advice is that if you believe that you can foster even with a disability then you should be given the opportunity to be assessed. I think people have to be honest with themselves and realistic about their own limitations, but also don’t rule yourself out, because people with significant disabilities may have the capacity to foster. It’s about you as an individual, not you as a condition.

The assessment to become a foster carer has to be the same for everyone, I don’t think disabled people should be given special dispensation, but I do think that they should be given the face to face opportunity to prove how they manage their conditions and how they will be able to manage the fostering task with their medical issues. Beyond the medical issues, fostering is about people, and many able-bodied people don’t get to foster either, so it’s much more about how you can help children than your disability. If you’re the right kind of person, the disability will always take a back seat. Fostering isn’t easy, nor is it what many people envision. When all said and done, you are being given the responsibility to care for someone else’s child(ren), this is a privilege, and quite rightly the bar should be set high for those that wish to do it.

The bar is high, but disabled people continually break down barriers and demonstrate just how amazing they are, it is not too high to get over.

The Fostering Crisis – Not enough carers to meet demands

In my opinion, 2 million or more people within estimated 13.9 million disabled individuals in the UK have the potential to get successfully through the recruitment process and become foster carers. It is impossible to say for certain just how high the number is, but even at that conservative estimate of 2 million, just 0.55% of them would be enough to completely solve the fostering recruitment shortage in the UK.

A HUGE thank you to Jon for all his hard work and dedication to breaking down the barriers within fostering so more people with disabilities may apply without facing prejudice and for educating the relevant agencies on the benefits of actively encouraging disabled people to apply to foster when recruiting.


Photo of Jon Powton, seated with his hands folded in his lap. A slender gentleman with greying hair, beard and mustache and blue eyes.If you would like to learn more about fostering with a disability and perhaps have additional questions that weren’t answered by this interview, Jon is available and more than happy to guide people through the system, giving you the contacts and information you need and is also open to press work to encourage more disabled people to apply to foster.

If you would like to learn more about fostering with a disability and perhaps have additional questions that weren’t answered by this interview, Jon is available and more than happy to guide people through the system, giving you the contacts and information you need and is also open to press work to encourage more disabled people to apply to foster.

To get in touch simply fill out the form on the Contact page and I’ll be happy to pass on your details.

About Me

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