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How 10,000 people living with disability could end the foster care crisis

Jon Powton’s goal is to change the employment sphere for disabled people, put children in safe homes, change the narrative around disability and make a little bit of the world a better place… He challenges you, disabled or not, to find fault with that.

Becker muscular dystrophy: a life-changing diagnosis

I was diagnosed at 17 with Becker muscular dystrophy, a condition I share with my older brother and the one I saw my grandfather succumb to when I was 11. I’m not here to preach to the converted about how my life turned upside down. I guess many of you know more about it than I do, but like most stories, mine still needs some explaining.

How 10,000 people living with disability could end the foster care crisis
Jon Powton

Becker is like Duchene in slow motion: the same irrepressible chipping away of function, self-respect and dignity, but over decades… The hard-learned lessons about how disability creeps into all aspects of a once-normal life… The slow realisation that your hopes, dreams and ambitions are tumbling down a helter-skelter of emotional turmoil and coming out the other end in tatters.

Workplace prejudice towards the disabled

Now, I trained as a highly skilled engineer and had a successful, if short, career, brought to an abrupt end by my condition and the attitudinal prejudices people have towards the disabled daring to venture into the workplace. It took me a long time to figure out why, but it turns out that it’s historical: people have always been judged by how much they can produce—that old piecework mentality. Society doesn’t see capability, it only sees capacity, and they’re not the same thing.

Yet, disability gave me as much as it took away: yes, it stopped me going into the air force; yes, it ruined my engineering career; yes, it cost me a fortune; and I had a wasted decade feeling sorry for myself. But it gave me skills and an education that can’t be taught: self-awareness, resilience, compassion, a single-minded determination to prove them all wrong. It made me have a better, or certainly stronger, character—through exposure to the dark side of humanity: the bullying and prejudice, the humiliation of being laughed at or pointed at because I walk weird. To sum it up, what all this develops in a disabled person… is understanding.

Becoming a foster carer

Who else in society faces the same daily torrent of emotional, psychological and physical abuse as a disabled person; who knows that fear? A child in the care system, that’s who. That’s why I became a foster carer. I used my own learning curve of experiencing that negativity to help children navigate theirs. This is a happy story…

Being a foster carer is amazing—hard at times but amazing—and is the most important and rewarding thing I’ve ever done. It changes lives and has certainly changed mine, but fostering is in crisis and has been for years.

Fostering groups want you

For a while it’s been common knowledge that 10,000 carers are needed, but all the recruitment strategies are failing. Or at least they were, until I stepped in and pointed out that no one was advertising to the disabled community—the 14 million of them, many of whom have kids and jobs and a massive untapped additional skillset that matches perfectly with the needs of looked after children.

Disabled people were actively blocked from fostering until I came along and pointed out this nonsense. Now after a few dozen magazine articles and newspaper inches, training dozens of recruitment managers and staff, keynote inclusion in major research by the University of Worcester, being made a FosterTalk ambassador, and partnering with the largest independent fostering group in the UK, the whole world of fostering has changed its tune. Now they want you, and I can help.

Let me break it down.

13,900,000 disabled people in the UK: 10,000 carers needed.

So, less than a tenth of the disabled community (0.07%) could solve this problem and receive £350+ per week per child, keep all their disability benefits and pay almost no tax in the process. All while improving the life of the most vulnerable people in society. How’s that for self-esteem and proving society wrong about the disabled?

Reality check

Fostering is a job and a professional one. It’s child-led, and any carer, disabled or not, must be able to meet the needs of a child to foster. It requires continuous training and development, a dynamic approach and great mental resilience. It’s vital to understand that any questions you are asked during recruitment are part of a fair assessment of your ability to meet this challenge and the needs of amazing yet often complex children—children who have suffered some form of harm. It’s also important to stress that no one actually fosters for the money, but they can’t foster without it. The care, love and compassion are free; the roof over their head, the clothes they wear, the holidays they go on and the food on their plate are not.

A disability-friendly opportunity

Let’s be honest, employment for disabled people is a joke in the UK. I was always the top applicant in every interview until I mentioned my disability… Why employ Jon with his issues and insurance liabilities when I can employ Joe who hasn’t the baggage? I understand it, even if I don’t like it. Well, fostering changed that for me, and my work has changed its potential for you, anywhere in the country. You can now have a fair crack at it: no special treatment, no bias. A disability-friendly opportunity to show your strengths and skills and maybe change your future.

I want to hear from you. I can put you in front of the right people to answer your many questions and give you a chance at the most rewarding career you could ever have. This is with no obligation and completely free of charge. I do this for the children in care who need help and the community I share as a disabled person.

Remember, I foster on my abilities not my disability. So can you. If you want to know more, have a question or think this is for you, my details are below.

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