A transgender woman who has been fostering for 15 years has urged people to sign up to become a foster carer and address a shortage.
Rona Howard currently looks after two girls aged 14 and 16, and has fostered eight young people overall.
“I was very surprised that I was accepted,” Rona tells the Gazette of her career change. Born a male, she had previously worked as an engineer.
She adds: “I think a lot of people in my position would be surprised. But my experiences help me to do the job.
“Someone who has been perfect and done nothing wrong might not be able to understand why these young people are angry.
“When I was younger I was a nightmare, I got into so much trouble. Everything was me, myself and I. I think I’m a much nicer person now because of fostering.”
Rona, who lives in Hemel Hempstead, prefers to take on children aged over 13 long term, as she lives on her own. And the help she has had along the way from support services at Hertfordshire County Council has helped her carry out an important role for young people.
She said: “When I had my gender reassignment I decided I wanted to change my career as well. I came up with two plans, but the first was to become a foster parent.
“The actual support from social services has been fantastic, they are so supportive. If there is ever a problem they are always there.
“One of my first young people said they could never figure me out – he thought he always had me sussed and then I would surprise him. He couldn’t read me 100 per cent because I could be flexible and adapt, and I could always access help.
“Each person is individual, but the fact is that there are so many people who don’t have the belief that they can do it. But with the help and support that is there, if I can be a foster parent then anyone can do it. It’s hard, but we need carers who are willing to go the extra mile.”
Rona, who is now 67, says she is always up front and honest about her background.
“I was born male. When I was younger the biggest nightmare was people finding out about me,” she says.
“I knew I wasn’t happy from a young age. My father told me I would get over it, and it was only when my mother died that I decided to change gender. I was going out to clubs and being more involved in that community from about my 30s. I was about 45 when I had my operation.”
With her children fully aware of her background, Rona says she has never had anything but support from the young people she has fostered.
She said: “I am dealing with teenagers and the modern teenager is so open and able to accept, and work things out for themselves. It’s never been a problem; in fact sometimes they become defensive of me.
“One of my young children was like a rottweiler, she was ready to go at them if they ever looked at me funnily. I’m very tall so people do look!
“Young people are absolutely incredible. If they like you as a person, it doesn’t matter about any baggage you may have. They are grossly underestimated.”
To promote LGBT Week (March 5-11) the county council is calling on people from the LGBT community to consider fostering, and illustrating that there are no barriers to LGBT people becoming foster parents.
In Hertfordshire there are more than 900 children and young people in care. Each month,the council receives an average of 55 requests for new foster placements.
Rona, who returned to fostering after a brief break two years ago, said: “There are no barriers to being a foster carer for a member of the LGBT community.
“I think the barriers are in our own minds. I have not had any bad experiences, only support. I think a lot of it comes down to having confidence. I would say to other members of the LGBT community, don’t be afraid or frightened. If you don’t try, you’ll never know. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
“It’s changed me, hopefully it’s made me a better person and I have now got so many friends and so many wonderful experiences. So ask, find out and don’t think you won’t be allowed to go for it.”