Rona Howard is a transgender foster carer who has been fostering with Hertfordshire County Council for over 15 years. To mark LGBT Adoption and Fostering Week between 5-11 March, she writes about her rewarding experiences for Gay Times.

When I decided to change my gender, I also decided to change my lifestyle and my career. Many years ago, I worked as a mechanical engineer, but when I transitioned I felt the need to do something different, something more meaningful, something that would make a difference to the lives of others.

I went through the preparation and assessment process to be a foster carer and I was amazed when I was accepted! Like many other LGBTQ people I was worried about the process and felt that my identity would be an issue, but it never was. Many LGBTQ people wrongly assume that our sexual identity will discount us from becoming an approved foster carer.

The fostering team at Hertfordshire County Council were welcoming, friendly and very supportive through the process.

It’s been over 15 years since I was approved and I have fostered eight young people on a long-term basis in this time. They have all gone on to lead independent lives and some are still in touch with me. I’ve had many wonderful experiences with them.

A young man who once displayed particularly challenging behaviours is now a wonderful adult and a doting father. His transformation was remarkable and so rewarding for me personally. I am currently looking after two teenage girls aged 14 and 16 years. I also occasionally provide short term care.

I don’t have children of my own so of course I was apprehensive at first. I was particularly concerned about my abilities as a parent. But the support and training I received has been incredible. If there’s a problem, there is always someone there with advice. If you’re struggling, they help you sort it out.

One of the young people I cared for was always trying to get the better of me, but we managed to overcome the difficulties and come through it. This was largely due to the support I received from the Hertfordshire fostering team. If I felt challenged, I always had my social worker to discuss it with and guide me through it. It has been a great learning journey for me.

I am very open about who and what I am because I don’t suffer any prejudice from it. I also don’t want it to affect the young people who live with me and I don’t want it being ‘their problem’. I personally let the teenagers I foster, and those who matter know, about me. This is especially important so that they are prepared and know what to say if people ask questions in relation to my identity.

I think the barriers are in our own minds, I have not had any bad experiences, only support. I think a lot of it has to do with confidence. I am dealing with teenagers who often get a bad rap for being difficult. However, I feel that the modern teenager is so open, accepting and able to work out things for themselves. None of the young people I fostered have had an issue with my identity. In fact, many of them actually become protective of me.

I would say to other members of the LBGTQ community thinking about fostering, don’t be afraid, if you don’t try you’ll never know. I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s changed me. I hope it has made me a better person. And I’ve now got so many friends and wonderful experiences.

So, I urge you to give it a go. Ask questions and find out if it’s for you, don’t dismiss it because you feel you can’t do it or won’t be allowed. Go for it!

Hertfordshire County Council is looking for local foster carers. Our team will guide you through the process, and support you every step of the way. For more information about fostering, click here, or for information about adopting, click here. Alternatively, call our friendly recruitment team on 0800 917 0925.