Celebrating the achievements of over 100 young people in care from the Wakefield district.

We are celebrating the achievements of over 100 young people in care from the Wakefield district. Jono Lancaster from the district who himself is care experienced has leant his voice to drive awareness for more foster carers. Here is his thought provoking story, inspired by an advert he saw.

Jono Lancaster was walking in Wakefield and saw the foster care recruitment billboard poster; he told us that seeing father and son images has always moved him so it spurred him to retweet about Wakefield needing foster carers. This billboard struck a chord in Jono’s heart and he posted to social media

“I saw this in West Yorkshire today, instantly brought a smile and a little tear.  I was once fostered which lead to having a forever family, If anyone is considering/ thinking about adoption or fostering please seek out the answers that you need to follow it through.

It is honestly life changing and I’m proud to say it’s been a huge part of my journey.”  18/05/2018

Jo, the Fostering Team Manager, saw this and immediately contacted Jono to thank him for his post and enquire if he would like to share his story and promote the recruitment of foster carers for Wakefield. Jono was eager to do this and Jo and Richard from the fostering team went to meet Jono to interview him and hear his story about the impact that fostering and adoption had on his life.

When Jono was born he needed immediate medical treatment due to having Treacher Collins Syndrome, a condition that affects the development of bones and other tissues of the face.  Jono’s birth parents felt unable to manage and cope with the specialist care he would require so Jono was taken into the care of the local authority and fostered by a single carer in Wakefield.

Jono told us, “When I was born, Jean got a telephone call saying there’s a two week old boy in hospital that needs medical support; could you take him?  Jean came to see to me in the hospital and agreed to care for me and we spent much of the next two years at hospital appointments

When I was five, my mum, Jean decided to adopt me; she lives in a council estate, a single person who fostered for over 27 years. I was one of many children, I have had so many heart-to-hearts with other young people and I found it really sad that this was just one of many homes the other children had before being “passed-on.” Jean would say goodbye, tears running down her cheeks, then get in touch with the fostering team to say she was available to support another child. She was and still is an amazing woman.” 

“Jean had two older children, who moved out and went on to have families of their own when I was a baby.  I lived in an amazing house full of fostered young people, we’d fight, share things, play, tell tales on each other, argue over chores, and it was emotional, incredible. They’d come and go but I’d feel such pain and push everyone away; at Christmas, I’d be there but I felt like I wasn’t experiencing it.  I’m only in touch with one or two of the young people now but regularly message others on Facebook.”

The local and national shortage of foster carers often means that many young people have to be placed with families in different towns and different counties.  Jono feels sad that this happens,

 “I wish children could stay near their home, near their community, near their friends.  They need to be close to home because it gives them a sense of belonging; it’s all familiar and feels safe.”

“When I was twenty one my mum was caring for a toddler who was up for adoption.  For some reason I felt an amazing connection with this boy and he really responded to me.  I talked with my mum about it and she said, “Ok, what can we do?” She applied to adopt him but was declined due to her age. I was really disappointed but I’m glad that we had the chance to be there for the introductions to his new family. I remember sitting with him for half- a-hour before the new parents came, I was dripping with sweat.  It made me realise that it is easy to bond with children and so hard to let them go.

Jono went on to reflect about his teenage years and how these were difficult for him and caused him some emotional turmoil.

 “When I was a teen I pushed people away, I was in my own head, I caused her a lot of pain, I was in a dark place and she would reach out but I’d push her away, we’d both be crying, me upstairs and her down. I still feel frustrated and wished I hadn’t but I’m so glad she kept coming back. I needed her to keep coming back, she was incredible. If you’re a foster carer or a worker and things have gone wrong, dangle a carrot and they’ll come back.  If a child experiences trauma and loss it is always going to be there so foster carers need ‘Stickability.’”

“I remember being a teen, I used to wonder about my birth parents and think; maybe they were too young or didn’t have enough money to look after me?  I thought that my mum might have been a singer like Debbie Harry and perhaps she needed to concentrate on her career?  Then I hated them and then I hurt.  But now I realise that they’ve given me life and for that I am forever grateful.  That was the start of my journey not the end.  And now, I’m in control.” Jean encouraged me to reconnect with my birth parents, I didn’t want to at first.  When I finally decided to find them the BBC did a documentary which I suppose everyone expected to end with an emotional reunion…  It didn’t work out that way.  Jean cried when my family didn’t want to get in touch.”

Later I’d ask Jean, ‘Why did I come into care?’

‘Because your parents couldn’t cope,’ she'd say, 

‘Why not when you can cope?’ I’d ask.  She was always open and answered any question honestly and as I got older her language changed, it was a gradual process.”

 “Young people might not want to talk to health professionals so foster carers need to make sure they give their children a chance to talk honestly, Wait until they’re in the car or playing Fifa or Call of Duty then ask and be ready for them to say things you don’t want to hear.  If they talk angrily and are upset don’t stop them talking, just let them rant. They need to feel safe to get all of their feelings out. It might be scary but let them say it.”

 “I used to hate myself, I used to think I’d never get a job or find love but that was my attitude, not me.  Then I met a lad and he became a great mate.  He’d ask me why I felt so low and I’d think you don’t know what it’s like not living with your mum and dad and I ‘d think to myself that he was good looking and had everything, I was so jealous.  We’d fight and fall out at times but I let him into my bubble- Friends are the families we choose.”

“Ben helped me get a job in a bar in Wakefield. Jean was so excited and it rubbed off on me. On my first day I lasted an hour I was dripping in sweat but I couldn’t manage it and then I left and went home.  Jean was there; I broke down and told her everything.”

“I looked at myself and thought ‘Why Me?’ I wouldn’t leave the house. Then along came Ben and we fought and argued and he dragged me back to work. I remember being stood at the bar when a big man, covered head to foot in tattoos, started trying to catch my eye.  I tried to ignore him, he looked like he was going to say something to me, I tried not to but I ended up having to serve him; 

‘What’s happened to your face?’ he asked me, ‘Were you dropped when you were a baby?’ ‘Here we go again,’ I thought, but then he asked, ‘What’s that in your ear, can you hear anything without it?’  ‘I wish I had one so I could take it out and not hear my wife,’ then he smiled and said, ‘What’s your name, nice to meet you. Would you like a drink?’ And off he went.  I’d expected him to take the micky but he didn’t.  I realised that I had got him so wrong, and if I got him so wrong, who else have I misinterpreted? It changed my life forever.  We have that power every single day.  After that shift I stayed for a drink and I didn’t feel sorry for myself anymore.  And that’s when I met Beth.”

“I really fancied Beth, this cool girl who for some reason got on with me. A few weeks after starting at the pub later she asked if I’d like to go for a drink with her, then said, “Just me and you?”  We went for a walk around Newmillerdam, and then walked round the park, I was buzzing, it was incredible, we touched arms!  This is an actual date!”

“We went back to her place in Agbrigg.  She lit candles and made us a microwave curry and we sat face to face.  She looked at me and she had this look in her eyes, and I thought to myself, ‘oh, here we go- she’s going to talk about my face, this was all just about her wanting to ask about my face,’ then she said to me, ‘I find myself looking at your face all the time, I love your face!’  I felt like the sexiest guy alive.”

“In two months everything had changed.  It wasn’t my background or my face, they were still the same.  It was my attitude.”

“I still talk to Beth and after that I went on to start dating, got a job as a personal trainer, and became manager of a residential home.  I’m 33 years old now.  I have a new life and a new attitude.  I travel the world and have started a charity: Love Me Love My Face Foundation. ”

The aim of the foundation is to provide relief to people with Treacher Collins Syndrome and craniofacial conditions.   Jono now travels all over the world giving talks and listening to people’s experiences.  No matter with whom he talks, and it can be anyone from primary school children to rugby players and high powered business executives, everyone listens to his story and then come to him later to open up about their experience and their challenges.  He finds it amazing that by speaking about his personal experiences it gives other people the courage to talk about care, self-harm, hate, depression and joys. 

“I do a lot of work about the “Selfie Generation.”  Young people might show a picture on social media and get 5 likes, they add some make up and repost and get 10 likes, adding a bit of cleavage = 25 likes and yet they may only feel liked if they get 50 likes.”

This preoccupation for some people about looks still has an upsetting effect for Jono.

“I go on my phone and make a post about something and I’ll get some really supportive feedback but also comments such as ‘he should never be allowed to have children,’ and, ‘he should have been killed at birth.’ It’s really difficult to deal with.”

After our interview, Jono set off for Dallas and since he’s been to Florida and Cuba.  His Charity has raised the hospital fees for a girl to get a hearing aid in South Africa and a girl to have a cleft palette repair in Mexico. Now every day, somewhere in the world, he shares some of his story and it gives permission for others to share theirs.

“I have a tattoo on my arm, he told us.   It reads, ‘Along Came an Angel.’ I can’t shake this feeling off, I was lost, and then the least expected person in the world came along and surprised me.” 

“Mummy Jean was always there for me but I pushed her away- schools, counsellors, everyone tried to help me, but it wasn’t until I met the guy in the bar and Beth that it all made a difference.  It was an opportunity and I lapped it up. They were my angels. So put yourself out there; don’t hide at home, don’t hide away, share your story, share your feelings, share your successes, and move on.”

Jono is keen to support Wakefield Fostering service both in recruitment of new carers for both fostering and adoption but also the young people that are fostered. Jono like his mum Jean is inspirational and demonstrate the life changing effects being a foster carer can have for all concerned.

If you feel you have the motivation to care for children and have some of the qualities and the ‘Stickability’ that Jono refers to, and are interested in becoming a foster carer please contact:

0800 197 0320

www.wakefield.gov.uk/fostering