Why foster carer Jo, from East Yorkshire, had a 12ft statue made in her honour
Ever met someone so kind, they had a statue made in their honour? Neither had we, until we met foster carer Jo from East Yorkshire. She chats to us about winning the #myKINDhero award and the story behind it.
When Jo logs onto our video call, she has just finished settling a four-month-old baby to sleep and explains the baby’s twin sister is also sleeping nearby. She is fostering the babies and a 15-year-old girl at the time of us speaking and her adopted son, Kasper, aged 14, comes in the room to say hello.
There is so much for us to speak about as in October 2022, Jo not only won the local sports volunteer of the year award but was nominated by her husband Christopher to win an award by KIND snacks, which recognise truly amazing people in the UK. Jo has fostered 95 children, adopted one of them and is the lead volunteer of a pan-disability football club for children with additional needs. She went on to win the award and receive the honour, which 500 other people were nominated for.
Rewinding back to the start of Jo’s fostering journey, she explains that she and Christopher started fostering in 2004. ‘My son James was 11 years old at the time. I told my husband I had always wanted to foster, as I knew others who did and thought “I could do that really well”.’ Fast forward 19 years and the family have not looked back.
When asked to reflect on these years and the 95 children who have come into their home, Jo explains she cannot choose just one stand out moment. Instead, she explains there are multiple people she will never forget.
One of these is a young boy Jo cared for who she explains had complex behavioural needs. ‘He had no positive behaviours taught to him during his early years, to the point we couldn’t let go of his hand in public. But by the time he left us six months later, he was a changed boy.’ With Jo’s help, he left her home calmer, able to follow instructions, feeling safe and in a structured routine. This is just one of the many children Jo has made a life-long impact on.
Jo also reflects on the COVID-19 lockdowns and describes that alongside their son, she and Christopher were looking after a sibling group of four and two other children – caring for seven children in the house at once. You can tell immediately that Jo would not have it any other way as she explains: ‘I can’t imagine not fostering – we took a two-month break and the house felt so empty without children in it.’
Creating a change for good
Despite her busy family and fostering commitments, Jo made time to co-found the Hull branch of Barton Inclusive Football Club. It consists of three pan-disability football teams for children and young adults – the first of its kind in the local community.
Speaking of its formation, Jo describes: ‘My son Kasper has additional needs, and there wasn’t a disability team in our area. He wanted to play football competitively, so I spoke with the chairperson of the Barton based football club and took things from there.’ Jo has gone on to take the reigns of BIFC Hull – from organising matches, ordering kits, running the social media accounts and more.
When asked how she finds enough time in the day to do all of this, she laughs and answers: ‘Well, you just have to crack on with it don’t you?’.
This mentality speaks volumes, and it is clear why the club is such a success, with over 60 young players now registered between the three teams. Jo agrees that many will remember their experience with BIFC Hull, as they had often been turned away from other mainstream teams due to their difference in capabilities.
She goes on to elaborate: ‘No one is turned away and we don’t put any pressure on our players. They can even sit on the field and hold a football for an hour if they wish – as long as they are happy to be there.’ The feedback from Kasper, other children and their parents make it all worthwhile. The hard work has resulted in a solution, so that other children with additional needs can have a positive experience of sport from the start.
Looking to the future
When asked to talk about where she sees the direction of her life going in the coming years, Jo says it will still involve fostering. She explains that despite often saying she will slow down, she realises ‘it just doesn’t feel right.’
You can see the passion Jo has for fostering as she goes on to speak proudly of a young girl she and Christopher are currently caring for. ‘Her manners have improved so much – we really try to be role models for the children and set a good example, so they can succeed in society and be the best version of themselves.’
It was clear from the start of meeting why Jo won the #myKINDhero award, but especially so as we begin to close our conversation. Finally, when asked how the past few months have been and what it felt like to win and see the four-metre statue on London’s Southbank, she laughs again. ‘I couldn’t believe it – it was incredible and surreal, especially with a day full of interviews and cameras around me!’.
On a more serious note, Jo goes on to say she is still shocked she won the award because ‘there must be other people more deserving of it.’ We could not think of Jo as any more deserving of this recognition and are certain countless children she has cared for will think the same.