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Kirstin & Rob

As a teenager, Kirstin Johnson swore she’d never become a foster carer. Her parents, Sue and Iain, have fostered more than 150 children at their home near Maryport whilst she was growing up and it seemed too much like hard work.   

Now Kirstin and her partner Rob Rowe have one teenage child of their own - plus two fostered siblings.  

“We couldn’t imagine life without them,” said Kirstin, 35.  

“When I was growing up, there were always three or four cared-for children in the house as well as my brothers and sister. I never knew anything different. It was always busy, but it was hard work for my parents and they needed so much patience.”

She and Rob, 47, changed their minds about fostering two years ago when their daughter was 12.  

“We discussed whether it would be feasible and once we’d sorted it out in our heads we spoke to our daughter. We had to make sure it was the right time for her – she was a big part of the decision process,” said Kirstin.   

“She’d always lived around fostering because of her nanny, and we’d all been on holidays with cared-for children. She said it would be good to have brothers and sisters – we hadn’t realised that it might be something she was missing.”  

The couple approached Community Foster Care – the not-for-profit agency which Kirstin’s mum uses. And after going through CFC’s training and foster care assessment process, Rob and Kirstin welcomed two children into their home on long-term placements.  

“Two years on they are definitely part of the family,” said Kirstin. “All three children get on just like every other set of siblings – they have good days and bad days, but mostly good.”   

Rob, a former demolition foreman, admits he was a bit daunted at first. But he gave up his job and became a hands-on foster carer, doing the school run, taking the children to sports events, and attending parents’ evenings.   

His view of being a foster carer is uncompromising: “I can honestly say that foster caring is the most rewarding career I’ve ever had,” he said.  

“It’s difficult for cared-for children to fit in sometimes, so we try to make their lives as normal as possible. They’re really happy and doing well at school. It’s good to see them achieving different things and having friends,” said Kirstin.  

“When all three of them come running down the stairs on Christmas morning, seeing their eyes light up and the grins across their faces – it’s wonderful.  

“When they leave home and go and do their own thing that will be another reward.”

In the early days, Rob and Kirstin relied a lot on Kirstin’s mum for advice.   

“I learned a lot from her without realising it – things like patience, consistency, and making sure that no one is left out. I hear myself saying some of the things that she used to say all the time.    

“We ring her if there’s something we’re not sure about and she always has the right answer.”  

The couple also have constant support from the cared-for children’s social worker and from Community Foster Care, based in Workington. Rob goes to a monthly support group with CFC. Kirstin is launching her own vintage clothing business from home which means she can fit work around family life.     

“We basically wanted to give someone the opportunity in life that we had – love and care in a family home. It’s very mad – but it’s never boring,” said Kirstin.  

Their advice to others who are considering fostering is to go and find out about it.   

“There are lots of foster carers out there who can give a realistic view of what it’s like. If anyone were to ask me, I’d say it’s not a job but a vocation. It’s taking responsibility for someone else’s life so it’s not a decision to be taken lightly. Being a foster carer is hard work but incredibly rewarding.”

Click here to find out more about becoming a foster carer.