BECOMING A CARER
Thinking about fostering after seeing the John Lewis Christmas ad?
At a glance
- Keen to become a foster carer?
- Why the John Lewis foster care Christmas ad matters
- Looking beyond family to community
- What about those myths the John Lewis fostering ad busts?
- How the John Lewis ad might resonate with young people in foster care
- The message to take away from the John Lewis fostering Christmas ad
British department store John Lewis has given the UK’s foster care community a wonderful Christmas present, in the form of a heartwarming television ad that tells the story of a foster family and their young person.
The John Lewis Christmas ad is the most anticipated advertisement to appear on our nation’s TVs all year, so millions of people across the country will watch this 90-second short film this festive season.
Perhaps you’ve seen it already? Perhaps that’s why you’re here — because you want to learn more about fostering in the UK and how you can become a carer. If not, then take a minute and a half to watch the ad before reading on. You won’t regret it.
In this article, we’ll discuss the John Lewis ad and why it matters. We’ll also have advice for anyone interested in learning more about fostering in the UK.
As the John Lewis ad highlights, there are more than 108,000 young people in the care system in the UK.
The UK is about 8000 foster carers short of the number required to look after all those young people, so we desperately need more foster carers to give these young people safe and supportive homes.
If you’re champing at the bit to find out what it takes to become a foster carer in the UK, here are a few useful articles brimming with information you need:
The timing of the John Lewis ad could not be better. It really is a wonderful Christmas present for independent foster care agencies like Lika, Local Authorities, foster carers, and young people living in the care system.
A few months ago, the UK Government released The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care. Among many other findings, the review pointed out that recruiting foster carers was becoming increasingly difficult. The complexity of some care situations, the added stress of fostering, and even the cost-of-living crisis are all making the recruitment task harder.
Yet those 108,000 young people still need homes, and supportive adults to take them under their wing. And we also know from experience how wonderfully fulfilling and transformative being a foster carer can be — both for the carer and for the kids.
So, when I watched the John Lewis ad, I welled up. I cried.
At this time of year there’s so much in the media about it being a family time, a happy time, a time for people getting together, yet there are so many young people in our communities that don’t have that, who are alone, or who aren’t with their families. Or, if they are, their families are experiencing really difficult times because of abuse or neglect, for example.
There are so many layers to the message in the ad but I think the intention was to remind people to bring warmth into that idea of fostering somebody. They also bust a few myths in the ad, too, which is great. But it was really the human element that was so powerful to me.
Jamie, who looks after our foster carer recruitment at Lika, had a similar reaction to me.
“Christmas is a time when people think about each other, relationships and look after one another,” he said. “Fostering is a perfect example of how we can look after one another. Fostering can be a complex area to work in, but it doesn’t mean we should avoid having conversations about fostering and kids in care, and as a society we need to do that a bit more. So, it was heartwarming to see John Lewis use their platform for that.
“I think what they wanted the audience to think about was taking Christmas beyond the immediate. Christmas can be about presents, it can be about family coming together. But if we zoom out a bit further and think about what’s going on in the world, in our community, in our neighbourhood, it creates a wider context. We need to think beyond our families sometimes.”
I mentioned earlier that the John Lewis ad busts a few myths around fostering. I think the first of those myths is around representation. It would have been so easy for John Lewis to choose a very cute five-year-old or six-year-old as the child at the heart of the story.
Instead, they chose an older child. It’s important for people to realise that it’s not just younger kids who find themselves in the care system. A lot of teenagers find themselves needing a foster family, too. Some carers prefer to foster younger children, others prefer teenagers. It was just great to see that representation.
I also found it quite realistic that, at the end of the ad, when the young person appears at the door behind her social worker, it’s not all suddenly happily families. For a young person (as for the new foster carers) meeting your foster family and seeing your new home can bring with it lots of emotions other than joy — fear, trepidation, anxiety.
The ad, of course, centres on the male foster carer learning how to ride a skateboard. I think that is a lovely reminder that as a teenager you can still be scared and fearful coming into a new foster home, and that the foster carer understands that — and that he’s had the ability to think, “Okay, who is this young person I am hearing about?”
He has obviously heard the young person is into skateboarding and thought, “Right, that’s my way in. I’m going to learn about this. I’m going to try my best to have that skill so that there’s something we can at least talk about”. And he puts his full heart into it, bless him, and despite the injuries he continues on.
Of course, it’s not just adults sitting in front of the tele, watching the John Lewis Christmas ad. Young people — both in the care system and outside it — are likely to watch the ad, too.
Jamie said he felt the ad did a good job of keeping this younger audience in mind, too.
“The advert really does justice to young people in care,” he said. “If I was a young person watching this, I would feel that it was quite a respectful advert. You can’t get everybody’s ideas and opinions into an advert very well sometimes, but I think it’s a lovely way to show how a foster family is thinking about a young person before they even come to stay with them.
“I love the fact that the dad is learning about a young person before they’ve come along, before they’ve even met them. I think if it was a young person watching that, I’d think actually foster carers do really hold us in mind.
“If a young person is going to come into care, or if they’re in care at the moment, watching it with their foster carer, that might lead to a conversation of talking about their relationship in a slightly different way.”
As an independent fostering agency operating across London, we have a lot of conversations with people about foster care. What we hope the John Lewis ad will do is spark some of those conversations in homes around the country. We hope people will ask themselves questions like:
- What do I know about fostering?
- Do I want to know more about fostering?
- Is there anybody in my kids’ class who might be fostered?
“I just want people to think about it a little bit further, because it’s a national crisis that we don’t have more foster carers, and there needs to be more attention placed on that fact,” Jamie said.
“We have to create more of a national agenda around fostering. So, I hope this advert gets fostering onto people’s radars. Ultimately, I’d like them to walk away and start thinking about foster agencies in their area, or young people being looked after by Local Authorities.
“It starts with thinking about fostering and asking questions, going to information evenings, sending in an email inquiring, picking up the phone to make a phone call.
“That phone call is a really important way to find out more information. It’s a brave thing to do, but it’s really helpful, because we can demystify what fostering can look like, quite quickly. I hope the ad leads to more phone calls. I’ll be very happy.”
We haven’t noticed those phone calls yet, but hopefully, as the ad replays over Christmas, more families will have those important conversations about fostering, and perhaps the phone will start to call in the new year.
If you’re in south or east London and you’re interested in becoming a foster carer, give the helpful team at Lika a call on 020 8667 2111. We’re here to answer all your questions.
We’re in the London boroughs of Croydon, Sutton, Bromley, Merton, Lambeth, Westminster, Wandsworth, Lewisham, Southwark, Islington, Camden, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, City of London, Haringey, Newham, Redbridge, and Barking and Dagenham, Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea.