Watch: John Lewis 2022 Christmas ad shining a light on children in care
John Lewis has dropped its Christmas advert and this year's offering is even more emotional than usual.
The 90-second ad, entitled The Beginner shines a light on children in care with the story of a man learning to skateboard before welcoming a teenager into the family home.
Set to a cover of Blink-182’s All The Small Things by US artist Mike Geier, it shows the man as he struggles to master skateboarding in the build-up to Christmas.
Viewers are left questioning the motive behind his perseverance until the final scene, which shows a social worker arriving at his door with Ellie, who has arrived at her new foster home carrying her skateboard.
The advert, released this morning, follows the launch of the Building Happier Futures programme from the John Lewis Partnership, a long-term commitment to help young people with experience of the care system.
There are an estimated 100,000 children and young people who will spend this Christmas in care this year and the retailer said it hoped the ad would spark conversation and action around the often overlooked issue.
“At John Lewis we care deeply about families, and recognise that they come in many different forms," explains Claire Pointon, Director of Customers at John Lewis.
"For our biggest moment of the year, we decided to focus on one kind of family that is often overlooked."
Imran Hussain, Director of Policy and Campaigns at Action for Children hopes the partnership with the retailer will enable the charity to support and empower more children and young people.
“At Action for Children we want every child to have a safe and happy childhood," he says. "Every year, we work with over 40,000 children and young people in, or with experience of, the care system, and we know the challenges and poor outcomes they may face."
Hussain says the advert shines a light on an issue that’s often pushed aside: “These children have been through so much,” he tells Yahoo UK. “Abuse, neglect and violence in the family. Their childhoods have been uprooted, their schooling has been disrupted, they haven’t had the best start in life.
“The advert shows the difference we can all make to try and give children safe and loving homes.”
Government statistics reveal that, at the end of March 2020, there were around 44,500 fostering households, in 431 agencies, with around 75,300 approved foster carers looking after about 56,500 children.
But, despite a 7% rise in enquiries about becoming a foster carer to 137,200, there was a 10% decrease in applications to become a carer from March 2019.
According to Sarah Thomas Fostering Network director for Wales, Ofsted released figures showing there is an all-time low with the applications to foster, something the advert is hoping to change.
“This promotion of reframing fostering and seeing it as something that anyone in the community can do couldn’t be better timing,” she explains.
Thomas says fostering doesn’t just change a child’s life, but the lives of the entire family.
“It’s an absolutely life-changing thing for children and also for people who choose to foster,” she adds.
What is fostering?
Action for Children describes fostering as looking after a child or a young person who can’t live with their family.
Those children may need a home until they become adults, or only for a little while.
There are a number of different types of fostering including long-term, where you foster children who cannot go back to their birth family but do not want to be adopted, and short-term where you look after children for a few weeks or months while plans are made for their future.
Other types of foster caring include 'emergency care' (where you give a child somewhere safe to stay for a few nights, which is normally unplanned and with short notice) and 'respite and short break fostering' where you care for children who have disabilities, special educational needs or behavioural issues while their parents or usual foster carers take a break.
As well as providing care for children and young people on a day-to-day basis, foster parents are expected to advocate on behalf of the child and support their educational, health and social wellbeing.
They will also be asked to keep records, attend meetings and work with the wider care team.
Who can foster?
According to Gov.uk, to become a foster parent you need to be a UK resident or have 'indefinite leave to remain' and able to take care of a child or young person, often on a full-time basis.
While you do not need to own your home, you’ll usually need to have a spare bedroom.
You don’t have to be married or in a relationship to foster, lots of fantastic foster carers are single but according to Thomas, you should be able to demonstrate a network of support.
Your sexual orientation is also not important to being a foster carer and will not stop you from fostering – in fact much is being done to encourage members of the LGBTQ+ community to consider fostering.
Earlier this year LGBT+ Adoption and Fostering Week returned for its 10th year. The campaign brings together some 70 adoption and fostering agencies from across the UK and LGBT+ potential applicants and aims to encourage more LGBT+ people to consider adopting and fostering.
"Just like with parenting, we do not say that any particular characteristic of a person's identity makes them a good foster parent," explains Thomas.
"We are promoting people from all sorts of communities to come forward and foster. There is definitely a child for anybody who thinks they can foster."
Will I have to give up work to foster?
Not necessarily. Whether you can work and foster will depend on the child you are fostering's individual circumstances, needs and the fostering service you apply for.
"For some children, working alongside fostering is ok, but for others it is very dependent on the needs of that child, and the type of fostering you are doing" explains Thomas.
"Just like parenting we have to make decisions about working," she continues. "It can be flexible, but it [whether you are still able to work] is something that will be assessed on an individual basis."
Becoming a foster parent: the process
Before you can foster, you must pass a fostering assessment by a social worker to check that you’re able to care for a child.
The assessment will take the form of stages that may be carried out separately or at the same time.
While Thomas says the assessment is robust, because of the responsibilities involved, it isn’t complicated.
Stage 1 involves gathering practical information about your circumstances to assess if fostering is right for you.
According to Gov.uk, some of the questions you might be asked could involve providing information about your home and who lives with you, personal information such as your relationship history, your health (you'll need a medical statement, usually from your GP) and your history of applications to foster, adopt or become a childminder.
You'll also be asked to provide the names and addresses of at least two people who can give references for you.
During this part of the assessment the social worker can ask for more information or run other checks.
Stage 2 involves the collecting of more detailed information about you and your family.
During this stage a social worker will ask more questions so that they can get to know you and your family.
Some of the details they may ask about include your personality, religious believes, cultural background, employment history and standard of living.
They may also enquire about any hobbies and interests and whether you have any useful skills relevant to fostering.
According to Action for Children, there are also some standard checks to go through including a police check (DBS in England, PVG in Scotland) and a medical.
Different fostering services assess in different ways, for example you could be called, visited at home, or invited to meetings.
After you've made your application, the fostering service will contact you to tell you the result of your application.
If you’re approved you’ll start training and meet your social workers and you'll be added you to a list of available foster parents.
You’ll be given training and support throughout the time you’re fostering.
How to start the process
Thomas is keen to stress the importance of contacting a service local to you, in order to be able to keep children with their siblings, or at their school, able to attend their clubs and activities and see their friends.
The Fostering Network has a page on their website with all the local services.
She also recommends contacting the charity’s helpline where they can be talked through the process and receive all the information they need before making a decision about fostering.