For many, the release of the John Lewis ad marks the countdown to Christmas, and it can always be relied on to spread a little joy. True to form, this year’s ad warms the heart – and for us at Become, the national charity for children in care and young care leavers, it’s particularly magical to see a much-loved institution shine a light on what good care can and should look like for the 108,000 children in the UK care system today.
The ad, featuring a couple preparing to welcome a foster child into their home, shows them taking the time and care to learn about the young person’s interests so they can really connect with them. This might seem a small thing, but care-experienced young people tell us time and again just how vital loving relationships are to them – strong and stable relationships can help ensure that they continue to thrive throughout their lives, long after they have left care.
70% of children in care live in foster care. Every young person’s experience and journey is different; for some children and young people, their journey into and through the care system will have been a positive one, supported and cared for in a loving foster home. But sadly, for many others, this is far from their reality.
Young people in care can face huge levels of instability, which makes building meaningful relationships so much harder. There are just not enough suitable and safe places to live, and many children are moved miles away from the connections that are important to them, from their friends, their siblings, their schools – even at Christmas it is not uncommon for young people to be moved half-way across the country.
Another barrier to building those meaningful relationships is stigma. We hear all too often from care-experienced young people how stigma and prejudice impact them – from the professionals that are there to support them, their peers and friendship groups, employers, and the wider public in various day-to-day experiences. As one young person said “We get judged differently. Some people in school may get bullied. You’ve got people boasting about being with their own family when you’re not.”
The stigma that young people feel can also be intensified by how care experience is represented in the media. Most people won’t be aware of children’s social care and if they are it might be through watching shows such as ‘Tracy Beaker’, which skews their view of children in care as ‘difficult’ or ‘challenging’ or ‘other’. Children in care are already having to deal with personal issues and the expectation of low achievement – having to fight against these negative stereotypes is yet another burden we place upon them.
It feels particularly poignant to be highlighting this issue at Christmas when most families are coming together, but too many children in care are isolated and alone. So, we’re very pleased to see John Lewis use their platform to stand in solidarity with care-experienced young people because we absolutely need to challenge the stigma that too many care-experienced young people face – but we also need to change the system itself.
And what makes the John Lewis Christmas campaign even more timely is that this December, we expect the Government to publish its response to the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care which came out in May and called for urgent reform to fix an overwhelmed care system. At the top of Become’s Christmas wish list is for the Government to create greater stability for children in the care system so they can grow up in steady environments and maintain the connections that matter to them, and to #EndTheCareCliff to ensure that no young person has to leave care before they’re ready and without the support they need to be happy, healthy, and fulfil their potential.
Making it a priority to ensure all children receive the good care they should expect and deserve is within the Government’s gift this Christmas, but it is also their duty. Let’s hope they respond with aspiration so that the love and care shown in the John Lewis ad becomes a reality for all children.