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Opinion

The John Lewis Christmas advert is a powerful challenge to foster care stereotypes

This year’s John Lewis Christmas advert features a girl arriving with her new foster family. It’s a challenge to negative stigma about care experienced people, according to the company’s nominated charity, Who Cares? Scotland

Every year, the John Lewis Christmas advert is a national talking point. But this year, for the first time in the history of the famous ads, the John Lewis Partnership has decided to do something different. This year it tells a story about another type of family: a foster family, welcoming a teenage girl, Ellie, into their home.

As the Scottish national membership body for Care Experienced people, we at Who Cares? Scotland welcome this. We are delighted to have been selected by the John Lewis Partnership, along with Action For Children, as their nominated charity partner. Our logos which appear at the end of the Christmas advert reflect the fact that the retailer – which includes all John Lewis and Waitrose stores across the UK – will be raising funds for our work.

There are around 15,000 children in care in Scotland right now. Across the UK, there are 108,000. The term we use is ‘care experienced’, to describe people with lived experience of the care system. This experience can take many forms. It can include foster care, like Ellie in the John Lewis advert, arriving at a new foster placement. Other forms of care experience include residential care, kinship care (living with a relative other than mum or dad), adoption and being ‘looked after at home’ where a child may continue to live with a parent, but with support from social work.  Many Care Experienced people will have experienced multiple types of care setting, as part of their journey.

Who Cares? Scotland has been around for more than 40 years, working alongside Care Experienced people to make sure their voices are heard. We deliver advocacy services and we campaign for positive change to the care system. Our work is vital and supports Care Experienced people of all ages, from the children in the system today, to the adults who left care long ago. Because the impact of care can be lifelong.

We know that all children need the same things to thrive. They need to feel safe, loved and supported by those who care about them. However, for children with experience of care, those things can’t always be taken for granted. Children in the system can often be bounced around from placement to placement, being uprooted from their communities and separated from family and friends – even from their own brothers and sisters.

Our learning, from what we’ve heard over five decades, tells us that care experienced people, from birth to old age, continue to have their rights diluted, infringed, or disregarded altogether. In Scotland, we’ve had an Independent Care Review, which led to the publication of The Promise, setting out a blueprint for Scotland to create a care system with love at the heart.

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But policy and legislation can only take us so far. We know, that for positive change to be felt in full, the public will need to know and understand care, and care experience.

This is why support from a major household name like John Lewis is so important to our care community.

Care experienced people tell us they experience stigma and discrimination, as a result of having been in care. This often begins at school and follows them into adulthood. We also know, that this stigma in part exists, because the media churns out unhelpful, uninformed and unfair stereotypes of care experienced people as somehow damaged or broken.

The reality is that care experienced people are amazing and diverse, full of potential and with an important contribution to make to their communities.

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Now, with the strength of the John Lewis Partnership behind us, and with it, all its creative powers to capture the public attention, we are excited about where this could take us.

It’s time to change the record.

Marie-Claire Jones is director of fundraising & communications at Who Cares? Scotland. To find out more visit whocaresscotland.org

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