John Lewis ad: “a glorified unrealistic pantomime”

Tracey Norton, Coordinator of Winvisible’s Disabled Mothers’ Rights Campaign, part of Support Not Separation writes a letter of complaint to the Executive Director of John Lewis about their Christmas ad glorifying foster care.

Dear Ms Berangere Michel, Executive Director

I am not only outraged by this advert but hurt and traumatised by the false impression it gives about life for children in “care”.

My disabled son was wrongly taken into “care” so that the funding we’d won for his care at home could be stopped. Abandoned into a completely unsuitable unregulated home, he was not allowed to see me, even at Christmas when all he wanted was a hug. He was not allowed a Christmas Tree or the usual gifts because they were seen as symbols of my love, denied to him by the very system you are promoting! His Christmas “dinner” was a slice of dry bread and he spent the day alone in his room with no sheets or blankets on his bed. Social workers refused to allow any friends to visit or give him presents. I did not eat that Christmas, the thought of eating food whilst he was starving was too much for me to bear.

Due to his disability, he was not able to access a shower for two years and his dirty clothes were riddled with fleas. When his grandmother died the social workers told him if he attended the funeral, they would have me, his mother arrested so he was denied the right to grieve and say good bye. He was denied an education and medical treatment and when we eventually got him home, the abuse he had suffered has left him traumatised, something he will never recover from. My smiling funny child had lost his love of life and smile. I had to throw his infested clothes away and he slept in a warm bed with sheets and blankets and had his first hot homecooked meal in two years.

My son’s treatment is typical of thousands of children in “care”. The extravagance in the video is deeply hurtful to the vast majority of mothers whose children are in “care”. John Lewis should spend its money on supporting children to be reunited with their families and the love of their heartbroken mothers.  We are forced to struggle behind the closed doors of the secret family court to get back our children who have been taken under false pretences, and to fight sexist and corrupt social workers, lawyers and judges.

I also write as the coordinator of the Disabled Mothers’ Rights Campaign which is part of Support Not Separation, a coalition of organisations campaigning to stop the arbitrary and cruel separation of children from their mothers and families. Children are snatched from loving homes because their mothers are penalised for being poor, disabled, of colour, and/or fleeing domestic abuse. We have not actually harmed our children but government funding has stopped supporting the most vulnerable in our society in favour of a privatised industry of fostering and institutional “care” which makes millions in profits off the back of children’s misery. The recent Independent Review of Children’s Social Care was clear: the vast majority of children do not need to be in care, they need support in the community but they have been denied this through decades of austerity targeting single mothers. And now John Lewis has joined the ‘profit game’ making money from children’s misery by teaming up with a company who is making millions in profits and clearly hopes to make more as it promotes more children being removed from loving families.

In your advert, the child and the poverty she represents are obscured by the well-off needy father figure – it’s all about what he’s doing, while the foster mother is doing all the work in the background and multi-tasking! 

If, as you suggest, you are committed to children in care, where is the money to support the children going home to their loving mothers? You are showing the general public a fake reality, a glorified unrealistic pantomime with a poor ragged child popped in at the end as a token.  

In the context of the rising poverty imposed on millions of families, especially single mother families, by a government which refuses to cut the profits of the energy companies, you promote foster care ie more children being taken from their poverty stricken mothers like toys at Christmas, to the wealthier! You are traumatising not only loving mothers who can’t see their children this Christmas but also the “care leavers” who have been speaking out about the abuse and violence they suffered in “care”.  And while you ignore the voice of the child, as family courts and social workers do when that child’s voice contradicts their plans, you advertise a corrupt system which puts profit before children and mothers.  Shame on you!