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‘Because it’s what we do that matters most’

8th December 2022

It’s the time of the year when big brands drop their Christmas adverts, however one major retailer has stepped away from the overtly commercial aspect of the festive season. John Lewis says its advert this year is less about buying things and more about kindness.

Titled, The Beginner, the ad tells the story of a big-hearted man who takes up skateboarding a little later in life than you’d expect. Although he struggles initially, he never gives up and after a few weeks, he begins to get the hang of it.

When the doorbell rings, it becomes clear what – or who – all his efforts have been for as a young girl clutching her own skateboard is revealed. Standing alongside a social worker, we learn she is moving in with the foster family and that the man, like so many carers, has been going the extra mile to help her feel at home.

The advert shines a light on the fact that around 108,000 young people in the UK are in the care system and its striking poignancy highlights the need for more foster carers to come forward. There are currently over 3,600 children currently being looked after outside of their birth families in Northern Ireland and of these, almost 83% are in foster care.

With an increasing number of young people coming into care, The Fostering Network estimates that 265 more fostering families are needed across Northern Ireland to ensure every child and young person gets the care they need from foster carers within their own community.

This year’s John Lewis advert sparked a sense of déjà vu for one Northern Ireland couple who began their fostering journey last Christmas. Martin and Judith Redmond from Dromara went the extra mile to help nine year-old Jack* feel at home as he was placed with the family right in the mouth of Christmas.

Judith said: “This time last year we were preparing for Jack’s arrival. We had just been approved as foster carers and this was our first placement. We were nervous and excited about the move and just being able to give him a loving home was our dream.

“We knew Jack loved Disney, so we had some gifts sitting on his bed when he arrived, and we also knew he was really interested in football with Liverpool being his favourite team. My neighbour kindly added the Liverpool logo to his stocking and added his name to match the others in our family. We also got him his own personal Christmas tree decoration with his name, to match the others on our tree.

“We booked loads of Christmas fun including going to see Santa to make sure he knew Jack had moved house and he would have to deliver his toys to our home. It was all about helping him fit in.”

Jack looks back on last year and remembers feeling ‘excited’ about his move to the Redmonds. Ahead of the move, they made him a family book with lots of information and photos about things they do including holidays, interests and hobbies. Jack was delighted to learn his new carers loved football just as much as he did.

Asked about his Christmas memories, Jack recalled all the presents he got but the best thing was being able to have a sleepover with his foster brothers on Christmas Eve, using sleeping bags and coming downstairs together on Christmas morning.

Foster carers across Northern Ireland are having positive impacts on the lives of the vulnerable, young people in their care on a daily basis. The Redmond’s social worker Sharyon Todd highlighted how the couple went the extra mile to help Jack settle into their family.

She said: “It is the small things that can make such difficult moves seem easier and less worrying for a child. This is why the John Lewis struck such a chord with me.

“From the onset of approaching the Redmonds about Jack, which took place before their approval at fostering panel, they took an interest in learning about his likes, dislikes, wishes and feelings.

“They took into account him moving in the mouth of Christmas and how hard that might be as often we know Christmas and other significant events can be very emotive for children in care.

“They found out what Jack had written on his Santa letter and ensured all his requests, and more, were arranged before he arrived. They prepared a booklet all about them, their children and even extended family and pets.

“On arrival, Jack could see his stocking included on their mantel piece with all the family members which helped with all the fears and anxieties he may have had before arriving.”

Melanie Coffey, Senior Manager for Fostering & Adoption in the southern area, emphasised the desperate need right across Northern Ireland for more foster carers to come forward, although she appreciates it is a big decision for people.

She said: “Our carers are ordinary people who are minded to consider how they can make a positive difference in the lives of young people. Fostering is such a worthwhile thing to do and requires people who are thoughtful and kind.

“One thing we regularly hear is that people’s family circumstances make them think they aren’t eligible to become foster carers. But with different types of fostering, ranging across various time spans and age groups it is highly likely you will find something which suits.

“Our HSC NI Foster Care Community is made up of a rich mix of people including couples, single foster carers, parent and adult children who foster together, and foster carers from ethnic minorities and the LGBTQ+ community.

“If you think you would like to become a foster carer then we want to hear from you. We can support conversations with your family and help you figure out the right fit for your circumstances. If now is not specifically the right time, I would ask that you please share our information with others and stay connected with us until the time is right.”

Meanwhile Judith Redmond has charted her journey to becoming a foster carer in the latest episode of Voices of Fostering, a podcast created by HSC NI Foster Care and available on Sound Cloud.

The series invites foster carers to speak about their experiences about different aspects of fostering.

Judith details her journey through the application stages and speaks about the assessment process as well as the challenges and rewards of opening her home to vulnerable young people.

If you are interested in hearing more about becoming a foster carer, call us on 0800 0720 137.

*Name changed to protect child’s identity.