‘The John Lewis Ad Shows How Foster Parents Try To Connect With The Children Who Arrive At Our Doors’

Jo Newby, who has fostered 92 children over 18 years, gives her thoughts on the new Christmas ad

fostering John Lewis advert

by Maria Lally |
Published on

Most of us felt a tug on our hearts, and a lump in our throats, when we watched the new John Lewis Christmas advert, which follows a hapless middle-aged man struggling to learn how to skateboard. The reason why he’s putting himself through the bumps, scrapes (and amusement of his wife and friends) soon becomes clear when there’s a knock at their door and there stands a representative from the charity Action For Children with an anxious looking girl, skateboard in hand, ready to join her new foster family.

But for Jo Newby from East Yorkshire, who has fostered 92 children over the past eighteen years, this year's advert was particularly poignant. ‘I started fostering in 2004, when my son was 12,' she says. 'I remarried and my second husband and I had talked about extending our family, but then we both thought, “We have room to help children who have been displaced from their own homes. Why not give some stability to kids who are already in the world instead?” So we decided to try fostering. We thought we’d do it for a few years, but almost nineteen years later here we are.’

Jo, who was recently awarded the title of the nation’s kindest resident by KIND Snacks, which included having her own statue unveiled on London’s Southbank, says the skateboard storyline particularly resonated with her. ‘The advert reminded me of how you go out of your way to find a connection – no matter how small – with the child or young person who has turned up at your door. Whether that's learning to skateboard, or as I've done, donning rollerblades! In the advert, however, the man has a long time to learn skateboarding, whereas in real life fostering there are times when you receive a phone call and bam – half an hour later a child turns up at your door.

'Another time, a young boy came to us in 2009 age 18 months,' she says. 'He had several physical and learning needs, which meant he couldn’t play football but as his love of the game grew he expressed an interest in playing, but there was no local provision for his age group. I'm not a fan of football, but I embraced his passion as my own, and in October 2021 I joined forces with an inclusive club in the next county, Barton Inclusive football club, and we started a provision in Hull for U16s and young adults with additional needs. I've gone on to do all the FA training and started my coaching qualification too.

Being a foster parent, no two days are the same, and it is the most challenging yet most rewarding job there is. We call it a job, but it’s not a job, because you couldn’t do it if you didn’t want to put your heart and soul into it 24 hours a day. When you have the highs, they’re euphoric. But when the children you’re caring for experience a low, you experience that low with them.

‘When I was given the KIND award, and when I watched the advert, it made me sit back and think about the impact foster parents have on the children in their care. I’ve had children who were babies when they came to me who come back to visit me now, as teenagers, and tell me about the difference I’ve made to their life. When you’re busy in the day to day of raising children, you don’t realise all those small acts of kindness can make such a big difference to their lives.’

Action for Children, who partnered with John Lewis and Who Cares? Scotland, has said the aim of the advert is to shine a light on the isolation that many children in the care system face over the Christmas period. Imran Hussain, Director of Policy & Campaigns at Action for Children, says: 'At Action for Children we want every child to have a safe and happy childhood. 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.'

As part of the company's Building Happier Futures initiative, John Lewis will support children in care at Christmas with donations of food and gifts, in addition to transforming some of the residential facilities run by Action for Children with electronics, furnishings and decorations.

John Lewis customers can also support this work by purchasing one of the Lewis Bear products - with 25% of the sales going to Action for Children and Who Cares? Scotland. Or you can donate directly at one of the in-store Giving Trees.

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