Dr Janet Melville-Wiseman explores the messages behind the John Lewis Christmas adverts and how we can take them onboard, especially when it comes to our welcome for care experienced young people.
Each year many people wait in anticipation for the John Lewis Christmas advert. Historically these have contained symbolic messages often told through animals experiencing what humans can perhaps easily identify with.
In 2013 the Bear and the Hare depicted how the Bear was left out and excluded until the Hare left him an alarm clock to wake him up from his hibernation in time to join the festive celebrations. The message here was about friends looking out for each other.
In 2014 Monty the Penguin was enabled to find the love of another penguin with the help of his young boy owner. We see Monty (a real penguin) feel sad at the site of human couples enjoying the love and companionship of another of the same species. However, he is made happy when his boy owner is given a second penguin for Christmas. It turns out that Monty, in true fairy tale fashion, was a real penguin to the child but a soft toy in reality.
This strategic use of metaphor, to tell a story that may be too difficult to tell more directly, has enabled many people to engage with an aspect of Christmas that may sometimes be painful as well as hopeful. Some argue this is the invaluable role of fairy tales and metaphor.
This year the advert does not use the symbolism of animals, or the metaphor of a modern fairy tale, to tell its Christmas story. Instead it is a very real human story told using real people albeit acting in those roles. The story is about a foster couple who open their home and hearts to foster Ellie who is seen arriving at Christmas clutching her skateboard. The foster father has made several, not very successful, attempts to master skateboarding before she arrives. His imperfect efforts are a key part of making her feel welcome anyway. Ellie is not portrayed or identified as a set of problems but as someone with a regular interest and hobby.
Data on the number of care experienced people who access higher education has also recently been published. Only 6% of care experienced 19-21 year olds are at university compared to 43% of the general population. This is in spite of efforts to support them with additional funding and sensitivity to accommodation needs during university holidays.
The current support offered is crucial and showcasing our strengths and successes is important for all recruitment. However, if we are to take on board this year’s Christmas message, and increase our welcome for care experienced young people into our university family, we also need to showcase a heartfelt message of how we are prepared to also be beginner (metaphorical) skateboarders.
Dr Janet Melville-Wiseman is Principal Lecturer in Social Work, Chair of the Joint University Council Social Work Education Committee (JUCSWEC) and is a member of the Association of Care Experienced Social Care Workers (ACESCW).