Foster carers and adoptive families who took exception to the new KFC TV advert took to social media to express their views as it hit their screens this week. The ad shows a boy with his social worker, arriving in a foster/adoptive family for the first time to a KFC dinner, and then whizzes through the highlights of his growing up in that family, playing football, getting a girlfriend, graduating... and then returning as an adult to visit his family for another KFC bargain bucket.
Those who dislike the ad have argued that the trauma a child experiences in an abusive and/or neglectful birth family, compounded by the anxiety of being taken into care, cannot be mended by a bucket of chicken, however finger-lickin' good it might be. They believe that KFC are suggesting their chicken fixes these things.
Some examples of the comments on Twitter:
@TheMilesCollins: 'Fostering just got easier - [buy] a KFC 'bucket' - simples! #kfcadvert'
@TaKenUK1: 'The new KFC advert is very disturbing. It diminishes the trauma and pain of children going into care and those already there. Complaint sent'
@D0GZY: 'So the moral of that advert is, if you're a foster parent you should give your charge a KFC and that'll sort it! #KFC ...'
Some have gone further still, creating a petition asking KFC to withdraw the commercial. The petition reads:
'...This advert ... glorifies the care system with little to no thought having been given to the real children ... who are traumatized and have been torn away from their families and everything they know.'
'...This ... is plain and simple commercial profiteering and exploitation of the deep trauma experienced by children and their families. ... We are asking for the advert to be immediately removed with a statement of apology issued ... KFC needs to stick with their chicken recipes and leave matters of child protection off of their menu.'
But does the ad really imply that KFC is the cure for trauma? Could it not equally be argued that it presents the KFC bucket as a good emergency comfort food for welcoming a distressed and scared child into your family? It wouldn't be my first choice, admittedly, but there is something to be said for the (limited, temporary) cheering powers of eating a bit of fast food. My (adopted) children love KFC. I have no expectation that it will heal the emotional scars of neglect or domestic violence they suffered before being taken into care. But the rush of fast-food-induced happy-making endorphins to the brain is good for at least half an hour of relative peace and contentment, and frankly, I'll take that.
It's also important to mention that the ad doesn't entirely skip over the challenges. The boy is shown as a teenager waiting outside the headteacher's office while the mum has a meeting, the implication being that they are discussing his behaviour. Many adoptive parents and foster carers – me included – can relate to that experience.
A KFC spokesperson said: "We have done our utmost to approach this topic with respect and care, and sought the advice of those with expertise in fostering and child welfare ahead of production, including Barnardo's who we've worked with since 2011. The advert is intended to reflect modern families and simple ways of breaking down barriers through sharing."
Gerry Tissier from Barnardo's added: "There are many thousands of looked after children in the UK waiting for someone to foster or adopt them. As the country's leading charity placing children with families, Barnardo's is aware of the many complex and sensitive issues involved in this work.
"Barnardo's saw the KFC ad before it was aired. We recognise that it cannot fully convey the difficulties which children and young people face when moving into a new family.
"However, we believe it shows that foster and adoptive parents can and do make a real positive difference to a child's life. If it persuades more people to come forwards for a child who needs a family, that will only be a good thing."
Other fostering agencies have also expressed their support for the ad, making comments such as:
Nexus Fostering: 'Congratulations @KFC_UKI on #50YearsofKFC. Love the new #fostering advert!'
Liberty Foster Care: 'What a powerful advert, well done KFC #fostering #families'
Park Foster Care: '@KFC_UKI Great new advert celebrating foster families, @ParkFosterCare likes the message; foster families making a remarkable difference.'
The Fostering Network's Dominic Stevenson has written a well-reasoned blog post in favour of the advert, concluding: "[It shows] that a long-term fostering placement, with foster carers who are properly supported, can enable a young person to achieve academically, to be confident and fulfilled and to grow into independence with happiness. ... Yes it was fanciful, but was the KFC television advert exploitative? No, of course it wasn't.
"People have started a petition to have the advert taken off television... but answer us this, why would we remove a positive portrayal of young people in foster care from our television sets? Rather than being outraged that it doesn't represent the full complexities of foster care, be encouraged that (even though we all know they're doing it to sell chicken) a major company feels that foster care is a positive way to represent the family in the 21st century."
Yes, there is much more to adoption and fostering than we see in these 60 seconds. But it's an advert, not a documentary. Let's celebrate the triumphs it portrays.
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