Whatever your origin, faith or background, Christmas is all around us. Christmas can be a difficult time for a lot of young people in care if everyone around is in the ‘spirit of things’ but they are not.
When young people are taken into care they are removed from everything that is familiar to them: their home, their familiar environment, their family, friends and pets. They will go and stay in a warm safe place with kind people, the food will be nice but it won’t be the same as ‘Mum’s cooking’. They will feel different and alone, a feeling that is heightened during special occasions such as Christmas.
Christmas through the eyes of a fostered child
To feel separate from others can be a lonely place. If everyone around you is in a festive mood but you are not, it may be difficult to express your feelings and you’re likely to become more isolated. You might feel as through you’re spoiling Christmas for everyone else, or that you should be grateful, when you don’t.
Now, imagine if it was your own child in this position, consider how they would feel if they were separated from you at Christmas?
To put yourself into the shoes of a child who is fostered, you must add all of the baggage, issues and uncertainties that being ‘in care’ have for the child. Perhaps your carers can offer something ‘better’ than what you have been used to and you’ve always wanted presents like the ones you’ve received this year. Would this heighten the contradiction and confusion of your feelings? “Why can’t my family be like this?”
Some looked after children can deal with these emotions in a variety of ways: by running away, lashing out, locking themselves away or by disrupting the placement in the hope that they will be sent back home. To help try and understand what being in care at Christmas feels like, some care leavers have shared their memories and experiences with us.
Young people’s experience of Christmas
“A lot of the time, I felt completely isolated. Although my foster family cared for me very much, I knew I did not belong. I would spend special occasions (family birthdays, Christmas and New Year’s Eve) crying in the bathroom.” Kim
“Holidays are hard even when you have found “new family” because you still feel awkward and your mum and dad are not there so though it is easier it still makes you sad because you are reminded of what you don’t have.” Daisy
“In those days, I often felt like an outsider because I was just a foster kid, especially during the holidays. I struggled emotionally when my foster family celebrated the holidays because I wanted to feel what I thought they were feeling. Even though I was included in all of the holiday celebrations I often felt left out because to me I was just “borrowing” their family and ultimately their joy. The holidays never felt special. Worse than that, for me they were a time of regret and confusion. At Christmas time I felt so guilty when my foster mum bought me gifts because I knew she didn’t have to and sometimes I felt like she bought them because she was obligated to. If she bought gifts for me I felt guilty and if I didn’t receive gifts I would have felt unloved. It was really a ‘no win’ situation.” Daniel
“I have never had a real family to spend the holidays with, ever since I went into foster care I have been in a different home every Christmas. This one factor ruins Christmas for me every year.” Peter
So how can foster carers make Christmas be the best it can be for the children in their care?
Fosterline’s tips to help foster carers
- Discuss birth family contact with both your supervising social worker and the child’s social worker around Christmas
- Listen to how your child has experienced Christmas in the past and find out whether significant events occurred around the Christmas period that may trigger negative memories of past abuse, arguments or disruption
- Explain your Christmas traditions and include your foster child in them (give them their own stocking to put up along with the rest of your family)
- Include a tradition from the young person or something from their faith to run alongside your own
- Children may have been exposed to the abuses of alcohol so restrict the consumption of alcohol until after the children have gone to bed or avoid it completely
- Include children with the Christmas food shopping so that it’s not an issue on the day
- Prepare techniques and tactics if your child isolates themselves or purposely breaks their gifts
- Make plans to reassure your foster child that Father Christmas will know where to find them (write a letter to Santa)
- Try to introduce extended family beforehand wherever possible, in a less intimidating environment
- Prepare your extended family members for the fact that your young person may not be enjoying the celebrations and may want to spend time on their own, and that they should accept this.
- Additional support will be limited over the holidays, so discuss any issues in advance
- Be prepared for unexpected placements, (which are sometimes likely at Christmastime) by buying some non-gender specific presents across age ranges.
Although this article has been written with Christmas in mind. It also applies to other celebrations of different faiths, because generally, celebrations and festivities are predominately geared around family and unity – and sharing, giving and receiving are a big part of that.
Getting through the Christmas period may be difficult, but remember whether you are aware or not, you will be having an impact on all of the child’s future Christmases. You are not expected to know the answer to everything… so if in doubt seek guidance and give one of our Fosterline advisers a call.
Support over Christmas
Current and prospective foster carers can call Fosterline on 0800 040 7675 or email email@example.com; our opening times over the Christmas period are as follows:
23 December – open 9.00am – 5.00pm
Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day – closed
27 December – closed
28 December – open 10.00am – 3.00pm
29 December – open 10.00am – 3.00pm
30 December – open 10.00am – 3.00pm
2 January – closed
3 January – open 9.00am – 5.00pm