Christmas message from the Fosterline Co-ordinator
Steven Stockley –
Christmas In Care –
Christmas can be and should be a magical time for children, but many of our fostered children and young people find this time of year very stressful and difficult. All around on social media, television, billboards and advertising we promote the vision of the perfect family enjoying the festivities – think back to your childhood and then put yourself in the shoes of the children and young people you care for, what if you are separated from your birth parents for whatever reason, how would you feel? The thoughts of our young people and children in care will revert back to their previous situations evoking some very powerful emotions both positive and negative and many will have difficult contact with birth family and relatives around the holiday season.
Despite the efforts of well-meaning foster carers, even asking a child to make a list of the gifts they would like can stir up feelings of low self-esteem, negative energy, anger and a lack of self-worth. Many children find it difficult to allow foster carers to penetrate their defences at the best of times but Christmas is a time when comparisons will come to the fore.
Some children will have experienced parents getting violent, sleeping through Christmas day due to the effect of alcohol or drugs, with no Christmas lunch or presents to open, is it any wonder that it is at this time of year the number of absconded children rises, the tantrums faced by foster carers increases, the strain on many placements is exasperated and the number of children that enter the care system escalates.
Fosterline Freephone advice line can help you with any concerns or issues you feel you may face over the festive period. Why not call and speak to one of our advisors on 0800 040 7675
Some of the issues you may face as a foster carer could be:
I hate Christmas, I’m not doing it.
You may know a little of the child’s past with some of the issues they have faced and could act accordingly
- Structure and plan Christmas and involve the children in the house equally
- Take time to explain what Christmas means to you and your family so as to help your child enjoy the festivities
- Take time to listen to and understand how your child has experienced Christmas in the past
- Think about the extended family you have invited and how this could impact on your children in care
- 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 in present buying and putting up stockings
- Include children in the food shopping or the planning of the big day’s menu to help them with any concerns over food. Children that have an eating disorder may feel more comfortable by planning and producing some of the food rather than be presented with a big plate of festive treats and expected to demolish the lot
I’m going to ruin Christmas.
Children can deliberately disrupt Christmas by isolating themselves or breaking the gifts lovingly purchased for them or generally trying to spoil the day for others.
This is often a sign of deep emotional painful feelings breaking to the surface. Children will react the only way they know how or have been accustomed to.
- Try to be tolerant and understanding
- Allow them to relax and calm down
- Be supportive
- Try to distract them into another activity
- Act the fool and be silly – break down barriers to re-engage
Am I in the way for your Christmas?
With young people in foster care, they can sometimes feel in the way or may be of a different faith or culture so may feel awkward about Christmas.
- Do not make a child or young person feel pressurised to join in or neglect them from proceedings
- Ensure they are included within any family traditions (have they got a special stocking for the fireplace or a pillowcase for presents
- Have they got a special Christmas mug?
- Include a tradition from the young person or something from their faith to run alongside your own
What will my family do without me?
So often a child worrying about their family missing them is a way for a child to show their insecurities by reflecting their feelings onto their parents. Many children will miss their parents or be worried about another family member. Often children will have been the main care giver for one or more members of their family.
- Discuss birth family contact with both your supervising social worker and the child’s social worker around Christmas
- It may be appropriate to arrange a phone call or skype contact on Christmas day with birth relatives
- Provide photographs of school activities and nativity plays for birth parents where appropriate
- Send a card and/or small gift with the foster child for parents to receive during contact sessions
What do you normally do at Christmas?
It is often the quirky silly routines that we carry out every year that stay with us into adulthood. If you think back to your own childhood there will be things that make you smile and this is a chance to impart positive memories onto others.
- Mix oats and glitter together and spread on the grass and path outside the door so Rudolph will know where to land (they should glisten in the moonlight).
- Get ready for bed early and curl up on the sofa with a Christmas movie, hot chocolate and popcorn.
- Track Santa on NORAD online www.noradsanta.org to watch presents being delivered around the world, set a destination where once Santa reaches it, it is then time for bed
- Put out a carrot and mince pie out before going to bed for the big man and Rudolph (ensure Santa has taken a bite my the morning light)
- Dress the tree with some homemade decorations
- Make a Christmas cake or pudding or mince pie with your fostered children, for the more adventurous a gingerbread house
Father Christmas won’t know where I am?
Your child may be new to placement and may be worrying if they will be with you for Christmas or are they returning home or will they ever go home or will they have to move to another placement?
- Communicate with the fostering team to resolve any ambiguity; don’t answer these questions without confirmation.
- Visit Santa to reassure your child that he will know where they are
- Involve them in planting a “Santa Deliver Here” sign
- Encourage the foster children to write a letter to Santa
Can you take a placement on Christmas Eve?
Situations can often come to a head around this time of year and it is not unlikely for foster carers to be asked to take a placement at late notice.
- Include one or two generic presents that are non-gender specific and could cross a multitude of ages to your shopping list, wrapped and ready, just in case
- A small store of toys purchased in sales can always be used at other times of the year if not used during Christmas for example birthdays or rewards for achievements
Who are all these people?
Christmas is a time when the extended family comes together, often in large groups which can be intimidating for our foster children and young people. Some members of the extended family may feel uncomfortable about your role as a foster carer or alternatively, many people care about the plight of children and could have lots of questions that initially may seem harmless but can give the impression of an interrogation.
- Try to introduce adults and children beforehand wherever possible, in a less intimidating environment
- It may be appropriate to invite a friend of your foster child from school or a neighbour perhaps to give support and familiarity
- Identify people that your children will meet by photograph beforehand
- Remember confidentiality and politely inform any enquiring friends and family that you appreciate their concern and they will understand that your children’s past is confidential for their own security and respect
- You may wish to brief extended family before the day of the party
You love my sister/brother more than me
Children with cognitive impairments may find it difficult to understand the concept between money and value and may perceive that one child has been favoured over another Children may also compare birth children to fostered children.
- Allow each child an equal amount of your time
- Share Christmas tasks equally between all children (birth and fostered children alike), allow them to decorate different parts of the tree or cake etc
- Consider what will work for your child’s level of understanding and background
Merry Christmas! Santa’s been!
Be prepared to begin Christmas day at the crack of dawn or even before. The excitement will explode into your already busy day – join in and embrace it.
- Ensure you have batteries
- Are any tools needed or scissors to get into boxes etc
- Have someone ready to build presents
- There will be tears, arguments, tantrums, disappointment coupled with elation, laughter and noise – be prepared
- If anything goes wrong or the turkey gets burnt just make the most of it and try to laugh it off, it will all make for positive memories to look back on in the future.
Make time for yourself
- Relax with a cup of tea and a chocolate in your dressing gown in front of the telly while your kids are dreaming in their beds.
- Plan breaks and some me-time you will deserve it.
- Relax in a hot bath
- Share the role of caring with your partner or your parents or anyone within your support network
Whatever you do, whatever your children present to you over the Christmas period, you can cope, and you will excel, use your experience, trust your instincts and remember you are a foster carer for a reason, you care and you make a difference.
We would like to wish all Foster Carers a very Happy Christmas and a wonderful New Year, and to all you thinking of becoming a Foster Carer come and join us it’s the most rewarding of careers.