Whilst the majority of us look forward to Christmas spending time with our families and exchanging gifts, for many children in foster care it can be a time of very mixed emotions. Christmas can be very confusing or an overwhelming experience with some children missing their birth families and unable therefore to feel truly happy. Others having never experienced Christmas celebrations before, find the whole experience, whilst enjoyable, at the same time, slightly strange or bewildering. Even if the children have experienced Christmas celebrations before, given that each family does it differently and have their own traditions, it is likely that the child will have feelings that need to be considered and supported.
The charity, Fostering Network, invited foster carers and professionals involved in foster services to share their Christmas stories. They shared their experiences of trying to create a wonderful Christmas for fostered children and the many changes that needed to be made to their plans in order to accommodate the very individual needs of the child in their care.
The stories demonstrate the amazing expertise of so many foster carers and their absolute dedication to putting their own Christmas experience second to that of the children in their care. What is equally inspiring and tremendously heart-warming is the ability of the foster carers’ birth children, who show fantastic insight, patience and care for the children living in their home, putting their needs ahead of their own.
One social worker from Flintshire County Council states that “most Christmas eves, we get asked to place around five children and we are phoning our foster carers asking if they can care for another child over Christmas”. We too, have experienced similar demand leading up to this Christmas, as local authority placement teams try their absolute best to find a wonderful caring home for each individual child in need. However the reality is that we have no families available to offer as all are at capacity. The demand for new foster carers continues to be very high, with new children coming in to care at a rate of 90 per day across England and Wales.
Mark and Sandra, foster carers reported “Christmas of 2015, we woke up Christmas morning all excited, but our little boy didn’t know what to do and – his little face was blank.” He apparently opened his gifts very slowly with very little excitement, instead looking confused. After Christmas lunch he told his carers that it had been the best dinner he had every had and it was only much later in the year that they became aware that little boy had never had Christmas celebrations before, “no toys, no special food and no family games”
Susan, another foster carer shared, “We had a five year old and a two year old one Christmas. They didn’t know what an Advent calendar, Christmas Cracker or Christmas dinner was.” She explained that afterwards when she had asked the older child what had been the best bit of the day, expecting to hear it was the lovely gifts, she was told it was the Christmas crackers and the dinner, because they had never had that before.
We are so grateful for the fantastic work undertaken by all foster carers and not just at Christmas time. But knowing that they are all going to the moon and back for the children in their care to ensure that their Christmas is memorable and the best it can be, is truly inspiring. Their ability to be flexible and put the child at the centre of their day is what makes them amazing.
We thank our team of foster carers and their super families for their tremendous work and support which ensures that we enable young people every day to go on to achieve their true potential.
Wishing a Happy Christmas to you and your family
Angela and Alison xx