Whilst we all prepare for the festive season this year, we took a moment to chat to Bernie, one of our Enquiry Officers here at TACT, about being a foster carer during this time of year. See our full conversation below – featuring some very sweet memories!
How long have you been a foster carer and what made you want to start caring? Tell us a little bit about your journey.
We were approved as Foster Carers at the end of October 2017 and had the first children in our home on 15 December. We have friends that foster and adopted and always thought we would foster when our children were older. One day as we were eating our dinner our youngest child started talking about one family and said how sad she felt that they didn’t have a family to love and care for them, and now they do. This opened the conversation about fostering.
How do you prepare for Christmas?
We like to start early. We have a separate savings account for Christmas that we save into each month, and if we see something for family, we think would be nice for Christmas we get it, even if its January. That way we can be organised for family (although some are harder to buy for than others) and then if we have any surprise children, we can concentrate on them.
Do you have any favourite traditions?
Every Christmas eve morning we have a treasure hunt. We have a mix of clues, picture clues, riddles, Christmas games, word searches so that there is something for all ages. At the end is always a new pair of Pyjamas so they have nice new pj’s ready for Santa.
So how is Christmas and the festive period different when you’re a foster carer VS not a foster carer?
We take longer to open presents. We have found that Foster children can get overwhelmed by having loads of presents at once. We open the presents in stages, throughout the day, including our children. One year we were still opening presents on boxing day!
And have your festive traditions changed since starting to foster?
No, but I did see an amazing craft on social media where you make a bauble and add the child’s photo and then get a piece of string the same length as the child and tie it on. Then every year you can see how much they have grown.
Can you share a cherished festive memory since you’ve been a foster carer?
One little girl (3 years old) that was with us had been practicing for the Church Children’s take over. There were three of them and every week we would rehearse none of them would sing or do the actions. The day of the show, the church was packed. Our little one got on the stage, grabbed the microphone, and sang (or shouted) Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. At the end she received a massive applause, took a bow, and sang it again!
What do you do to make foster children/young people feel fully included during the holidays?
They are treated the same as our birth children. All our family and friends will include them on Christmas cards, if they buy a gift for our birth children they buy for our foster children. We all have Christmas PJ’s, they have the same ones. We take loads of photos for birth family and for their memory box. All the children we have fostered have been younger, but if they were older and they had family traditions we would incorporate them into our Christmas.
And finally, what tips would you give to new foster carers who are about to spend their first Christmas as carers?
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself or the foster children. Take time to enjoy the day, be led by the child on when they open presents, play with toys etc even if it takes all day to open the presents. Acknowledge the presents from their birth family. They may need some time to be calm, find a quiet place and snuggle up, maybe have a secret chocolate, or treat! Remember they might be trying to figure out how to navigate their feelings, and you are their safe place, so they might display behaviours such as having a meltdown, being defiant, not listening but look past that and try to see what it really means. Try to explain to the child in the lead up what you will be doing on each day, this is going to out of routine for them, if they are young maybe draw out the days and make it into a story. And don’t forget to have some self-care, look after yourself. If you have other family members around, ask them to play a game or a new toy with them while you do something for yourself.
A huge thanks to Bernie, and wishing everybody a happy holidays!