Christmas is a significant time for many families, particularly fostering families. For those who are celebrating during the festive season, there is much more to consider than just the food, presents and decorations. Christmas can often be a difficult time for young people in care, but foster carers do a wonderful job of making young people feel safe, cared for and as happy as possible during the holiday season.
With Christmas just around the corner, we spoke to some of our foster carers about their Christmas traditions, what they’re looking forward to the most about the festivities and what some of their favourite memories are of fostering at Christmas.
If you celebrate Christmas, how do you usually celebrate it?
“We ask the children [about] their own traditions that may have had or want to start. We visit the garden centre each year and choose a new bauble for our own tree.” – SallyAnn, West Midlands
“Church in the morning then buffet lunch, family come in the afternoon and then a big roast tea. Since becoming a foster carer Christmas is a quieter time without too many relatives!” – Michelle, South West
“I try to create a theme, that it’s about quality time together. A Christmas tree is a must that they help decorate, so they feel part of the event. A chocolate calendar is also a must as they love the countdown (and the daily chocolate!)” – Alison, South London
What is the favourite part of the Christmas season for you as a foster carer?
“It’s magical seeing the kids faces light up and feeling safe, also as a carer buying their pressies and taking them along to pantos, it’s just great.” – Pauline, Scotland
“The favourite part of Christmas season is the family Christmas panto. Seeing the family all joining in and taking part” – Ray, East Midlands
“Creating new magical experiences for the children that they will always remember” – SallyAnn, West Midlands
“Taking the children to see the Christmas lights down at Burbank-on-sea and [seeing] how excited they were” – Michelle, South West
What are you most looking forward to about being a foster carer at Christmas for the first time?
“I’m looking forward to the whole experience! His first Christmas with my family. Their first Christmas with this amazing young lad. Seeing his face when he sees the presents under the Christmas trees at my parents and my sister’s house.” – David, West Midlands
Have you changed the way that you celebrate Christmas since becoming a foster carer?
“Yes definitely. They were not used to the overwhelming attention on Christmas morning (one even had heart palpitations). So now we spread it over a couple of days. We make it about memories with vouchers for days out with family and friends.” – Alison, South London
Has the young person you care for spoke about any Christmas traditions/ memories that you will incorporate in to your own Christmas celebrations?
“When we had a sibling group, they asked to make the soup they liked for Christmas with us that they used to make with their mum, and we were in favour of this as it gave their mum an insight to what their Christmas will be like with memories. Most of the children we have had have been great and really enjoyed Christmas with us. We would encourage talking about their families [with young people] if they wanted. We would get them to help dress the tree and involve them with Christmas wrapping and shopping etc.” – Pauline, Scotland
“I asked my lad what his favourite Christmas memory was. He couldn’t think of anything. He just shrugged his shoulders and said he didn’t really have any. Won’t lie, I felt sad and a bit angry. I know this Christmas is going to be different and he is looking forward to it.” – David, West Midlands
Are there any memories you have from Christmas as a foster carer that stand out to you?
“Seeing the look on the new young boys face when he saw the Christmas decorations around the house and the Christmas tree. He is 8 years old and [that was] the first time he’d had a tree and decorations, things we all take for granted.” – Ray, East Midlands
“Having to tell our siblings their father had died was very hard for us, it was 2 days after Christmas and their [birth] mum had to call me from prison to advise and I had to tell the children. It was very hard for them and us, we let them talk a lot if they wanted and discuss anything they wanted to know and then prepare them for the funeral after.” – Pauline, Scotland
Each carer and the young people they care for will have bespoke experiences and memories of Christmas time. As Pauline demonstrates, it’s not always a time for celebrations – events that young people have lived through could be triggering or have an impact on their reactions. And as both David and Ray told us, many children will often have had limited experiences of what we may consider to be ‘normal’ at Christmas, so there is a risk of overwhelming them.
Thankfully, foster carers by nature are flexible, calm, and reassuring. Allowing everyone in the fostering household the time and space they need over the festive period may seem obvious, but it’s vital for maintaining everyone’s wellbeing and allowing the perfect Christmas memories to be made. Christmas can be stressful for all families at the best of times – so make sure you take advantage of the support on offer from your social worker, area team and across TACT to assist you and all members of your fostering family whenever it is needed.
As so many of our foster carers have told us, Christmas can be a magical time and many memories are made every year. Whether it’s by doing things for the first time, or reliving the familiar moments that young people have treasured from their past, it can be a memorable time for foster carers and young people. For those who are celebrating over the festive season, we wish you a wonderful Christmas time with your young people. It won’t always be the picture-perfect scenario, but young people will value every memory they create with you.