For many, Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, with countless celebrations, decorations, good food and, of course, presents! It is easy to forget that for some fostered children Christmas is an unknown entity and often an overwhelming experience; for many others it will be a confusing time, missing their birth family or having tricky times of and for others it’s a wondrous time where they truly feel part of a family.
We asked our members to share their stories of fostering at Christmas. It is clear that foster carers are experts when it comes to creating the full festive experience, which often isn’t easy when plans and the needs of the children they care for can change so often.
‘Christmas is very special in our house. We can do Christmas in a very loud way with music, singing, playing silly games, and lots of presents. We also can do a very quiet Christmas with watching lots of TV and presents are opened one at a time – it may take a couple of days. This is what we as foster carers have to do and birth children learn how to adapt to this very quickly.’
Di, foster carer
‘Most Christmas eves, we get asked to place around five children and we are phoning around our foster carers asking if they can care for a child over Christmas. But often the plan changes and the children don’t need foster care after all, panic over. Our foster carers are always brilliant and take it all in their stride.’
Fostering social worker, Flintshire County Council
There may be lots of different kinds of ‘Christmas’ but some children have had no prior experience of Christmas.
‘We had a five and two year old one Christmas. They didn't know what an advent calendar, Christmas cracker or a Christmas dinner was. Afterwards I asked what the best part of the day was for them, expecting them to say the pile of gifts, but no. They both said it was the cracker and dinner that was the best because they'd never had them before. The things we take for granted!’
Susan, foster carer
‘Christmas of 2015 we woke up Christmas morning all excited our little boy just didn’t know what to do – his little face was blank. Eventually he opened his presents showing no excitement just looking so confused. At Christmas lunch his face was a picture. He shared with us that it was the best meal he had ever had. It wasn’t until later in the year we found out that our little boy had never had Christmas – no toys, no special food, and no family games.’
Mark and Sandra, foster carers
We also hear that contact around Christmas can be difficult for fostered children. Meeting birth families during the festive season and experiencing the joy created by foster families can sometimes highlight just how much a birth family is missed, or lead children to wonder why they can’t have this festive fun with their parents instead.
‘38 years of Christmas with foster children – many good times, many not so good times, and many very traumatic times. I think the saddest for me is when an anxious child has a difficult contact visit just before Christmas, and the festive season becomes one which cannot be coped with. Heartbreakingly this has gone on for my wee souls for the last three out of four Christmases.’
May, foster carer
However, the magic of Christmas is often undeniable thanks to the efforts of thousands of amazing foster families in the UK. There are many fostered children who are wowed by the celebrations, although it’s usually the understated moments that win them over.
‘When I was in care, Christmas was the most exciting time of the year. It wasn't just about the presents, it was sitting down as a family to eat a turkey dinner, pulling crackers, wearing those stupid paper hats, and above all the feeling of belonging to a family.’
Daniel, care leaver
‘This year will mark our 10th consecutive Christmas sharing the day with foster children, and sadly possibly our last, but it’s been one hell of a journey and as another carer put it’s the little things that make so much difference.’
Katy, foster carer
‘This will be our 26th Christmas as a foster carer and we have shared every one with foster children. This year we have an 8 month old so he won’t really understand but we have loved every moment seeing the smiles on their faces.’
Jennifer, foster carer
Just don’t forget to leave some treats for Santa!
‘Father Christmas is real you know – he lives in the North Pole and his family are all the children that he takes presents to. I’d really like some night vision goggles for Christmas. I’d like to be able to see the children’s happy smiles when Santa leaves their presents.’
Harry, fostered child (courtesy of Shropshire Academy & Learning Trust's blog)