As a foster carer, it is a requirement for you to support the religious and cultural needs of the child that you foster. This gives them an opportunity to learn and understand seasonal traditions and be part of celebrations. Although Christmas is a religious festival for Christians who celebrate the birth of Jesus, in the UK it is also a festival that has a more secular side that everyone can get involved in and enjoy. However, not everyone celebrates Christmas in the same way (or at all) for a variety of reasons. If this is you, or the young person that you care for, then here are some things to consider.
Past Christmas experiences may have left an emotional impact on your foster child
As foster carers, be reminded that major religious and cultural festivals such as Christmas can be a difficult time for foster children and their birth families. For many people, this time of year is considered one of the happiest, however, for children in foster care it can bring up memories and feelings (some good, some not so good) that make this time of year a very difficult and emotional time.
Foster carers need to understand that these memories and feelings can cause changes in your child’s behaviours, as they may feel emotional – thinking about their family who they may not be able to see or be worrying about their parents or siblings at this time of year especially if Christmas has been challenging in the past. Some foster children may have experienced other losses at Christmas time, causing them to associate the festive season with pain and sadness.
It is important to sensitively manage any behavioural changes by talking things through, listening and being sensitive to your foster child’s feelings. Reassure them that your home is a safe space for them, and perhaps limit the number of visitors and any alcohol consumption.
Christmas can be a worrying time for a foster child
There are many things to consider around Christmas when fostering a child. Your child previously may have had a different experience of Christmas than what you have planned or may not even celebrate Christmas at all. As Christmas approaches, it is important to speak with your foster child about the plans for the festive season and reassure them that they can speak honestly about their feelings towards the festivities. You can check with them what they liked or did not like about Christmas in the past.
Your foster child may have never celebrated Christmas
Possibly your foster child may have never celebrated Christmas (or even heard of it) so, as a foster carer, try to ensure your Christmas is inclusive and, if applicable, respectful of your foster child’s background and/or religion. You can share your experiences and Christmas traditions will help them understand what it’s like to be part of your family during the festive season. Your foster child may also like to share with you aspects of their favourite cultural festivals e.g. food, and decorations, which you could incorporate into your celebrations to bring you all together.
Your foster child may not want to be involved in your family’s Christmas festivities
If your child feels differently about Christmas than you, it is important for you to respect this. You can encourage them to join in with your festivities to make them feel welcome, however, don’t pressurise them into celebrating Christmas the same way as you. Let them know that their Christmas celebrations can be incorporated with yours, so consider the traditions you have in your family and discuss together with your foster child about what new traditions you would love to make! You can discuss what this time of year means for each of you? There are several different winter festivals that also take place in December that may give you some inspiration in making your own traditions, or just be available to spend with your foster child, as well as other loved ones and friends.
Your family may not usually celebrate Christmas
You may be a family that does not celebrate Christmas as a major religious festival, as you may be of different faith background, or of no religious background at all. However, as a British cultural festival and with your own children growing up with secular Christmas influences surrounding them, e.g. Santa, and Christmas trees, you can incorporate aspects of the festival and make it your own. If you are of a different faith background, you could try and introduce elements of your religion to your child so you can celebrate both at this time of year. A Fusion Festival!
Routines, Routines, Routines
However your plans for the festive period come together, foster children will still need to remain in some sort of consistent routine to make them feel like they are in a safe, stable environment. Christmas is often when routines can go out of the window, this is something your child may struggle with. It is important to try and maintain their routines where possible and, where there are changes, make sure you give your child plenty of notice so that they feel prepared. Spend some time together, perhaps marking on a calendar, and discussing all the festive plans so that they know what to expect and feel involved and prepared. Ask them how they feel about the changes and if there is anything that they do not feel happy about. There may be something that they want to do, adding this into the plans lets them know it is important to you both and that they are a priority. This could be something as small as watching a film one afternoon or playing a game they enjoy.
Make the festive period a family orientated time
The most important is at this time of year is to make sure that you are available to be a family together, with no child being left out. If you are visiting relatives, or they are coming to you, make sure that they understand that your foster child is to be equally included. Christmas can be a very lonely time when you are isolated. Your foster child may have family time/contact with other siblings and/or parents which will be an emotional reminder for them, and if not, there will be sad that they cannot see their family who is absent or far away – they will need you to be there for them.
As a final note, I would like to wish you all a wonderful festive season however you chose to celebrate – or perhaps use it as a time of reflection and connection for you and your foster child. It is tougher this year with the effects of the fuel and cost of living crisis, so foster carers please be kind to yourselves and if you need to talk then give your Supervising Social Worker a call. Below are some links and resources that you can peruse. Best wishes to you all 😊
By Lynsey Dobbs, Senior Recruitment Officer
A Solstice Tree for Jenny
by Karen Shragg
It’s Christmas time all across America and Jenny is feeling left out. Her secular parents, born to different faiths that they no longer observe, don’t believe in celebrating Christmas. She never seemed to mind before, but this year it bothers her–maybe because they’re home and not on the Florida coast where they usually go at this time of the year to avoid the holiday hoopla. All around her the neighbors have decorated their houses with festive lights, while her house by contrast looks drab and uninviting during the long, cold winter nights. It’s made her feel like an outsider. Why does her family have to be different? She talks with her mom and dad about their reasons for not observing the holidays.
Then one day a teacher gives her “an awesome idea”: she tells Jenny about the winter solstice and ancient traditions among many peoples of the northern hemisphere who celebrate this shortest day of the year in anticipation of the longer, warmer, and brighter days of the coming spring. Why don’t we celebrate the winter solstice, too? Jenny wonders.
Her parents can’t help but agree and a few days later they bring home a potted pine from the local nursery for the living room. What fun they all have placing their special decorations on the solstice tree. And best of all, Jenny can now invite any of her friends, no matter what their religious backgrounds are, to admire her beautiful tree. Everyone can participate!
This charming story will help children and parents enjoy the winter season in a meaningful and all-inclusive fashion.
(review by Good Reads, 2022)