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Published on: 2017-12-04 11:53:41
Anyone with children, or those looking after children in any capacity, will tell you that Christmas is not an easy time of year.
Forget what the TV commercials tell you about the perfect family sitting together eating the perfect meal; the turkey is glistening, and the children are well behaved and smiling. Marketing works, and we buy into the idea of this idealised Christmas but so do the children.
However, most Looked After Children have, at some point, experienced trauma in their life and possibly abuse or some sort of neglect, and it is common for their past trauma to be made worse by family holidays such as Christmas.
In spite of their experiences, a lot of children settle into foster care; do well at school, form lasting friendships, and learn how to manage their complex emotions and experiences. Occasionally with professional help, but mostly by being in a stable, consistent environment. Nevertheless, Christmas is a notorious time of year for stretching family tensions to the limit and the foster care family is no different.
There may well be birth children in the family as well as Looked After Children, or adopted children, and I've yet to meet a child yet that doesn't get overexcited over Christmas.
It's not easy managing their heightened emotions along with contact with birth families and all the potential implications of what might happen or be said.
Contact is difficult for Looked After Children, as birth families may make pledges of returning home or promise piles of (sometimes) unsuitable presents.
I have found some useful pointers to get through Christmas which work for our family which I’ve honed over several Christmases. Some of these tips come from my experiences, and some I’ve nabbed from other foster carers.
I can't control everything that happens over Christmas, or what is promised by family at contact, but I have learnt to try to minimise the stress – both the children’s and mine.
When Tina, one of our earliest Looked After Children, came to me years ago, I allowed her to pick one special ornament for herself on her first Christmas with us to hang in her room and I followed this up every year, creating a new tradition.
When she moved on, she took those ornaments with her, along with any Christmas presents and cards I’d saved for her from her birth family. Many children who have moved foster homes several times have lost important mementos in their life, and having something of their own to take with them is important.