Shining Light in the Shadows: Navigating the Holiday Season with Care for Children in Need
The festive season often conjures images of joy, family gatherings, and warmth. However, this may not be the case for children in care as this time of year can underscore a unique set of challenges that compound the difficulties they already encounter throughout the year.
Children In Care
For children in care—those living in foster homes, group homes, or residential facilities—the festive season can magnify the void left by the absence of a stable, nurturing family environment. The emphasis on family gatherings, shared traditions, and togetherness can serve as a poignant reminder of what they may lack. Instead of bringing a sense of excitement, this season is overshadowed with overwhelming evidence of being different or left out. This in turn may lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation presenting themselves or intensifying during the holidays.
Many children in care have experienced trauma or come from unstable backgrounds, making the absence of familiar faces and routines particularly distressing. For children in care, the holiday season may trigger painful memories associated with past experiences of neglect, abuse, or loss. This time of year might remind them of happier times spent with their biological families or evoke feelings of grief for what they have lost. With all the hustle and bustle of the festive season, it is easy to forget that the holidays often disrupt regular schedules and routines. For children who thrive on structure and stability, these changes can be unsettling, leading to increased anxiety or behavioural challenges.
Additionally due to the closure of contact centres, some children might have limited or no contact with their biological families during the holidays. The absence of familial connections can exacerbate feelings of loneliness and isolation, leading to emotional distress. This also extends to residential “families” as these facilities may face staffing shortages during the holidays due to staff taking time off. This reduced staffing can affect the level of support and attention given to each child, leading to increased feelings of otherness. Remember, children in care often grapple with conflicting emotions during this time. They may feel grateful for the care they receive while yearning for the comfort and familiarity of their biological families. This emotional tug-of-war can be incredibly challenging to navigate, especially during a season that emphasizes unity and family ties.
Offering Support To Children In Care
It is crucial to acknowledge these challenges and offer support to children in care during the festive season, here are some ways this could be done:
Creating Inclusive Environments: Foster homes and care facilities may find it beneficial to create inclusive and supportive environments by acknowledging and respecting each child's unique circumstances. This inclusivity in holiday celebrations can help children feel valued and cared for.
Strengthen Networks: During this season it is important to encourage and facilitate connections with supportive adults, mentors, or therapists who can offer emotional support to children in care. Community outreach programs can also provide resources and opportunities for these children to connect to others during the holidays.
Practice Empathy: Practicing empathy and understanding towards children in care is paramount. Recognizing their feelings and validating their experiences can make a significant difference in their emotional well-being. Remember that their changes in behaviour may be underpinned by their need to disguise the sadness they may be feeing.
Support, support, support: Increased support from trained professionals, counsellors, or therapeutic staff who understand the unique emotional challenges during this season can be invaluable. Additionally, while acknowledging the festivity, maintaining some level of routine and stability within the residential facility can offer a sense of security for children during this time.
The festive season should be a time of inclusivity and compassion for all. The breakdown of residential placements during the festive season often highlights the need for increased support, understanding, and specialized care to help children navigate the emotional complexities associated with this time of the year. By acknowledging the unique challenges faced by children in care during this time and extending support and understanding, we can collectively work towards making this season a little brighter and more inclusive for everyone.