Foster carer Jessica took three siblings 12 days before Christmas for what she thought was a brief stay. Four days before Christmas, she was asked if they could stay longer.
It didn’t leave much time for festive planning and the foster children’s “very traumatised” emotional state was a priority. However, Jessica’s approach to the situation worked well. Three years on, the children are still with her and are thriving. This is her advice about fostering a child during their first Christmas.
1. Keep foster Christmas special and separate
Book family contacts on one day and turn it into a birth family Christmas. It’s more tricky this year due to Covid, but Jessica’s children met their mum and one grandma this week and will meet their other grandma next week. Their foster family Christmas is entirely separate.
2. Be aware of the emotions
Christmas can be a difficult time for foster children and theirs are no exception.
“It produces very mixed feelings,” Jessica said. “The children might feel guilty about being happy to be with their foster family and not their birth family. They might feel sad at the same time.
“Sometimes they can find it hard to accept gifts from their birth parents, particularly if the gifts are second-hand. However, they are children and Christmas can be an exciting time, too.”
3. Keep things quietly engaging
Get to know your children and what’s right for them. The first Christmas Jessica’s foster children were with them, they cried every time someone knocked on the door, so the family stopped people coming to the house until the children felt more settled.
Jessica recommends normal things like going to see Father Christmas and putting up decorations, but nothing too outlandish. She doesn’t tell her foster children in advance what they are planning to do because the children can become anxious.
“We don’t know their history. We noticed that they become anxious about big events, so we don’t do things like that.”
4. Develop your foster Christmas traditions
Develop your own family traditions. Jessica’s children call streaky bacon placed crossways on top of the turkey ‘knitted meat’. The younger children love this and Brussels sprouts (even though Jessica admits she hates them) so they are part of Christmas Day lunch.
On Christmas Eve, the family attends the crib service at the local church. Boxing Day is spent with friends playing Bingo with silly prizes. The whole family gets involved in making the Christmas cake.
5. Be creative
Covid restrictions this year mean the family can’t do its normal Christmas outing to see Father Christmas so, instead, they have decorated the entire garden with Christmas lights, including all the fruit trees and the climbing frame!
Do things with the children that make them feel proud – Jessica’s children will be making icing decorations to go on top of the cake and Christmas decorations out of airdrying clay. Craft activities don’t have to be expensive and are an important way for the children to make Christmas memories.
6. Enlist the elves
Elf on the Shelf is a fun Christmas tradition for younger children, with the elf doing silly things each morning throughout December.
In Jessica’s house, the elf turned all the milk into elf milk (thanks to a dash of green food colouring). When the milk was used to cook lasagne, it resembled guacamole!
7. Gifts for cuddling
Consider giving a gift to treasure each Christmas. Jessica’s children always receive a special Christmas teddy or cuddly toy, poking out of the top of their Christmas stocking.
8. Setting examples
Birth children can be great role models, helping to reassure foster children and explain things in a way they will understand.
Jessica’s birth children took part in the local church service last year, inspiring all three foster children to ask I they could join in.
9. Know you can do it
Sometimes you need to just seize the moment and do it. Jessica said: “If someone had asked me if I’d take a group of three siblings two weeks before Christmas I’d have said no, but it’s been fine. If you wait for all the lights to be green it might never happen.
“Providing you have done your training and you’ve got support in place I’d say jump in and do it and fit around those children to make it work.
“An adult I spoke to who spent two years in foster care said it was the first time they’d felt safe and secure and knew they would have food and be warm. Imagine that. You could do that.”