Most of us grew up with family holiday traditions. We could expect certain things to happen on special days every year, cementing specific memories and feelings and the satisfaction of met expectations. Even when things didn’t always go smoothly, the holidays held a certain rhythm and excitement that could be counted on.
For children in foster care, holidays don’t mean the same thing and especially don’t feel the same way. Every holiday is a reminder of their loss. The underlying feelings tend to be shame and grief. Shame makes them feel unlovable, unworthy, unkeepable, and not good enough. Grief gives them the sense that they “will never.” They will never have the childhood that they deserve, like other children have, where they are treated kindly, loved, worthy of affection, etc. They will never overcome poverty and the hopelessness they feel. They will never receive the gift they want, have the perfect life, spend a holiday with their parents and grandparents again, have the same friends at the same school again. And on and on goes the list of losses they’ve suffered.
Often, when placed in a safe, stable, loving home, children who have such deep hurts express them during the holidays when the routine changes and expectations are high. They will self-sabotage rather than risk disappointment. Well-intentioned gifts from strangers can be met with anger and disgust. “They just feel sorry for me, they don’t really care about me.” Some children feel like the only people in their lives who care are their social workers and foster parents, and that they only care because “they’re paid to take care of me.”
This is where someone like a CASA Advocate can be invaluable. They get to know the child one-on-one, and Advocates are trained to recognize and understand that each child is experiencing grief on some level and they can sometimes help foster parents and potential adoptive parents to understand why the holidays are so hard for the children. Caregivers may want to try to limit over-stimulating events and address extreme expectations with grace and understanding.
There are three important things for care providers to understand. The first is that they cannot “make-up” for the child’s past holidays or make this one “the perfect holiday”. The second is that it’s not their fault if the child breaks down or is angry or is disappointed, but the result of those underlying feelings–don’t take it personally. The third is to never belittle or dismiss the child’s feelings, but to validate and allow them to talk about what they’re feeling.
The typical extremes that foster children tend to voice are these: “This Christmas is going to be awful” and “Everything is going to be perfect.” The first represents not opening the door for disappointment, infusing already difficult emotions with a sense of hopelessness. They may withdraw and become more distant. The second ensures that there will be disappointment, just like they thought, and breeds distress, resentment and anger. CASA Advocates can help to keep expectations in check for both the kids and the caregivers.
CASA Advocates help to ensure that children are in safe, stable homes for the holidays. For many of those children, this will mean a holiday without neglect and without violence. Some will receive a gift for the first time. Others have been in a different foster home every holiday for a long period of time with no stability and no routine, filling every holiday with uncertainty. Advocates work to stabilize children’s lives-not just at the holidays, but throughout the year. They advocate on behalf of the child to provide a safe and stable future so that someday, the child will not only have a home for the holidays, but will have a permanent, loving home for always.
Your support is needed to provide Advocates to more children in foster care. There are so many children in need and not enough Advocates to go around. Become a CASA today and help foster children receive what they need most this holiday season – love, acceptance, safety and stability. There is no better gift than giving of yourself to a child who needs you.