Who needs family during the holidays? Well, the answer is thousands of children in the American foster care system! Often, everyone takes something as simple as family for granted, that is, until that family gets taken away. Every day children get ripped away from their families for reasons they may not be able to understand. As children grow into adults they may begin to get a clearer picture as to why they could not stay with their biological families, but that does little to actually fill the void that is created from the trauma of losing the family that was supposed to love them unconditionally forever. This post was designed to inspire foster youth to speak up if they have difficulties handling any emotions they may be having during the holiday season, to engage foster parents to do all they can to open their homes to current or former foster youth who have no place to go for the holidays, and to request that people who are interested in becoming foster parents to consider the joy they could bring to a child’s life by accepting their roles as foster parents.
Thankfully, there are youth out there like me who were able to find a forever home while in foster care, and do have families to turn to for the holidays, but there are also thousands of others who are either are not able to see their birth family for the holidays and have no forever family or those who have aged out of the foster care system and must spend their holidays alone. Holidays are special times when families of all sizes come together to enjoy each other’s company, especially Thanksgiving which is a time specifically for being thankful for what you have, and for the people around you. It is true that many foster families open up their homes to the foster youth they care for, but from personal experience, I can say that still doesn’t always make up for the family that the youth are unable to see. For me, every holiday I felt like I was an outsider in a stranger's home with someone else’s family around me. There were times during my own experience in foster care when the holidays would come and I’d be sent off to another family because my foster parents didn’t want me to ruin their holiday.They didn’t want to have to worry about taking care of me while their houses were full of family members coming over. It made me feel very upset. On top of the fact that I had to live with strangers, I was sent away with different strangers that I knew even less. That did change when I moved to the foster family which would be my forever family. I felt welcome in their home during the holidays; I know the other foster youth in their home did as well. My new parents went out of their way to ensure that their foster children had gifts for Christmas, baskets for Easter, costumes for Halloween, and that they were able to feel wanted at Thanksgiving dinner.
No one ever said that caring for foster youth comes without its challenges. Many of the youth have been abused, neglected, or abandoned, and as a result develop mental health issues or maladaptive behaviors which cause them to act out. This can be difficult for anyone to handle, especially when the person raising the children are not their biological ones. That does not mean that these children are unlovable, or that they should not have a safe place to go during the holidays. If a foster parent does take in a foster youth, they should be sure that they will be able to provide the child with the attention and care that they need. While it can be upsetting to the child to not have an actual family instead of a residential home, it is even more harmful to bounce them around from house to house just because they are presenting challenging behaviors for foster parents to deal with.
One thing I would beg current foster parents is that during this holiday season, with Christmas just around the corner, please try to make your foster children feel like they belong in your home. Also, if any of your former foster youth have aged out without getting adopted, consider bringing them into your home to celebrate the holidays with you. To the foster youth that may be reading this I would ask you to speak up and tell your foster family or someone you can trust if you are having a difficult time handling any negative feelings or thoughts you may be having about the upcoming holiday or anything else for that matter. To those of you out there who aged out of the system without finding a forever home, while I cannot fully understand how I would feel in that situation, I do understand how difficult it could be to face the holidays without a forever family. At these times it may be helpful to re-evaluate who you consider as your family. Maybe there are some biological family members who are safe to turn to, and if not maybe include your friends as part of your family. For those who are questioning whether they should become a foster parent or not, I would highly recommend that you do as long as you have the physical, emotional, and social means to take care of children who may have special issues.
Tricia Dorr was a 2013 All-Star intern at FosterClub and continues to advocate for youth in foster care. Learn more about Tricia here.