For youth in foster care, the holidays are often a glaring reminder of what it means not to have a family. During this time of Holiday Cheer, many foster children are faced with the realization that they will not be “home for the holidays,” so to speak, with their biological family members. This season may be a reminder of how much they’ve missed out on. And for many children who have been placed in the foster care system, they have come from homes where there was Christmas – there was no hope. They have come from families that did not celebrate the holidays. They have come from environments where there were no presents and no tree. They have come from homes where there was no such thing as holiday joy or love. As a Social Worker, it’s my role to help my kids and teens understand that our community’s desire to give them gifts means only that they are loved. And once convinced that writing a wish list can be a good thing, next comes the awareness of all the wonderful possibilities, and after that the bright smiles as they dream of bicycles, games, dolls, Legos, gift cards, video games and more. To help our kids feel more comfortable around the holidays and to lessen the anxiety of not being with their parents, we decided to come up with our own traditions at GHH. We’ve allowed the children to have the creative freedom to decorate the inside and outside of home however they wished. We had a Christmas Craft Party coordinated by our Friends of Genesis mom, Claudia Santiago. The children made their own custom ornaments out of flour and impressed their finger print on their ornaments to leave their mark forever at GHH. For Christmas Eve, our children from both homes decided that they would come together and have a Christmas pajama party, drink egg nog, watch Christmas movies and play fun board games. By allowing the children to create their own traditions for Christmas, I have found that it has lessened their anxiety, granting them the opportunity to be happy.
For older youth who have left foster care, the holidays can be particularly a tough time. Youth who age-out of foster care often feel disconnected from their former foster parents and biological family. They are typically enduring financial strain as they are learning to manage their lives on their own. One of the fears that youth aging out of the foster care system experience is that they would not even have anyone to celebrate the holidays with and will be all alone. This fear of the unknown causes them to relive the pain of rejection and abandonment during a time when they should be experiencing feelings of love and belonging.
I believe that Christmas isn’t about receiving, but about giving and being reminded of those less fortunate. Just as God sent his Son on the very first Christmas to be a gift of hope, peace, joy and love, we hope to model this message of hope to our kids. Just as they are being given a joyful and loving Christmas, our hope is that they will spread this love to others and learn the joy that giving brings. Genesis Hopeful Haven was founded on the mission of giving a family-like home to foster children in need. Our hope is to provide a safe haven for these children and to reverse the cycle of pain by showing them love and hope, especially during this season.
As always, we wouldn’t be able to offer the support that we do to our kids without the help of our wonderful partners. To all our Friends of Genesis, we thank you for being the true example of what the holidays are all about. We are always looking for new ways to serve our kids! If you would like to share your gifts or resources to foster children, we would love for you to join us in Building Genesis.