Foster Youth and the Holidays
The holiday season is upon us! Lights are glittering across town, Christmas trees have gone up, and classic carols blast on radio stations. For many, this is a time for family, a time for traditions, and a time for giving. The holidays often evoke a sense of warmth and joy and unity. However, the holiday season can also bring a sense of sadness and loss for those who do not have a traditional family to celebrate with.
This is the case for many of the youth in our programs.
Alissa, Director of the Transitional Living program at Good Samaritan, talked with me about some of the challenges our youth face during the holiday season. She says, “many of our youth were never really able to celebrate because they didn’t have enough to celebrate, or parents weren’t there. Most of them have not had the experience of building real traditions because they’ve moved around so much and jumped from foster home to foster home… [The holidays] weren’t a positive time for a lot of our youth.”
Because of this, it is important to all of us at Good Samaritan to make the holidays fun and memorable for our youth.
Alissa works with the youth in our Transitional Living program and told me about their Christmas celebrations. “They always get a huge grouping of presents. We do stockings. Our staff cook a big meal. We decorate a big tree. We do Christmas morning with presents and a big meal. And we usually try to do some sort of group activity Christmas Eve or Christmas Day whether that’s all going to see Christmas lights or going to the movies.”
These traditions are an important part of the holidays at Good Samaritan. With many of our youth staying in our programs for multiple years, having yearly celebrations and traditions they can rely on is a big deal, especially if they have never experienced holiday traditions before. Even if a youth is in a program for just a year, experiencing these traditions is still a meaningful experience.
For some youth, embracing the holidays in a safe environment can still be a challenge.
Alissa says, “For some of the kids there’s some kind of processing [needed] either with staff or with therapists. Some kind of trauma is related to the holidays. And there is grief and sadness that they’re not with family and they’ve missed out on something. But we don’t let them just be like ‘I hate this. I don’t want to have anything to do with it.’ But we also don’t push it in a way. We let them grieve and help them grieve. And then we try to create something that that still feels good.”
And as much as the celebrations are important, having this space to grieve is also crucial to making the holidays a positive experience for our youth. In a world where the holidays are often associated with spending time with family, it is important for our youth to have the space to process their grief if that is what they need.
While being a youth in foster care over the holidays is not an easy experience, staff at Good Samaritan strive to make the holidays special, nonetheless. Alissa shares, “I have over and over again heard from kids that they’ve just never experienced a holiday like this.” Providing a fun, meaningful experience where youth are surrounded by love and people who care for them is our priority during this season.