Helping make Christmas merry and bright for foster youth

christmas treeAshley Payne, Youth Specialist, Fostering Horns Program

Jeni Brazeal, Program Coordinator, Healthy Youth Partnership

The Christmas lights go up, the smell of fresh cut Christmas trees are all around, stockings are hung so Santa can fill them and cookies are made.  December signals festivities, family and fun for most children.  However, foster youth experience the holidays very differently.

The hustle and bustle of the holidays can be overwhelming for foster youth and young adults who have left foster care. In addition to from having limited contact with their extended biological families, they may spend the holidays completely apart from their siblings.  Often siblings in foster care are in separate placements, which can be especially hard around the holiday season. One Foster Care Alumni of America (FCAA) member stated, “I found that being with loved ones the whole season is what makes the Holidays so special. Going home on just two days or even for the weekend wasn’t enough.”

While foster parents and caseworkers often do their best to make the holidays special, often the foster parent’s traditions take priority during the holidays. When there is a new youth in a foster home around the holidays, they might not get to have a discussion about that young person’s holiday traditions.  Sometimes youth might feel they are an imposition on a family when they are in a home during the holidays.  One foster youth (age 17) explains, “At Christmas time I felt so guilty when my foster mom bought me gifts because I knew she didn’t have to and sometimes I felt like she bought them because she was obligated to. If she bought gifts for me, I felt guilty and if I didn’t receive gifts I would have felt unloved. It was really a “no win” situation.”

For older youth who have left foster care, holidays can be particularly a tough time. Youth who age out of care often feel disconnected from former foster parents and biological family.  They are typically enduring financial strain as they are learning to manage their lives on their own.   One former youth (age 21) explains, “It is a very hard times for us around the holidays, it hurts like HELL. I have been there so many times not having any family to go to for the holidays. However it will get better because you can make your own family and do the things you wish you could have done as a child. THINGS WILL BE BETTER.”

Sponsorship programs and gift drives are one small way that our communities can come together to support foster youth. Here are a few programs available in the Central Texas community:

Partnerships for Children: Partnerships for Children’s Holiday Wish program offers gifts to children served by Child Protective Services (CPS). They are seeking volunteers for financial donations, donating general gifts (wish list provided), organizing gift drives, giftwrapping, and individual child sponsorship.

Austin Children’s Services: Project Santa is the holiday gift drive serving Austin Children’s Services, a local nonprofit providing services for residential care, transitional living, teen parents, and respite care. ACS is seeking donations in the form of gift cards, holiday gifts (wish list provided), financial donations, and individual child or family sponsorship.

CASA of Travis County: CASA of Travis County is seeking donations in the form of $30 gift cards to Target or Wal-Mart and cash donations for their holiday drive serving children spending the holidays in foster care.

Foster Angels of Central Texas: Foster Angels’ 3rd Annual Toys for Teens drive sponsors 25 foster youth and purchases up to five items for each teen’s wish list. Teens in care are often most overlooked in these toy drives, and this program helps teens in care experience the joy of receiving gifts during the holidays too. Foster Angels is also partnering with Austin paint studio, Painting with a Twist for a night of paiting fun to benefit foster youth. Sunday, December 7th all Austin area locations will offer a 2-hour painting class with 50% of proceeds benefitting Foster Angels of Central Texas.

Red Scarf Project:  Do you enjoy knitting? Want a little more time to contribute? Foster Care to Success’ Red Scarf Project seeks donations of red scarves to include in Valentine’s Day care packages for college-bound foster youth.

Not in Central Texas? Check in with agencies serving foster youth in your community to learn about donation options available, or check www.volunteermatch.org to connect with service projects happening in your community.