Guest Blog: Supporting children in care at Christmas
Chelsea Ryder , Residential Support Worker at Searchlight Care Services
I have worked in the care sector as a Residential Support Worker for the past 4 years and have worked in both multi-bed and solo placement settings. Around this time of year, it can be extremely difficult for children who are in care. Unfortunately, not all children are able to have communication with their family members, therefore this can make the Christmas and New Year period extremely challenging for them. It is our job to help children enjoy this time of year by creating a homely, fun, and festive environment without them even realising it!
At Christmas, children all over the world write their Christmas lists to Santa, decorate the Christmas tree, visit Santa, watch Christmas movies, and much more. For our children in care, it shouldn’t be any different. It’s important to remember that whilst we may be away from our own families, we are doing this to give our children the best Christmas we possibly can – we may be the only family they know around this time of year.
In my experience, children in care can display more challenging behaviours around Christmas. They may become more hostile or withdrawn. How can we blame them? They’re in an environment where their family is either not around at all or they are around but only for small amounts of time on specific days, at a time of year when most families come together. As carers, we need to focus on the positives and help support our children through the Christmas period with as much familiarity as possible.
Christmas in a care home should look like Christmas in any home. Fairy lights, presents, Christmas trees, mince pies, sweets and treats, and advent calendars are important for creating a typical Christmas environment – and our children should be included in the whole process of this. They should be comfortable in telling us what they want and if they’re not, we simply ask them. Christmas is about them and their happiness as well as our own, and the little things are what matter the most. When I discussed Christmas with the child who is in my care currently, I asked them what Christmas means to them. Their reply was, “It’s just really nice when we all go out together for a nice meal wearing our Christmas jumpers and exchange presents! I love the food, decorating the home and the Christmas tree together, and spending time together playing board games! That’s everything I could wish for. When I lived at home, I loved spending time with everybody because we all came together at Christmas” – Girl, 17.
As a carer working over the Christmas period, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and wrapped up in the rush of planning and purchasing presents. Even though these are important and make for a great Christmas Day, a lot of our children want something more simple. Over the years, when asking children what they want and how they want to celebrate the festive holiday, the response I’ve often had is “to watch films all day with the staff and spend the day with them” or “to eat treats whenever I want for the day, stay in my pyjamas, and just relax.” Our children want to celebrate the holiday with us and swap stories of their own experiences with their families around Christmas. Although routine and boundaries are important within any home, this is the time of year to take a small step back and show our children that we do listen to them, we are all human and not just their ‘carers’, and most importantly – we do care about them.
Our children deep down want to know if we see them as “just a job”, and Christmas is the perfect opportunity to show them that is not the case. We want them to look back on their time with us with fond memories that they can reminisce over when they’re adults. Christmas is a happy time of year for a lot of people up and down the country, and it should be the same for our children in care. So this year, the same as every year before, the staff will put up the Christmas decorations, buy and wrap the presents, get the treats, movies and board games ready, and will ensure that the child is involved in every aspect of this. Some of our children have contact arranged with their family members over Christmas, and we will be there to support them through this also to allow them a Christmas with their own family as well as a Christmas with us.