THE FOSTER CARE COMMUNITy
For many people, the holidays are a special time that is filled with decorating, celebrating, giving, and receiving (and maybe eating WAY too many treats along the way!). We associate this season with warm memories, exciting events, extra quality time, and family traditions.
But for children in foster care, this time of year can feel lonely and call attention to their current lack of normalcy. For some children, the holidays may bring back positive memories of time spent with their biological parents and siblings. They are reminded of their family traditions, holiday outings, their home, and special gifts they received. Despite the reasons they ended up in foster care in the first place, the child could still long for this quality time spent with their biological family and feel lonely or worried without them. And celebrating with their foster family could make the child experience feelings of stress, guilt or betrayal.
For other children in care, their memories of the holidays aren’t as fond. Maybe they never received any Christmas presents, and went without any special love or attention. Maybe they experienced something especially traumatic this time last year, that stirs up feelings of anxiety and makes them feel unsafe. Or maybe their biological family simply didn’t celebrate, and the child is unfamiliar and uncomfortable with their new foster family’s traditions.
Foster mom, Sarah (*names have been changed for privacy) said, “I could see Amanda’s face as we decorated the tree with lots of memories from the time I’ve had Ava (foster sibling), but nothing of hers. So I’ve tried to make it special for her since it’s her first Christmas home… I got the kids stockings, and Amanda a few of her own ornaments to give their special place. I think not having any real traditions, and mixed emotions, creates a lot of feelings that are hard for our kids to process.”
This time of year can become more difficult for caregivers as well. Parents are navigating the busy holidays, changes in family schedules, events for school, work and family. Adding in the additional responsibilities that come with fostering, such as case worker visits, meetups with the biological family, court dates, and other mandatory appointments, this time can become overwhelming. In addition, they may have to navigate increases in their child’s challenging behaviors and emotional stress brought about by this time of year, while also sorting through their own emotions. Foster mom, Savannah, says she would struggle with thoughts of,
"what if this is my only christmas with them?"
So how can you be there for a foster family or child in foster care this holiday season? Here are a few small but meaningful gestures:
Raising a child takes a village, especially when the child comes from a hard place. Not everyone is called to foster or adopt a child, but there are so many ways to support the people who do. Please check our waitlist below to see if there is a foster family in need of a sponsor near you, and contact us for more information.
Austin Angels began in December 2009 when founder and CEO Susan Ramirez decided, along with her friends, to volunteer once a month. In 2010, while working full-time in the real estate industry, Susan was invited by one of her clients to attend a conference called “Together for Adoption.” Susan attended the conference and was encouraged by her client to go to a presentation on foster care. After initially telling her client that she wasn’t interested because she didn’t feel called to foster, Susan decided to attend that workshop, and her life and career were changed forever.
A judge led the presentation and shared about two boys, Billy and Tommy, who had similar backgrounds in the foster care system. They each entered care at the age of two and had parental rights terminated around the age of eight. During their time in care, they were placed in more than 30 placements, put on dozens of medications for behavioral and emotional needs, and diagnosed with multiple mental health conditions. The judge shared that Billy was adopted three weeks before aging out of the foster care system. After acclimating to his new family and lots of relational healing later, he grew up to start a child placement agency in Texas. Tommy, on the other hand, aged out of the foster care system at 18. With no plan in place and no one to call for support, Tommy committed suicide by jumping in front of a semi truck after leaving his group home.
not everyone is called to foster, and not
It was at this time Susan heard the judge speak the words that have now become Austin Angels’ mantra: “Not everyone is called to foster, and not everyone is called to adopt, but anyone can make a difference in a child's life.” The difference in Billy’s life was that he had a healthy, consistent adult who believed in him and told him that he was valuable. Susan heard this story and knew that she could no longer sit by and do nothing. She left the conference and began to specifically focus on meeting the needs of children in foster care and their caretakers.
In 2013, Austin Angels began a pilot Love Box program with a single mother fostering six teenage boys. Each month, a group of volunteers would put together a “love box" of items tailored to their specific needs and a handwritten note of encouragement for each child. Through the process of delivering the boxes, a bond between the foster children, foster parents, and volunteers formed. The volunteers showed up consistently each month for the boys, took an interest in their lives, celebrated their birthdays, and attended important events. The boys went from failing in school, struggling socially, and not attaching, to making straight As, making friends, and saying "I love you" for the first time. After a successful pilot program, the Love Box program was formally launched in January 2015. It has since grown to serve numerous families in the Austin area. In 2017, the Dare to Dream mentoring program was launched and began serving youth on a one-on-one basis.
National Angels launched its first chapter in 2016 and continues to grow and expand. Susan believes that every child deserves the opportunity to grow up to become the person he or she was always intended to become, and every chapter of National Angels will play a part in that vision.