“How are things going in the run up to Christmas?” This is not a question which should be asked of anybody involved in caring for looked after children at this time of year. Christmas just does not hold the same “sparkly present” significance when your family life has been “complicated”.
This year was no different as we slid and skidded towards the holidays. One eight-year-old boy who thought he would be spending Christmas with his respite (but soon-to-be long-term) foster carers has been disappointed. There are problems with their transfer from private fostering to local authority fostering team. The foster carers do not want to give him false hope by spending Christmas with them. He will be staying with us.
How hard is it then for the little girl who is going home but has just told me she will have to tidy the living room up before hopefully putting up the decorations that she has made here. There are significant concerns about her home life but not enough to prevent her going. I give her a big hug.
Some children will be back and forth as their families would not be able to cope for the whole time. Inevitably we will get calls and sometimes tragically have to collect children when things have gone very wrong. At least we can offer a safe place.
These dramas play out up to the day itself and then something amazing happens. It is Christmas. It is a wonderful day. I have been to our homes every Christmas day since we opened fifteen years ago. Every year I see wrapping paper all over the place, dedicated care team members with screw drivers and toy instructions, children cuddled up on the sofa with enough sweet wrappers to paper the house and the smells and sounds of everybody’s favourite day.
“How are things in the run up to Christmas?” They are always very hard but how are things on Christmas Day? Magical.
Clair Davies is Principal of Appletree Treatment Centre in Cumbria.