A Love Letter to Young People in and from Care
To our siblings in and from care across Canada,
We know the holiday season is too often a really tough time for many people, but no one talks about it. On top of this, all the things that can make coming into and growing up in care so hard and traumatic—family issues, being removed and placed with strangers, being moved over and over again and then being abruptly pushed out of our support system—all piles on and is intensified by the pressures of this season. For those who have or found loving family and community, there are still usually some painful complexities we have to navigate.
We are sending you all our love and a big reminder that you are not alone in this, even if it can feel very much like you are.
We also wanted to share with you some of the things we’ve experienced during the holidays that you may relate to, and some things that helped us get through it.
Some Holiday experiences we and other siblings from care, have had:
- Missing our family and coping with being separated from our traditions, especially if we don’t celebrate Christmas.
- Having to celebrate new traditions, eat strange food, or being forced to go to a place of worship or participate in practices and traditions we don’t believe or feel safe in.
- Not being able to see siblings when they’re the only people we feel safe and connected to.
- Wanting to see biological family and not being able to.
- Spending time with our biological family but wanting to spend time with our foster family, group home community or other chosen family.
- Feeling guilty and pulled in different directions—holding ourselves back from developing relationships with foster family because we feel like we owe our biological family.
- Having the holiday season be about everyone else’s feelings and happiness but our own, and feeling guilty no matter what we do.
- Having to make impossible choices.
- Feeling like an outsider or burden with our foster family who may be very close, and questioning our worth, whether we deserve to receive gifts and be included, especially when it doesn’t feel genuine or without strings and resentment from the family.
- Feeling lonely when other kids in the group/foster home get to visit with family and we don’t.
- Feeling like only the “good kids” get treated well at the holidays, or that if we aren’t constantly happy and pleasing everyone, we’ll lose the things most kids take for granted—including a home.
- Feeling like an outsider as well because we can see the difference in attention, care and gifts given to others.
- Feeling embarrassed about our situation among friends, and not wanting to tell anyone at school what we did over the holidays, or what we “got” if we didn’t get presents.
- Receiving meals or presents through a charity, and while grateful for their efforts, receiving a box that says “boy, teen” just isn’t the same as a personal gift from family.
- After aging out:
- Dreading the holidays and having to be alone because people are toxic, are not including us, or it’s too expensive to travel.
- Having nowhere to go when university and college residences are closed.
- With COVID, everything’s so much harder: isolation, mental health, anxiety, depression.
- Coping with pressure of the season to be able to afford gifts for everyone, a big fancy meal, and a cozy home filled with “happy loved ones”.
- Feeling forgotten during the holidays by all the people in our life who may care, but have their own families when it comes to the holidays, especially in a pandemic.
- Seeing friends and roommates come back with presents and tons of left-overs—it’s not the money, even the little special things like a personal stocking are missed.
- Feeling a bit guilty for having family (chosen or bio) and seasonal comforts when we know so many others from care are struggling.
- Spending the holidays with a friend’s or partner’s family, and feeling grateful but also like an outsider and burden all over again.
- Being houseless and having nowhere to go, and not wanting to ask people during this time for anything, or going to a drop-in event or shelter and feeling depressed or unsafe.
- Struggling more with mental health, addictions, money and other things more because of the loneliness, challenging dynamics and pressures of the season.
Holiday Activities and Strategies that have helped us:
- Firstly, remember you’re not alone and there are tens of thousands of young people across Canada who are dealing with similar issues right with you.
- Try not to hide what you’re going through—reach out to your friends and others; our experiences often teach us we are a burden but we’re not—everyone needs and deserves support (we bet you’d be there for your friend in a similar situation!)
- Find some good friends to talk to throughout the holidays or siblings if you can’t see them; set a daily or regular check-in time with them if possible.
- If you feel up for it, engage in all the hobbies and self-care activities you can access that feel good to you and are a distraction from feeling bored, lonely, uncomfortable or missing loved ones—you deserve it! Bath/hot shower, yoga, walk in fresh air, tidy up, light a candle, watch all the things, enjoy treats, crafting, gaming, making music, baking, rest, meditation (find some great free guided ones online).
- Volunteering to support others who may be struggling can feel really great e.g. serving meals at a shelter, preparing holiday hampers, helping animals at an animal shelter.
- Try to get your favourite comfort foods and treats—whatever you can afford.
- Access community programming or events that feel positive for you e.g. local drop-ins or retired Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth Irwin Elman’s virtual party for youth in and from care: https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/youth-in-and-from-care-virtual-holiday-bash-tickets-212166605027
- Talk to a different trusted adult like a social, youth or program worker, a teacher or mentor etc., and share how you are feeling; if you’re still in care, see if they can help you spend the holidays the way YOU want (e.g. seeing your siblings)
- Reach out to crisis supports—NO shame in that, they’re there for everyone and you’d be surprised how many people you know have called them. We’ve listed some below.
- Remember that the holidays will all be over soon, and you have a fresh new year in front of you!
- And, try to keep in mind that later in life you’ll have more control over how you spend your time—whether it’s with family, chosen family, partner, pets, your own family, friends, your own adventures or self-care time, you’ll get to spend this season however and with whomever feels best and healthiest for YOU one day.
- Remember that it’s also okay to do NONE of these things—surviving each day, each hour or minute at a time is all we can do sometimes and that’s absolutely good enough.
Advice for Foster Parents, Group Home Caregivers, Workers and other Adults + Allies in our Lives:
- Above all, know that this may be a very hard time and ask us what we need or how we want to spend it—don’t assume or pretend it’s not hard if it is. Let us know that our feelings are completely appropriate, that what we’re going through isn’t fair or our fault that you may not be able to fix it but that you’re here to listen and do what you can.
- Remind us that we do not owe the adults in our lives anything, and are allowed to spend the holidays however feels best for us.
- Ask us how you can help ensure we feel as welcomed, wanted, included and supported as possible during this time. How do we want to spend the holidays? Who do we want to spend them with? How can we feel more at home? Which cultural practices and traditions are important to us? What would be a meaningful gift? Help us connect with the people—including siblings or family, cultures and activities that are meaningful to us. If that means resting and laying low, that’s okay too.
- Ensure we are treated the same as all young people in your home/case load while not forcing any activity on us we’re not comfortable with.
- For other allies:
- If you can make it inclusive and safe, invite the young people from care in your life over during the holidays and ask what would make us feel comfortable.
- Support and/or volunteer with organizations, programs and events that support our joy and care during this time.
- Check out other ways to be an ally every day of the year here: https://www.cafdn.org/ways-to-give/ally/ideas/
National Crisis Support Lines:
- Kids Help Phone (24/7): Now offering support to all people from care of ANY AGE across Canada
- First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Line (24/7): Culturally competent phone counseling and crisis intervention available in English, French, Cree, Ojibway, Inuktitut: 1-855-242-3310
- Trans Lifeline: (24/7): Peer support service run by trans people, for trans and questioning callers 1-877-330-6366
- National Domestic Violence Hotline (24/7): 1-800-799-7233
- Crisis Services Canada (24/7 Suicide Prevention Line): 1.833.456.4566
- CAMH Mental Health + COVID-19 FAQs and Coping With Anxiety Guide
- CMHA COVID-19 Tips and resources
- Other crisis supports across Canada
Remember, if you’re having a hard time, NONE of what is happening (or has happened) is your fault or deserved—and you CAN get through it. We all have, with some support along the way. We’re proud to be in your corner, cheering you on this December, and every other month of the year, too.
Lots of love,
Andrea, Conner, Ellen, Jay, Jesse, Kia, Rachael, Rasnat, Sarah, Suzie, Tawnya & Vivian
Young People’s Advisory Council, 2021-22
Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada
(Learn more about us here!)