Dec 18 2020

Finding Holiday Cheer by Fostering Connections

By Emily Witt

“We may serve children who have never had happy holidays. We have to listen to them, be honest when they ask questions, and remember that their experience may be very different than ours and how we think of Christmas.” - Florencia Grauer, Child Advocacy Specialist

Each year, the children and families we serve feel the weight of the holidays as they approach.

The anxiety of wondering if visits will happen and for how long, the frustration of coordinating schedules and plans between placements and parents, and even the disappointment when visits aren’t possible can make the holidays more painful than cheerful for many.

In 2020, all of us are experiencing the anguish of uncertainty and unmet expectations. Many of us will feel what it’s like not to be able to see someone we love for the holidays.

We’ll have to be innovative, just as we have been for the last nine months, to find meaningful ways to connect with each other this holiday season.

For the staff and volunteers at CASA of Travis County, channeling our creativity to make sure children and families know they are cared for and supported is an essential aspect of our roles.

For the staff and volunteers at CASA of Travis County, channeling our creativity to make sure children and families know they are cared for and supported is an essential aspect of our roles.

Recently, we spoke to three Child Advocacy Specialists on our staff, Ty Leisey, Kayla Tatum, and Florencia Grauer, about how volunteers, staff members, and our community can help to foster connections and bring some holiday cheer to the children and families we serve. Today, we want to share some of their thoughts with you.

For children in care, anxiety felt about the holidays can show up differently at every age.

“I work with teens, and for a lot of them, this isn’t their first holiday away from family or in a Residential Treatment Center.

We notice around the holidays that older youth may feel cynical, they may not want to talk about it. Older youth still get excited about the holidays, but it’s not like younger kids who want to see Santa. I think it can be difficult for them to share how disappointed they really are.” - Ty Leisey, Teen Advocacy Specialist

“For younger children, and even older kids, it begins to sink in for them and their parents that if they’re in foster care, they likely won’t be together for Christmas. They begin wondering what that will look like, and if visits will happen."

“For younger children, and even older kids, it begins to sink in for them and their parents that if they’re in foster care, they likely won’t be together for Christmas. They begin wondering what that will look like, and if visits will happen.” - Kayla Tatum, Child Advocacy Specialist

“Because I work with younger children, I see the anxiety begin around the holidays for the parents. For parents, and justifiably so, they worry about being able to fit in weekly visits with a placement’s plans or travel.” - Florencia Grauer, Child Advocacy Specialist

COVID precautions will change the way families & children can interact.

“We’ve had to acclimate to this virtual world for 9 months now, and we’ve had to find new ways to interact with kids virtually. I think it’ll be the same for children and families. I don’t think it’ll take away from the spirit of the holidays, as long as they have some type of connection virtually or in-person with their parents or other people who care for them.” - Kayla Tatum, Child Advocacy Specialist

For youth in Residential Treatment Centers, this is especially true.

"For older youth, [the holidays] can be tough if they see other kids that may have more family members to visit."

“I have some cases where kids have had a short visit over the holidays and can be with a parent on Christmas Eve, then may go back to a Residential Treatment Center the day after Christmas. Right now, a lot of those visits will have to be virtual. Unfortunately, with COVID and people not going off-campus, it can feel like it’s still another day where you’re in the same place, with the same people. In past years, kids can see family members that they don’t visit very often. They’ll pick them up and get something to eat—it can be a special time. But especially for older youth, it can be tough if they see other kids that may have more family members to visit.” - Ty Leisey, Teen Advocacy Specialist

Making sure children have happy holidays starts with fostering connections long before the season begins.

“Sometimes, it’s about putting in the leg work early to make sure kids are connected with extended family members. My volunteer advocates have been most impactful by advocating for visits and coordinating them. This can even mean working with a team to help a youth get bus tickets to go see older siblings over the holidays! Our volunteers putting in the time can be what makes that visit happen.” - Ty Leisey, Teen Advocacy Specialist

"Our volunteers putting in the time can be what makes that visit happen."

Our volunteers always bring creativity to celebrate the season:

“A great way to make the holidays more festive is to find new ways to be interactive with kids. I have a volunteer sending a Christmas-themed care package, and they have this coloring book where they can both color the same page and then show it to each other on calls. Another volunteer had a virtual Netflix party with the foster placement and watched a Christmas movie with a child.” - Kayla Tatum, Child Advocacy Specialist

Most importantly, CASA’s community members can make the biggest difference by continuing to show up and always being there to listen.

“We may serve children who have never had happy holidays. We have to listen to them, be honest when they ask questions, and remember that their experience may be very different than ours and how we think of Christmas.” - Florencia Grauer, Child Advocacy Specialist

"I think foster placements, as well as CASA, do a good job of not dwelling on what we can’t change. Instead, we try to bring positivity into children's lives during the season."

“CASA volunteers can do a lot by just being supportive. Taking the time to have a happy moment is so important! It’s not going to fix the entire situation, but I think one moment or interaction with their volunteer is something they’ll remember, more so than everything happening in the day-to-day while they’re in foster care. Kids are resilient. I think foster placements, as well as CASA, do a good job of not dwelling on what we can’t change. Instead, we try to bring positivity into children's lives during the season.” - Kayla Tatum, Child Advocacy Specialist

“For the teens we serve, it’s about continuing to show up. Maybe we can’t visit in-person right now, but we can continue to be there, setting up those virtual visits or calls. We want to be really intentional about figuring out what the youth wants. They’re old enough to tell us, and even if it's something we don’t think is possible, we can be creative and advocate for it with our team. Maybe there’s a tradition a volunteer advocate can help with! Those things can be really meaningful, especially for older kids who may not be in a foster home where they’re getting direct attention.” - Ty Leisey, Teen Advocacy Specialist

2020 has certainly brought about unprecedented challenges, but it has also highlighted all that we have to be thankful for. We have so much gratitude for our volunteer advocates, staff, and community members who show up for children all-year-round!

We hope you’ll take the time to support our mission of ensuring that every child who needs us has a dedicated advocate by donating or volunteering today!

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