Sponsor a Child: Empowering and Encouraging our Families

Jamie Winchester-Stablein and Jessica Ray, FCNI Staff
November, 14, 2018 -

The programs and support we provide to the youth and families in our care are designed to be strength-based, trauma-informed, and, most of all, empowering. We believe that the relationship between caregivers--whether they be biological parents/family members, foster parents, respite providers, teen parents or adoptive/guardians--and the children in their care is vital to the overall success of every child and family. Therefore, empowering and encouraging healthy relationships within families is one of our main objectives. We also know that during the holiday season, our caregivers and youth can experience feelings of discouragement, stress, failure and even emotional pain due to past trauma. Feelings such as these can create roadblocks which can derail or slow the progress these youth and parents might have made in their own healing or development. At FCNI, we acknowledge these seasonal obstacles, and partner with our community through our Sponsor a Child effort to make sure our youth and families have the resources and the support they need to not only overcome these obstacles, but to come out of the holidays even stronger.

Below, Jamie, one of our Social Workers who has worked with multiple foster families throughout her years of service, shares some of her experiences working with our foster families during the holiday and the impact our Sponsor a Child effort makes, demonstrating why we’ve shifted our focus from the community donating gifts to our kids to empowering our parents and caregivers to become the gift-givers.

As a general society, we impose--myself included--what we think the holidays should be for foster kids, and we have to remember that ultimately we may have to let go of our own expectations because they’re not home. During the holidays, foster children may be away from their family for the first time or the fifth time, and so it really empowers the foster parents to individualize what they are doing in a way that is building therapeutic rapport with the kid. The foster parents can listen to what the kids really need during the holidays. Maybe what they need is art supplies, because art is the only way they can express what’s going on with them, or some other special playful object that just brings a lot of joy to them. What’s really important is that a child knows that their caregivers is really listening to them, and that they feel honored wherever they are at in their journey being in foster care.

I really want community partners who donate to our Sponsor a Child campaign to know how vital it is for the caregivers in families to be put in a position of being able to discern what a child really needs at that time, and to be the one to give that gift, and use that to enrich their therapeutic relationship. Holiday gifts are not just a strategy to help kids forget where they are or their underlying circumstances, but to be able to improve the circumstances where they are in that moment, and further develop those strengthening relationships.

I think that all of our foster parents really delight in the ways that they can personalize their Christmas shopping and experience for their kids. During the holidays, every child has a different outlook and expectations depending on past holiday experiences. Christmas may be a triggering time for many kids in care, and they may or may not have good holiday memories. Using gift cards, foster parents can help individualize their foster youth’s experience.

Giving parents and families gift cards has allowed the families we serve to sometimes offer a “family experience” rather than just gifts. There is a family I work with who got Visa gift cards last year, and they chose to use that money to spend a few days at Universal Studios during the holidays as a family. They have two foster kids in their home, and they wanted to have a memorable experience with them. The kids got to use some of the funds to buy something of their own choosing at Universal Studios that would be significant and memorable to them to put in their “memory box.” Each of our foster parents keeps memory books or boxes to help their kids preserve positive memories of their experiences while placed with them, and these foster parents wanted to use the donated funds to help their foster children build new positive memories.

Another of the foster families I work with chose to put the funds they received towards developing a family wall in her home. When given the gift cards donated by the community from the Sponsor a Child campaign, the mom knew exactly what she wanted to do with them. The parents wanted to purchase some small, meaningful and personal Christmas gifts for their family using their own funds, so instead of using their donated gift cards for gifts, they used these funds to do something to bring the family together in a visual, cohesive and tangible way. The foster mom went out and got decorating materials and pictures, and everyone in the family, including their two foster kids, contributed what they wanted to the family wall. When it was complete, both kids showed everyone who visited the home which parts they had contributed. It was a timely project, not too soon or too late in their family journey, and working on this project was therapeutic for the foster children who have since been adopted into the family. Now this wall is commemorative of their family’s journey and their plan to become a “forever family” together.

Each year our community comes through for the children, youth and families we serve, ensuring that their holiday season is memorable and as positive an experience as possible considering their circumstances. We want to thank you for your years of generosity. Jamie’s stories should show you how vital this generosity is--and so much farther reaching for our families and youth than we can even express in words. To give to the Sponsor a Child effort this year, please visit FCNI.org/gifts.