Supporting young people through the holidays

With Christmas fast approaching, and another year coming to a close, many of us at the Guardian’s office are looking forward to a break, spending time with friends and family, and our festive season traditions. But it’s also important to take time to acknowledge that, for many of the young people we work with, this time of year can bring up complex emotions – and they need us to treat them gently and with understanding.

For many, Christmas and other end of year holidays is a time of magic and excitement, where formative memories are created with family and loved ones. The anticipation of opening presents and overindulging on food fills the air, and reminds of previous times of joy.

But for many young people in care or youth detention, this can be a really stressful and emotional time. The all-pervasive holiday cheer can serve as an emotional reminder for young people that have been separated from their families. Both young people and their families reach out to us for support at this time of year to be allowed to see one another and spend holidays together – with over 1 in 5 queries this December relating to family contact.

The holiday period goes hand in hand with support services, case workers and educational programs taking a break. Young people tell us that they can find themselves without their usual supports, friends, routine, or families at a time of year that brings up big emotions.

And, while Christmas is all encompassing in the community, often we work with young people in care or detention whose cultural or religious backgrounds do not include the celebration of Christmas, and their narrative can be lost in the general festive season excitement.

We would like to acknowledge the examples we see of carers working hard to provide the young people they care for a joyful, memorable Christmas and holiday period. At a group of residential care houses in the southern suburbs, the young people said the care team would provide a group Christmas lunch, inclusive of Christmas hams, bon-bons and several desserts. These young people expressed excitement at opening their presents on Christmas morning (although there was some trepidation at how sick they would feel after eating all their lollies too quickly)!

So, regardless of how we celebrate (or don’t celebrate) Christmas and other holidays, let’s go into this festive period with an awareness of the emotions this time of year can bring up for some, allowing space and providing support for the big feelings that can arise.

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