Thanksgiving Traditions

As the Thanksgiving Holiday approaches, many of us are happily anticipating reuniting with our families. I am looking forward to my mom’s fabulous pumpkin pie and the pastries that my dad makes. I am excited to see my sisters, to spend time chatting and laughing with these three women who are such an important part of my life. I am eager to see my nieces and nephews and how they have grown. I can’t wait to wake up to the smell of bacon and the medley of other delicious aromas that float up the stairs on Thanksgiving morning at my parents’ house. I look forward the sound of my family talking and laughing over coffee on Thanksgiving morning. We will have breakfast, go to church, then come home, prepare food together as we talk, laugh and reminisce, and then our entire family will have an enormous Thanksgiving dinner together. This is our tradition. Families all over have their own traditions on this Holiday as well.
Since I have been working with foster youth, however, Thanksgiving has another layer of meaning. As I am eagerly anticipating seeing my family, my sisters, my grandma, my nieces and nephews, I am reminded that there are children and youth in the foster care system who do not have a family with whom they can spend Thanksgiving. Many are in group homes, have been separated from their siblings, or are in an unfamiliar place with people who are relative strangers to them.  These children and youth will not wake to their family busily preparing for whatever holiday traditions they hold dear during this time of the year.  Some facilities will do their best to provide the foster children and youth who reside within them a special Thanksgiving experience, but it will not be the same. It will not be the same as spending the Holiday with a loving, caring family. It is difficult to establish tradition for a child who is moving from place to place and may spend Thanksgiving in a different place, with different surroundings and different people each year. 

Here are some things that you can do, big and small, to make a difference for foster youth this Holiday Season:  
1)     You can become a foster parent:
California and other states lack foster families. The result is that too many children are placed in impersonal (and expensive) group homes rather than with caring families.  A foster family can provide stability, a caring environment, and the family so many of these children and youth need during the Holiday season and beyond.
2)     You can become a mentor:
Foster children and youth quite often move from placement to placement, their social workers change, their attorneys change, their schools often change, their circle of friends changes. Some youth will stop attempting to connect to avoid the pain of having the loss over and over and over again. These youth need a consistent, caring adult in their lives. Someone who can make Holidays a little more special. Someone they can count on, who will be there. There are several non-profits that provide mentors for foster youth, and some county child welfare departments do this as well.
3)     You can become a Court Appointed Special Advocate: 
Court Appointed Special Advocates act in the role of a mentor and monitor a child’s progress, and in some cases ensure a child’s educational stability. CASAs provide a much needed stable adult presence in the life of a foster child.  In San Diego, CA, the local CASA organization is Voices for Children. If you are outside of San Diego, you can get information on your local CASA organization and volunteer opportunities from National CASA
4)     Become an Educational Representative:
Many youth in the foster care and delinquency system need someone to advocate for their educational rights and ensure that they receive a the free appropriate public education to which they are entitled. It is also a way to help these youth maintain stability in school and have a consistent adult in their lives. CAI has an Educational Representative program.  If you are not in the San Diego area, your local CASA organization may have an Educational Representative program for which you can volunteer.
5)     You can contact Just In Time for Foster Youth or a similar nonprofit in your area to help a former foster youth establish a home of his or her own, volunteer and / or contribute to the organization’s holiday activities (many have events where they give gifts and have meals for the youth).  If there is no such organization in your area, look at what Just In Time is doing, and see if there is a way you can replicate this wonderful work.
6)     You can start a Transition Life Coach (TLC) program with a community group or religious organization to help an older foster youth form ties with responsible, caring adults and to help these youth form the networks and have the resources that they need to succeed as they transition into adult life. For more information, visit CAI’s website:
7)     Donate to organizations, like the Children’s Advocacy Institute that advocate for foster children in the courts, the legislature, and in front of administrative bodies to help ensure that these children and youth have access to  the same opportunities as their peers who are not in foster care. 
8)  Contact your local Child Welfare organization or a local non-profit to see what you can donate. Many of these  organizations accept donations of gifts and/or gift cards for the foster children and youth with whom they work.
      About the Author:
      Melanie Delgado serves as Staff Attorney for theChildren’s Advocacy Institute. Her research and work focuses primarily on transition age foster youth and she is the primary author oftwo reports on the subject. Delgado is a graduate of the USD School of Law, where she participated in the CAI academic program, and was a co-recipient of the James A. D’Angelo Outstanding Child Advocate Award in 2006.


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