Where Will They Spend Christmas?

Where Will They Spend Christmas?

A very good friend of mine and my Director for a few years at Social Services in Saskatchewan used to ask this question of staff when a young person was being kept too long in a group home, “Where will they spend Christmas?”

Research from the Annie E. Casey Foundation tells us that time in a Group Home should only be used for transitional, therapeutic care and that, “Every Kid Needs A Family1.”

“You’re Paid To Be Here”

Most of the Youth Workers I’ve met are very committed to their work and few do it solely for the money. 

Despite this—and no matter how well a Group Home functions—foster pre-teens and teens usually think about staff in terms of, “You’re paid to be here.”

It is not that different from my own adult kids, discounting my love because I’m their father.

Eventually all young people benefit from a non-paid, non-familial adult who shows them consistent care despite a child’s behavior—even when their behavior appears non-compliant (many adults would instead use the word “bad”). 

At our home, we’ve had more than one youth, new to our residence, call after a series of non-compliant actions and say, “Can you just pack up my stuff and leave it on the doorstep?” Expecting to be kicked out because it’s been the pattern for their lives. 

Nothing surprises them more than when asked by our director, “Why, we all do foolish things at times? It doesn’t mean we’ve stopped caring for you. Just come home and we’ll talk about what we do next.”

It helps to remember that—for both youth and adults—whatever behavior they are displaying makes sense to them at the time. Somehow, they are deepening a sense of control through that behavior and few people—regardless of age—will give up a behavior that seems to increase their control, even if it is damaging. 

Community Involvement

Group Homes need to become expert at community involvement and finding ways that volunteers will find enticing to be involved in a young person’s life. 

We use the term conversations rather than mentoring (we call them coaches), as it’s a crossable bridge—an on-ramp for both our kids OUT to the community and the community IN to our kids. 

This puts the relationship in front of the program. Rather than saying, “We have only a set way you can reach these kids,” we’re saying, “just get involved in their lives and let things grow naturally.”

We’ve never had an adult turn down a youth for a conversation and almost all say, “How can I be more involved?”

The first meeting always takes place with a worker present for two reasons; in case the adult is not a good fit for the youth and in case the youth becomes too shy to share the questions they have developed before the meeting occurs. 

If the “Coach” wants to continue and meet the youth alone, they need to have a background check and go through the steps we’d have any adult who works with children complete. Then the relationship becomes more formalized with guidelines developed by our staff, the coach AND the youth. 

So, if you’re thinking of a way to be meaningfully involved in a young person’s life, please remember there are many young people who need an unpaid, non-familial, supportive adult. If you have the honor of working with these young people, do your best to start building bridges OUT and IN to their communities. It’s a win/win for youth and the community.


1 Every Kid Needs a Family; Giving Children in the Child Welfare System the Best Chance for Success, by the Annie E. Casey Foundation,



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