My Christmas wish
For many of us this time of year is full of anticipation. Whether it is looking forward to being with family, the latest toy under the Christmas tree or just time off work or school, for most of us Christmas brings happiness and hope of better things to come.
But of course this isn’t the case for everyone. For many children and families we work with, the holiday season amplifies their worries and sharpens the focus on problems they face, such as isolation, poverty and abuse.
Young people face isolation after leaving care
Milly, a young person, who recently left care and is involved in one of our projects, told me she feels alone this time of year. She said: ‘I think you are too young to be looking after yourself in a flat at 18 with not a lot of support.’
Research has consistently found that health and well-being of care-leavers worsens when they leave care. A year after leaving care young people are twice as likely to develop problems with drugs or alcohol or report mental health problems.
On average a young person growing up in a family leaves home at 24, but young people in care are forced to become independent as early as 16.
Other young people I met told me:
‘Why was I made to move out of foster placement because of my age rather than when I was ready?’
‘You are given a world in care and then it gets taken away from you’.
3.6 million children in the UK live in poverty
Another issue that many families are particularly stressed about during this festive season is poverty. Some 3.6 million children in the UK are in poverty.
What are the effects of poverty? Nicole, age 13, said: 'You can’t do as much, and I don’t like my clothes and that, so I don’t really get to do much or do stuff like my friends are doing... I am worried about what people think of me, like they think I am sad or something.'
Six in 10 children living in poverty live in working households. This Christmas many families will take out a loan to put food on the table and presents under the tree. Some companies are profiting from poverty, with huge interest rates and enticing Christmas offers that push families further into debt.
Jane, a parent, said: 'I feel bad because my kids can’t have what other kids have... it’s not their fault... and I sit and worry about things like that which gets me depressed too.'
Abuse and neglect
For children growing up in households where there is conflict, abuse or neglect, this festive season brings fear instead of joy. Conflict and an added factor of excessive alcohol consumption will make situation unbearable for many children and young people. In response they will run away.
One young person in our Make Runaways Safe report told us: ‘I was 11 when I first ran away. Everyone in our house was always arguing and fighting, and after one really bad argument I ran away. It became a bit of a habit. I just kept running away, the police would find me and bring me back home.’
Every year around 100,000 children run away from home overnight. Many of them will not know where to turn for help and will put themselves in danger by sleeping rough or staying with strangers, begging or stealing to survive.
Even the magic of Christmas cannot alleviate all wrongs of our modern life. But my wish this Christmas is that the government sees issues through the eyes and experiences of the children we work with, and makes decisions that will improve their lives.