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Christmas as a Children & Families Social Worker

Our Professional Officer, Karin Heber, shares what its like working as a child and family social worker over the festive period

It’s the time of year again when the Christmas frenzy is in full flow, when I worked as a social worker in a children and families team up until last year. The office would be fully decorated with each team taking pride in the kitschiest Christmas tree, and colleagues wearing Christmas jumpers as a fashion statement. My office ran its annual Christmas team challenge where an arts/craft project from each team with a different topic each year would compete against the other teams. My team won with our Christmas tree out of painted hands of the children we worked with - some hands only a few days old. The children loved to be part of it and were delighted when we won. It admittedly created a colourful mess in the homes of the children who had their fun with painted hands going everywhere and involved quite some cleaning up afterwards, but parents and foster carers seemed to enjoy the activity as well.

 The office apart from looking Christmassy is turning into a warehouse during this time. We get the presents that are collected by organisations such as Cash for kids or individual charities which turns us into frantic elves as the presents need to go out just before Christmas to all the families who struggle financially. We are also in contact with schools to let us know of the families who could do with that support and do not have social work involvement. We get a lorry full of presents which need to get sorted to the right child and young person in regard to interest and age according to the referrals. It is always difficult to get something appropriate for a young people so if you are in a position to donate this year please think of this age group (vouchers for shops or games, onesies and toiletries for example). It is always a huge task to get that organised! Once we’ve got the right present for each child and young person all social workers and colleagues drive across the country to get it delivered in time and without the children noticing. It’s coming from Santa after all and what kind of elf would we be if we’d give that away! It’s busy but a lovely task as everybody is happy to see you for a change! Most families are incredibly grateful for this support as it would break their heart for their children to go empty handed.

Apart from the presents we also make sure that all families have enough food, gas and electricity over the Christmas period and help out wherever needed. We work very closely together with the local foodbanks who are working endlessly to even accommodate short notice or very late in the day requests. In my team we always had food in the cupboards that we could hand out on one of those late Friday evenings when we get the call from a desperate family or young person. If ours would have run out, we would sometimes go to the Adult services teams and asked for some spares as they also kept food for late/emergency requests. 

It is a very busy time as visits over Christmas time need to be organised to the most vulnerable and at-risk children and everybody helps out when possible. Demands need to be juggled with one’s own family, who ultimately pay the price for those long working days.

We also try our best to make it possible for accommodated children and young people to see their families over Christmas which isn’t always easy with limited public transport and less staff to supervise if needed during that time. Every family has their own Christmas routines and matching the ones of the biological family and that of the foster carer without too much disruption and upset is a skill in itself. Sometimes this isn’t possible which can make Christmas a really tough time.

Cheer and sadness (and stress- always stress) are the dominating emotions. We see many children getting excited about Christmas but also witness the pressure many families are under, particularly in this time. We also support those who are not able for different reasons to be with their family whether that’s children separated from their parents and parents who have to spend Christmas without their children for some for the first time which can be so hard.

I’ve spoken with one of my former colleagues and he reported that the pre-Christmas season is very different this year. They don’t have any decorations in the office and all celebrations are cancelled. Unfortunately, this Local Authority is missing out this year on donations and therefore my colleagues won’t distributing any presents. Instead, they deal with an overwhelming number of referrals involving domestic violence.

He says what is positive and deserves a shoutout is how much colleagues are supporting each other and help each other out and have done so throughout this year!

I raise my glass to all of you!!