Vol. 2, No. 1 Fall 1997
Religious Differences and the Holidays
Picture this scenario: Amy, a 13-year-old
foster child, is crying hysterically. It is getting close to Christmas,
and her foster mother has just told her that if she doesn't attend church
services on Christmas day, she cannot participate in an exchange of
Christmas gifts with her foster family.
She desperately wants to participate, but
she has decided not to--her birth family belongs to a religious tradition
that does not go to church or celebrate Christmas. She feels excluded
from her foster family and guilty because she wants to take part.
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For foster families, the holidays can be
challenging. Foster children miss their birth families and their traditions,
while at the same time they may want to be a part of the activities
of their foster family. When there is a religious difference between
the child's birth family and the foster family, things can become even
Religion can be a sensitive issue. Legally,
biological parents have the right to choose their children's religion
or lack of religion. Placement of their child in foster care does not
take away this right.
Of course, most foster parents try to respect
the culture and religious customs of the children in their care. But
what does this mean when it comes to religion? Must a foster parent
avoid talking about religion with foster children? Must foster children
be excluded from holidays their birth family does not celebrate?
Answers to questions like these lie in establishing
open lines of communication between you, DSS, and the birth family.
If your foster care coordinator, social worker, or licensing person
knows how you feel about religious issues (for example, if prayer makes
you feel uncomfortable, or if you feel compelled to convert foster children
and their families), he or she will be able to make informed placement
This communication works both ways. The more
you know about the religion, traditions, and preferences of birth families,
the easier it will be for you to act in a way that honors their beliefs.
If you aren't already doing so, consider
talking with your social worker about how religion affects your role
as a foster parent. Before you do so, you may want to survey your own
beliefs and values before talking to your social worker or the child's
social worker. The box below contains questions that may help you through
would you do if...
- Your foster child
refused to attend your place of worship?
- Your foster child
attempted to convert you?
- Birth parents talk
badly about your religion to their children?
- Birth parents insist
you cannot discuss religion with their child?
- Birth parents want
a child to adhere to religious regulations or routines different
from yours (for example, not eating pork, not cutting their
by Schatz, M. S. & Horejsi, C. (1996). The importance of religious
tolerance: A model for educating foster parents, Child Welfare