During the lead up to Christmas, most of us happily go about our Christmas shopping, decorate the Christmas tree, string up fairy lights and plan family get-togethers. However, for some of our most vulnerable young Australians, Christmas is an unhappy reminder of broken families and past trauma.

At Stepping Stone House, we accommodate and support children and young people aged 12–24 who are homeless or unable to live with their families. Sadly, many of our residents come from backgrounds of domestic violence, sexual and emotional abuse, neglect, alcoholism and mental illness. Some have been kicked out of home because of their sexuality.

For these children and young people, spending Christmas away from family can be an upsetting reminder of past trauma. It can also be a trigger for depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

That’s why we do everything we can to support our young people through the festive period. If it’s the first Christmas a young person is spending away from their family, it can be especially challenging. Fortunately, young people who have already been through this experience are able to support their peers.

One young person I spoke to recently was feeling numb about spending Christmas away from their family for the first time.

I just want to be home with those I love, but I know it’s not possible.

It’s gut-wrenching for our young people to think about their families spending Christmas without them. For those who meet with their families for a few hours, the experience can be doubly hard.

What can we do to help?

There is much that be done to support homeless and in-care children and young people at Christmas. Whether it’s donating gifts, goodie bags, food and hampers or providing a festive experience – such a trip to see a Christmas movie at the cinema – any gesture can have a profound and meaningful impact on young people when they are feeling most vulnerable.

For example, at Stepping Stone House, some of our young people have never celebrated Christmas or received a present before (this can be due to religious or cultural reasons, financial reasons or separated families). When each of our young people receive a Christmas gift from our generous donors, those who have never received one before are thrilled.

To create a festive atmosphere at our residences, the young people also help their carers to put up the Christmas tree and decorate the house. Despite its hardships, the festive period is a time when young people can forge closer bonds with the staff and their peers, developing a sense of a ‘home away from home’ where they feel comfortable and supported. Developing a strong sense of family community is key to our philosophy at Stepping Stone House.

We also provide fun and engaging activities to bring everyone together and lift people’s spirits. Our young people look forward to our annual summer camp, Christmas shows (where our own staff perform in local drama groups), and outdoor activities such as hiking to Deer Pool in the Royal National Park for a cool dip or stand-up paddleboarding through the Kurnell mangroves.

Christmas and the festive season is very tough for homeless and in-care young Australians. It’s often during this period that the reality of being away from family hits. That’s why support from carers, peers, donors and the wider community can make all the difference in ensuring vulnerable children and young people have positive experiences to look forward to at Christmas.