Friday, June 05, 2015

TO TAKE YOUR FOSTER CHILD ON HOLIDAY?

Summer holidays are never far away; you hardly get the sand out of your suitcases and you're being bombarded with advertisements and special offers to get you back to Lanzarote.

Decisions, decisions...

Abroad or GB?

Same place as last year, or try somewhere new?

Butlins or Pontins? (That old one was easy when I was a child; we couldn't afford either so it was Warners).

To have a holiday at all? Why not stay home and spend the money on something else?

It's a tricky decision, but fun.

However.

If you foster there's a decision to be made that is much bigger than any of the above; you have to decide if your foster child is going with you.

Or at least, that's what I'm told by other carers and social workers. For us the decision is what they call a no-brainer; the child goes with you, provided they want to. But there's lots of things to think about, nothing insurmountable, except maybe one.

INSURMOUNTABLE THING

If your holiday has already been booked before the child was placed with you and there's no deal on supplementaries, your decision is made for you. I guess that can happen, but frankly, for me, if you're in fostering and you book a lock-down holiday for a set number of people way ahead of date it's because you've made your mind up you want your family holiday to be just that; family. No strangers. Fair enough, you'll save a few bob. But you've painted yourself into a corner if you fnd yourself with a child that needs to go with you.

For sure; taking a foster child on holiday is fraught with things you have to think about. Things you must try to get right.

SLEEPING

Sleeping arrangements need planning, 100% more than when it's just family.

Family and friends muck in on holiday with things like sharing bedrooms and bathrooms and putting on your cossie with a towel round you on the beach. But when you're fostering you have to sit down with your social worker and talk it out.

We took a foster child away once, for a few days at a seaside hotel. We'd booked a so-called 'suite' to make sure there was a separate room which the child had to herself with an adjoining door so we could keep an eye. It was the closest we could get to our home set-up. We asked for a single bed to be made up in the second room. The alternatives were; either book her a separate hotel room (too young to have a room to herself for goodness sake) or get a spare single bed made up in our room (awkward; you don't want to have dressing gowns on holiday and same-room-sleeping means sensible planning of showering and loo runs and the like).

We asked if we could get two rooms side-by-side with a connecting door; the hotel only had one of those and it was booked.

Long story short; child got spooked in the early hours and ended up sleeping on the sofa under the blankets from the wardrobe in our bedroom, with me in the double and my husband in the single in the adjoining room.

Complicated, but we got there.

SAFETY

Safety is another concern, about 20% more than when it's just family. The worries are the same, but you're less familiar with the child's personal sense of safety, plus you have to always remember, it's someone else's child.

When you go on holiday with your own children you stay alert to all sorts of potential dangers. Water mainly. What's the least dangerous? (you ask yourself), the open sea with hidden currents and rocks? Or the swimming pool with concrete edges and hidden pumps? Snorkelling, pedalos, the diving boards.

One year we'd inadvertently watched Jaws a few months before our holiday, stupid.

I'm afraid if one wants to foster for all you're worth, the days of lying around the pool dozing under your headphones with half an eye out for the pool waiter so you can snag a spritzer before lunch, those days my Pedigree chum, are not with you right now, they lie happily ahead. Years ahead!

Then there's the general worry of keeping an eye on them. You want to know where they are all the time, for obvious reasons. And they want to go off and 'explore'. You stay on your toes for your own kids, even more so with foster children, who might have it in them to be a bit bolder, a bit more adventurous.

For us it meant we came home from holiday for a rest, and we were happy to do it. The foster children had a whale of a time. Mostly they had never had a holiday before; and holiday-time is up there with Christmas.

LITTLE THINGS

There are little things to bear in mind too. Well, not quite so big.

Diet for one. Most foster children have food fads; can you meet them in Spain? Will the child be ok running around in a bathing suit in front of people or do they have body-image issues?

Health: What if they are unwell while abroad? Is a foster chid covered by family health insurance (answer; in my experience the holiday firms take this question in their stride, and the answer is yes, but worth checking).

The other things to get right are usually handled by your social worker. They sort out if the child's real parents have any say in holidays, if there's any paperwork or procedural complications.

RESPITE CAN BE THE BEST THING

Respite has never been for us. 'Respite' is where the foster child stays with another fostering family while you either take a break at home or in Benidorm.

Fostering can be very challenging. Many carers who slog it out around the year need and deserve a break from the demands.

Listen; you will find that Blue Sky will encourage you to take respite rather than soldier on, if things are hectic. There is no shame or sense of failing about respite. Look, if you work hard in any other job you deserve and take a holiday, why should fostering be any different?

Respite has never been the way for our family because we've always wanted to do the very best for our foster children, and in every case the right thing was and is for them to come on holiday with us. We reckon it might set the child's progress back if they were sent somewhere else, and we have never been comfortable with the message 'we need a break from you'.

IN THE END...

If there is any discussion, the child can come in on the decision making, if they are old enough. We have often looked after foster children who came to us for respite care while their foster family had a holiday. More often than not they missed their foster family, and on balance that can be a positive.

The one child whose experience sticks in my mind, and whose take on family holidays I keep in mind every year when we are booking our (bloomin' expensive!) foster family holiday, had this to say;

"Us foster children never like being known as foster children. There's that 'stigma' thing. I don't like it when people are looking at me and talking about whether I'm a foster child or adopted. I can tell when they are and I hate it. An' when I went on holiday with my foster family it happened all the time. So what I do is treat my respite like it's my holiday."

7 comments:

  1. Eve here - quietly fuming and giving up her free lesson to comment. :(

    When I was in foster care I was never taken on a family holiday. It hurt then, it hurts now and it will hurt for ever and ever.

    You see what happens is that the family returns home with loads of happy shared memories and photos. Of course the pictures are admired and some are put on show - and I felt excluded and marginalised and third rate.

    And I bottled up the sadness because somehow I thought if I did God might find me a forever family. Respite for me just meant another set of house rules I didn't know and nobody I knew to play with.

    The first proper holiday I ever had was camping with the kids from the Children's Home - it was ace! :)

    http://livingworldsedge.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/rest-in-peace-maddie-1997-2015.html

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  2. Ah Eve, that is heartbreaking. I hope you've enjoyed some good holidays since then.

    SFC- I foster and this year we will be giving our current kids their first holiday abroad. It'll be hard work- panics due to the new enviroment, meltdowns due to them sharing a room, the little one can't do buffets but we're half board, and the elder one has no idea she's a blossoming really pretty teen and needs to be wary of strangers - they'll need constant monitoring. But this isn't our holiday- it's theirs. Part of the experiences we want them to have and something they deserve to make them feel equal to their classmates. A couple of weeks after we get back they'll be going to my moms for a few days (she's our approved support and the kids adore 'Nanna' so think it's a treat) while we have a weekend away at a music festival, and chill out after the stress of the 'holiday'. And well at least I'll have a tan when we hit that festival!!

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  3. Not really relevant to this post but did you see 'Protecting our Foster Children' on TV? Would love to know what you thought.

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  4. Heartbreaking indeed Eve, I echo Anonymous' sentiments and good wishes.
    Have a ball Anonymous, I love your thinking, good on you!
    I missed it Grace, and I can't see it on Catch Up. What were your thoughts?

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  5. Look, I've just read Eve's comment for about the tenth time. If anyone in fostering wants to know how to do this job they have to ASK PEOPLE LIKE EVE.

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  6. Sometimes your extended family can feel uneasy about your choice to be a foster parent. So meeting the foster children before the holidays and family gatherings can help this situation or confirm their fears.
    Childrens Home

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  7. Thanks for this article! I wish I'd seen it before we holidayed as a foster family. We did our first ever fostering holidays abroad this year. Our first holiday was in Paris at the request of our FC who desperately wanted to go to Disneyland. Three days of eating McDonalds in Paris was worth it when our FC burst into tears in a queue at Disneyland. "I didn't think this was actually going to happen. And that's okay. I would have forgiven you. It would have been fine." Our FC then opened up to us more than they ever had before about broken promises and past experiences. Despite the McDonalds it was a magical holiday that really helped us bond as a family.

    By the time we went to Spain at the end of the summer our FC was attempting to order food in Spanish and was confidently eating at Spanish restaurants. Travelling together with our FC is one of the most rewarding things wed do with them and it is something that has really helped build our FC's confidence.

    My one caution for carers is that the holiday with a new FC has to be about the child, not about the adults' needs. You will be eating at McDonalds and constantly searching for shops that might sell cigarettes to minors. You may only spend ten minutes in the Louvre. And you may spend three hours at the traveller fun fair beside the Champs Eleysees. But the wonder experienced by your FC will make it all worthwhile.

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