Booking a holiday is always a stressful experience in our house and not one I look forward to as the first rule of holidays becomes very apparent very quickly; you can’t please everyone, any of the time. This has nothing to do with taking Looked After Children on holiday, just the difference in personalities and having a teenager in our party. J is actually quite easy to please; as long as we go somewhere with lots of sporting activities, a 24 hour snack bar and someone to play in the pool with all of the time. Hubby would like a holiday where the waiting staff serve cold drinks and snacks on a permanent rotation and he can forget he’s got a job, kids and a wife. He’d like to insert ear buds in on the plane over and not take them out until we touched back down at Gatwick.
M’s idea of a holiday is transplanting her entire wardrobe, every item of makeup and hair product she owns to a hotel room, spending 3 hours getting ready to go into the pool then redoing her hair for another 3 hours to eat on the balcony. My idea of a holiday is staying at home and not setting foot on a plane, let alone a self catered apartment. Baby S doesn’t get a say.
Let’s be honest, taking kids on holiday is hard work, even when they’re your own. Taking Looked After Children adds extra planning, permission from several individuals including the child’s social worker and possibly their parents as well as extra documentation which is as vital as a passport. It’s not just about paper work and planning ahead though, children in care have likely had their lives disrupted more than once and in M’s case, has involved over 10 foster placements as well as numerous attempts at keeping the family together with various relatives. No matter how cool and calm her exterior is, she doesn’t cope well with change, even if it’s for something ‘nice’ such as a holiday. This is often an underlying factor with Looked After Children and they are at their most secure when they know their surroundings, where to find things and what to expect.
J is similar but it is easier to deal with as everything he feels is right there on the surface. He wears all his insecurities on his face, meaning I can try to allay his fears even before he’s put them into a coherent thought. Last year, we did a mental walk through of the airport; where we would be queuing, where we would be sitting on the plane and what the passport and customs officials do, this was particularly important as J has a fear of authority. He asked me if I would be there all the time and I reassured him several times that he would always be with either me or Hubby. We also did this dry run for the hotel and the pool. Once there he had a wonderful time and was ordering raspberry slush at the pool bar like a pro. M was harder to crack and she hid her insecurities with a teenage sneer and her face permanently planted in her phone but with one ear on the dry runs.
To take a Looked After Child abroad, you need to start planning early, no last minute jaunts or cheap deals are the norm, and anyway, it hardly matters as unless you are only caring for babies, you are tied to the rigid, uncompromising school year. Even if I were able to persuade either M or J’s school to allow them a few days leeway, their Local Authority would never agree to it. It doesn’t matter what type of Care Order the child has, you need to get official approval from their social worker, even if the child or young person has been with you for a while and even if you are going back to the same place, such as a family owned property.
Once permission has been granted by the Local Authority, and they can refuse if they feel the holiday style or location is not suitable (many LA’s are refusing permission for LAC to travel to Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey), then a written permission with every detail of the holiday, flights, accommodation, the child and the Foster Carer’s details is required and this piece of paper is as important as the child’s passport in order to leave and re-enter the country. This is because the foster carer and child are highly likely to have different surnames and it is in place to limit child abduction out of the UK and child trafficking into the UK. As a precaution, I also take the child’s birth certificate.
Another thing that a foster carer needs to consider is safeguarding for both themselves and the child. If you took your own child on holiday, you might feel a family room is suitable, but you need to think about privacy and protecting yourself against allegations, just as you would in your own home, if you care for foster children. It can become expensive when each child needs their own room but this is why villas were invented!
Our holiday this year is still in discussion and debate but I’ve seen one that doesn’t give me shingles just thinking about it; a 3 bed villa on one of the Canary Islands on the same complex that Amber, one of M’s school friends, is also going to. Amber’s mum has 4 children close in age to M and J and we both feel this is a secret weapon in helping the girls to have a great holiday experience. J is nervous about meeting Angelino, Amber’s 10 year old brother, but will consider talking to him if he likes Manchester United, Lego or Superman. We’re meeting up next week so all the kids can break the ice and we can firm up plans.
Best of all, as well as 5 swimming pools, a water park nearby, football, table tennis and a craft room, the complex also hosts a spa and beauty complex which, although Hubby doesn’t know it yet, will be my home away from home.