In the years we have been foster carers, we have never put the children we care for in respite so we can have a holiday without them and I know this is a controversial view. We had a short break once when M had a school residential trip for five days, before J was with us and we snuck abroad for a much needed break. This was in the early days of M being with us where she was hostile and demanding and we really benefited from the break. She had a great time exploring the Welsh mountains and bonding with her new classmates so we didn’t feel guilty and we only told her where we had been once she returned.
We are going on holiday during this year’s summer school break and J and M are both getting excited. M is looking forward to flirting with Portuguese boys and parading up and down the beach in her new summer wardrobe whilst J is very much anticipating his first holiday abroad. It’s been a fight to take J abroad due to his complicated legal situation but we now have a passport for him and he’s as excited about going on a plane for the first time as well as going to Portugal. Both children have enjoyed the whole process including looking at potential holidays (we included them as much as possible in the choice of resort), planning the trip, buying clothes and sunscreen as well as looking at what activities we can do whilst we are there.
Many foster carers feel the need for a break from the Looked After Children in their care and benefit from a week or two away from them to recharge their batteries but I struggle with the idea that the children must feel rejected, especially as some foster carers go away with their birth children, leaving their foster children in the UK. I know my view will take a bashing and I accept that every family and child is different and what is right for me, isn’t necessarily right for others. In my first year of being a foster carer, I did some respite fostering for other carers as it’s a good way of getting experience in a short period of time. Most of the children had disabilities and the carers needed the break as the child’s condition was critical or the care very demanding and I can see this has a very tangible benefit to both child and carer. In all the cases, the foster carer contacted me several times to check on them and often spoke to the child to reassure them they were not forgotten.
Personally, I couldn’t go on holiday without the children in my care as I treat them as part of my family but there are many times that I want to. Last year J went through a difficult and protracted court case and M struggled to settle in school resulting in several months of stressed and anxious children who dealt with their emotions by displaying challenging behaviour. J regressed and started wetting the bed again and by the end of the summer, the chance to have a week or even a few days away with Hubby would have been hugely welcomed but we didn’t do it. We both felt it would be felt as a rejection by both children and we struggled on, tired and stressed. We did however find a solution which in talking to other carers, they find difficult to understand, but works for us.
Once a year I meet up in Rome for a few days with two old school friends. One of them has a family apartment there and we take advantage of free accommodation and soak up the culture and sun. We go year after year and as we’ve been so often to the same place we now tend to do less sightseeing and just lounge around in cafes drinking exquisite coffee, eating too much and chatting. I also manage a couple of weekends away with my sister or best friend at a spa for a much needed pamper session. Hubby does the similar thing with his friends and it usually involves football and beer and festivals… not necessarily in that order!
We always have at least one family holiday a year all together and when one of us takes a break, as long as the other one stays at home with the children, they don’t feel neglected or rejected. In fact, when I’m away, the kids think it’s great as Hubby’s idea of cooking is flicking through the takeaway leaflets!
I know our way of taking respite is not everyone’s cup of tea and it does require a strong relationship but I don’t know many foster carers that don’t have a solid relationship. We both benefit from taking a break with our friends and we come back recharged and ready to devote more time to our foster children. I do miss Hubby terribly when we’re apart and we text and chat all the time (mostly about the children!) and sometimes I do wish he was with me as I sit people watching and sip a glass of wine on a romantic piazza.
Other foster carers swear by their childless break and say that everyone benefits including the children, who love their respite placements. As a respite carer for a while, I can testify that I tried to make their 2 or 3 week stay with me fun and their carers would report back to me the children had a great time. However, I won’t be swayed and if I go on holiday, M and J come too. Next year we are planning a big holiday to America, specifically New York and the children are already excited. Not only do they feel included and part of the family but planning a year from now gives them a sense of security for the future.