Taking looked-after children on holiday

As planning for summer holidays gets underway Natalie Valios examines how residential care providers make decisions on where to take the children in their charge

The expectation that children who live in residential care will go on holiday is laid out in the government’s national minimum standards for children’s homes. This stipulates that “children’s views should inform the choice of any individual and group holidays, trips and outings”.

However, there are several barriers to overcome before children in care can enjoy a break. Not least is the negative public image that a child in care is a “bad” child. Anecdotally this has led to holiday providers refusing bookings from children’s homes, or, in a bid to circumvent this, staff failing to mention that the children are in care when making a reservation.

Arranging permission, getting paperwork signed, obtaining passports and overcoming any legal issues all conspire to make booking a holiday a lengthy process. Add to this limited resources and the working time directive that brought in a 48-hour week making staffing arrangements on holiday more complicated, and it’s easy to see why some children’s homes might be tempted to give up.

But, says Janet Rich, children’s services development officer at the National Care Association which represents children’s homes, “none of these are insurmountable. It’s about thinking and planning ahead and fighting for the rights of these children to have as much normality in their life as possible, which includes the sort of holiday they want”.

Children’s homes looking to find an array of holiday providers specifically for looked-after children will be disappointed. But many in the field think this is a good thing because having specific holiday providers could stigmatise them. Jonathan Stanley, manager of the National Centre for Excellence in Residential Child Care, says: “We need to approach it from a child-centred perspective, rather than a service perspective. I’m not sure we should be supporting all children in a home going off together, or a particular organisation providing holidays because it’s likely to curtail their own interests.”

Whatever type of holiday you choose, as Rich says: “There are potential difficulties, but as long as staff are well-prepared and briefed for any potential hiccup, then good holidays can be had.”

What holidays can offer children in care:

● Adventure/activity holiday (see case study)

Can build confidence and self-esteem while removing children from routines based around computers and the TV.

The charity Children’s Friendship League in Hampshire takes children in care on an annual holiday to a summer camp at PGL.

Others use Center Parcswhich promotes itself as a good choice for children in care because it offers them “the chance to try new sports and activities as well as the opportunity to socialise with a variety of children”.

The Youth Hostel Association offers a similar experience through its Doit4Real camps for children.

● Individual holidays

The holiday is totally focused on the children and allows them to follow their own interests and ambitions from pony trekking to ski-ing, painting to learning Spanish.

Going abroad

Their horizons are broadened by having a taste of a different culture, language and food. As well as package holidays, a villa can be a good option because of privacy and containment.

Former residential child care worker Andria Wadsworth has embarked on a project to design a villa in Portugal purely for children in care which will be ready by March 2011. “There are so many little things that make it difficult so sometimes a holiday doesn’t happen. But children in care are expected to leave with a passport, so why give them one and do nothing with it?” she says.

Jeanette Farrow, registered manager of a children’s home in Hertfordshire, encourages the young people at her home to go abroad every year, with trips to Egypt, Turkey, and, for one teenager, back to his roots in Jamaica. “A foreign holiday is essential. They benefit by seeing a new culture. I don’t like them being disadvantaged, they have had enough of that. Not going abroad can set them apart from others.”

● Camping

Can be used to teach self sufficiency and team work. Easy to fit into a weekend so can be done more regularly, and cheaper, than other holidays.

There are a huge variety of campsites and activities available including Embercombe, a charity and social enterprise, that tries to inspire people about sustainable living and fulfilling leadership potential.

Another option is the well established Eurocamp has also now teamed up with Forest Holidays and the National Trust to offer family friendly camping holidays in New Forest, Forest of Dean, Snowdonia, Yorkshire Dales, Loch Lomond and the Lake District.

CASE STUDY: ‘Here, they can become kids again’

New Reflexions chid care service, Shropshire

Learning to cook moules mariniere with the mussels they have caught themselves is one of several skills that the group of looked-after children from New Reflexions learn on their annual camp to Ardintigh Highland Outdoor Centre on Loch Nevis.(www.outdoorcentrescotland.co.uk/contact.asp).

The centre’s owner Tom McClean, an orphan who was in the SAS before becoming an adventurer, is an inspiration to many of the young people. New Reflexions hires the centre for a fortnight and two groups have a one-week trip. It’s not compulsory and residents can choose to go elsewhere, for example, a package or villa holiday abroad.

New Reflexions has 13 homes for 10- to 18-year-olds with emotional and behavioural difficulties and uses a structured programme of outdoor activities to encourage children to learn more constructive positive behaviours and better ways of coping. This philosophy is carried on into the annual camp where children can take part in activities including canoeing, kayaking, gorge walking, waterskiing and fishing.

Care director Greg Watson says: “There are only four hours of electricity a day so there is no TV or distractions. In the evening we play rounders or fly kites. If the weather’s bad we play cards and listen to a wind-up radio. It’s really strange to watch how they react to being there; they become kids again and they relax. It has a really good effect on them and we rarely have an incident. With a group of young people with challenging behaviour you would expect an incident every day.”

New Reflexions  

Ardintigh Outdoor Centre

Managing behaviour

● Carry out a risk assessment before you book.

● Be clued up about the notorious drinking hotspots such as Faliraki in Rhodes and the major resorts on Ibiza so you can avoid booking packages there.

● Look at the dynamics between the children, as well as children and staff to ensure the best match goes away together. Don’t think you have to take everybody; look at how you can split groups and take them on different holidays.

● Involve young people in the planning so they feel it is their holiday; if they are more engaged with where they are going they are more likely to behave well.

● Be clear on boundaries before you go with both young people and staff. Define parameters, don’t embellish anything to make it sound better and don’t make promises you can’t keep. Taking away their expectations when you arrive is a guaranteed way to create arguments and conflict.

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