Secret Foster Carer: ‘The lessons we learnt taking our foster children abroad’

From awkward questions at border control to dive bombing in swimming pools, a holiday in Spain was an eye-opener for the secret foster carer

We took our foster children on holiday abroad this year. We normally stay in the UK, the Isle of Wight being our favourite destination because the ferry makes it an adventure and we’re close enough to our children’s social workers and our fostering agency if they’re needed.

This year we went to Spain. Here are some of our holiday highlights and lessons

Arousing suspicion

“You’ll need a letter from us,” social services had said, “in case border control are suspicious.” And they were, once we showed them the letter. “Are you a foster child then love?” the airline rep boomed to our 8-year-old, in a voice pitched loud enough to ensure her colleagues heard her handling a ‘situation’. With 100 holidaymakers listening the child said, “don’t know…” “Are these people your foster parents then?” “Yes.”

“Listen love, all you have to say is ‘I’m a foster child’ okay?” the airline rep said. Then she turned to us and said: “It’s very difficult for us, what with grandparents with different names from the kids and couples who never married and whatnot.”

Culture shock

Going abroad can be frightening. People speak a different language. Spanish people sometimes sound as if they are cross. Foster children are often terrified of cross adults. The queue for taxis at Malaga airport was chaotic and drivers were shouting. An airport official told one of our foster children not to touch the rope that formed the queue, and she got scared. We explained that in Spain people act slightly different sometimes, and they are not cross. Should have done this in advance, I thought.


On holiday you are continually doing risk assessments. You have to keep them to yourself or everything gets spoiled by fear. For example, there was a playground with climbing stuff about 100 yards from our apartment. We checked it out in the morning, every hinge and bracket, with the naked eye, like you learn to do. After lunch we were confronted with this: “Can I go to the playground by myself?” We agreed, our hearts going out for the thousandth time to the McCanns. At bedtime, we were told: “Do you know what I like best? It’s the independence.”

Fun works wonders

On holiday you do more activities for fun than you do at home. So, as foster parents, you are also more of a child on holiday than you are at home. You buy mystery ice lollies for everybody, including yourself, you stay up past midnight and the children get to stay up late too. You do bombs in the swimming pool because bombs are allowed in Spanish pools. You become a foster friend.

Coming together abroad

Foster children often feel awkward about the world and their foster parents seem to be at ease with the world. When you take them abroad the foster parents are fish out of water too, so there’s a coming together experience of everything being slightly strange for everybody. “Which one is the Gents?” “How do you say apple juice?” “Why are all the children in Spain up at midnight?”

Border control

Coming back through border control, we kept the letter from social services out of sight. But the official was brilliant this time. He spotted these were not our biological children, I’m sure of that, don’t ask me how. He smiled a big smile, looked at my passport and made a cheery joke about where I was born. I laughed. He was checking me out to see if I was nervous, and preparing to check out the children too.

He made cheery remarks about where each of them were born too, and they laughed as I had done. He never asked them why their names were different, or if they were foster children. In fact, they had fun. Then he waved us through. He was absolutely superb.

And a random fact

The Cliff Richard song, ‘we’re all going on a summer Holiday’, always gets sung in our house. I’ve seen the film. As I remember, it’s a slapstick comedy in which Cliff helps traffic a runaway teenage girl right across Europe in his bus. Don’t times change?

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4 Responses to Secret Foster Carer: ‘The lessons we learnt taking our foster children abroad’

  1. Marion October 28, 2013 at 12:22 pm #

    We regularly take our fostered Children to Malaga, and have never encountered any problems at all. we have never had to show our S/S letter to anyone at Malaga passport control, and in England we have always found Customs to be very discreet.

    We went to Spain with Four grandchildren and out Two Fostered Children this year and had a great time. I think many F/Children do happily travel abroad every year, and it is really good for them to see different Cultures, and experience plane travel.

  2. Iain October 31, 2013 at 12:43 pm #

    I think that sometimes being overly prepared is a bad thing.

    We have the letters and the permissions from the social worker, the fostering agency and from the children’s parents and we have never shown them. Border staff are used to different surnames in the same family these days. I suppose the children are not obviously not ours physically- there are no racial differences, but we only ever draw attention to the difference if there is no alternative, and in fact both of the children that live with us would be mortified if we did.

    The children that we look after were placed with us to give them, amongst other things, an experience of ordinary life in an ordinary family, and to court disaster by drawing attention to the differences is somewhere we will not go unless there is no alternative. We see the children as part of our family (that is after all what they are, regardless of their legal status) and they feel part of the family and so there are nop outward signs that we are anything other than a nuclear family with lots of kids and attendant chaos!

  3. Glenda Wheeler October 31, 2013 at 1:27 pm #

    I really enjoy reading ‘secret foster carer’. Would she mind if I copied her stories to our foster carers in our Support Groups ?

    Training and Development

    • simeonbrody October 31, 2013 at 2:28 pm #

      Hi Glenda
      That should be fine but let me get in touch with the author and get back to you.