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
“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.”
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?”
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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