Whether or not foster parents should take their foster children with them on a family vacation can be a hot topic. Some foster families feel very strongly about taking foster children, stating that the kids are a part of the family, so should attend all family functions. Other foster families feel that summer vacations are a time to take a break and reconnect with their core family. I think there are some things to consider before making this big decision.
How well do you know the child? - If the child was recently placed in your home, it may not be wise to take the child with you on your family vacation. This is a pure judgment call on the part of the foster family and perhaps the social workers; just remember that a honeymoon period can last with some children from a few days to a few weeks. I think if the child has been with you less than 30 days, give it a lot of thought.
The child's behaviors - This goes along with the first point – it's important that you know the child well enough to be able to make an informed decision regarding behaviors. What overwhelms the child? Does the child have a habit of wandering off? Do you know the child's fears? It's important to be prepared when traveling with a child with difficult behaviors. Ask yourself how disappointed you and your family may be if the child's behavior takes away from your family time together. Remember, you have not made a lifetime commitment to the foster child, but you have to your family.
The child's age and the activities you will be enjoying on vacation. – Simple, rock climbing and a toddler may not be a great mix. Consider bringing an extra adult with you if you do choose to take along a foster child on vacation spots that may not fit everyone.
How close is the child to reunification? - It may not be in the child or birth family's best interest for the child to be gone on family vacation when they are close to being reunified. Present this dilemma with much sensitivity as it could go badly either way. Meaning, the child might be upset about going home if it means missing Disney. Or the child might be upset about going on the family vacation if it means missing reunification with birth mom. This can be handled well, with much planning. Also consider, would taking the child or not taking the child create a rift within your relationship with the birth family?
Does your foster family just need a break from the drama of foster care? - There is nothing wrong with needing a break from foster care. Foster care can be rewarding, but also draining work. Taking breaks from it all can help bring a new energy to your foster family. It's important to make memories with your family. Remember, your children are only young once too.
Would the child miss family visitation or therapy by going on the family vacation? - Check your calendar and note all visitation dates as well as therapy appointments, doctor appointments and court dates. What will the child miss if she goes with you on family vacation? Discuss this with your social workers. In some states, the judge over the case must approve if a foster family plans to travel outside of the state with a foster child. If traveling during the school year, consider whether the child can afford to miss several days of school.
How is the child's health? - Some foster children are physically frail. Can the child handle the type of travel you are planning?
Consider the child's feelings. - I know it's not in a foster family's mind to intentionally add to a child's emotional baggage. Many foster children feel abandoned. Keep this in mind when making this huge decision.
Know that it can be done well. – We have chosen to take our foster children on all of our family vacations. We have had much success as well as a few mishaps. The key to our success was found in careful planning and realistic expectations. Know what you're getting into when traveling with a child that may be suffering from the emotional trauma that many foster children carry. Look for the positives and sweet moments. The joy of seeing the wonder in a child's eyes as they look upon a mountain or the ocean for the first time is worth it. There are many pros to taking a child with you on family vacation.
Give notice - You will need to contact your child's social worker as soon as possible with your travel plans, whether the foster child accompanies you on family vacation or not. Give the workers a few weeks notice as they will more than likely, different in each state, need to contact the judge if the child does go with you. If you choose not to take a child on your family vacation the social worker will need to arrange respite foster care.
Behaviors are possible - Prepare for the possibility of behaviors whether the foster child goes with you on your vacation or to respite foster care as it means a change in the child's routine.
Get started with your Foster Family Vacation Planning with this checklist.