This summer we had the opportunity to take our foster child with us on a cruise holiday to Norway and the Arctic Circle. Taking a foster child on holiday does involve some added complications that normal families don't have to think about.
For a start when a foster child first comes to live with you, it's not uncommon to not have their passport and this can take months or even years to secure. Then even when you have the child's passport you can't take the foster child abroad without prior permission and agreement from the Local Authority. This means we have to plan quite far ahead and inform everybody in the six monthly CLA review meeting of our future holiday plans.
To avoid the disappointment of missing out on a booking, I tell the social workers as soon as I have an inkling of our going somewhere so we can can test the water and ideally get agreement in principle before we need to book anything. We also have to strictly stick to school holiday dates as we are not allowed to remove our foster child from school for even one day.
This time our holiday was in August and we had a long lead in time to plan it. We fortunately got the holiday approved several months in advance which was a relief as on this particular holiday our family needed to share a cabin with our foster child which adds an extra layer of complexity requiring additional paperwork to be signed by each of us for the Holiday Safe Care Plan. We had to all agree to dress and undress in the bathroom, for example.
We also needed a permission letter from the Local Authority to prove that we were authorised to take our foster child out of the country. This we also managed to get several months in advance.
Our foster child was excited about the prospect of our holiday but had no real concept of what a cruise ship would be like. He was very impressed and stunned by the size of the ship and all the different facilities that were available on board. Most impressive for him were the swimming pools and the three different kids clubs for children of various ages. The kids clubs were large light and airy rooms each with a large number of computers and gaming stations as well as other games like pin ball, table football etc. There are daily and evening programmes (the club for his age was open until 10pm) and there were areas for craft and relaxing areas for hanging out & watching films.
Our young man really enjoyed the kids club and was keen to go there as much as he could which actually gave myself and my husband a bit of a break. Usually when we go on holiday I have to take my laptop so I can write up my daily notes and our kids are with us 24/7 and this can be really tiring - particularly when they are overtired / overwrought or dysregulated. It sometimes feels like you never actually have a holiday from our work as foster carers because we take our work on holiday with us. While we obviously love being with our birth and foster children and watching them have fun it is nice to also have some time to ourselves so this particular holiday was noticeably more relaxing and it felt like we actually had a proper break.
The joy of a cruise holiday is that you wake up each day in a different port with different scenery to enjoy and a variety of different activities to participate in. On this holiday we enjoyed a railway journey to a huge waterfall in Flam, we went on a funicular railway up a mountain in Bergen, we went on a Cable car up another mountain in Andalsnes. In Tromso we went to a sealife centre and an ice bar. In Olden we went on a speedboat ride through the Fjords and in Skjolden we went Llama walking. Finally in our final port of Zeburgge / Bruges we had a lovely canal boat ride and we enjoyed Belgian waffles and a trip to a chocolate factory.
We always get a great amount of pleasure from introducing our foster child to new places and seeing his face light up when he sees or tries something new. On this holiday there were lots of new experiences to enjoy and we created many happy memories.
On the ship our child enjoyed swimming in the pools and hot tubs, watching the evening shows and playing on the football and basketball courts. He was rather disappointed that he wasn't old enough to use the very well equipped gym (minimum age of 16).
But the absolute best thing in his opinion was being able to order food whenever he wanted. Whether that was from the buffet restaurants open all day or from the Burger and hotdog or Pizza stands near the pool. The ice cream server soon learned his order and had ready a vanilla and chocolate ice cream cone with rainbow sprinkles and caramel sauce ready each time he went up for his daily treat.
We also had three formal nights where our young man dressed up in a three piece suit, we watched the champagne waterfall and we dined in one of the formal restaurants with waiter service. It's always surprising when we go on holiday and suddenly our foster child refuses to eat foods he would happily eat at home. But treats are ok on holiday and he returned to a healthy diet of vegetables and fruit when we were safely back home again.
All in all it was a really enjoyable holiday and we all agreed that we would happily do another cruise holiday in a heartbeat. Now we just need to start saving our pennies and planning for our next adventure.