The holidays are here, and once again the days around Thanksgiving will be the most-traveled days of the years. A month later, millions more people will be traveling for Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa.
If you are caring for a foster child (again, thank you!), you might be wondering what the best way is to include them in your holiday traveling plans. Do you have to give up heading over the river and through to woods to Grandmother’s house this year, simply because you’ve opened your heart and are fostering a child? There’s a good chance that your plans won’t suffer, and if you’re traveling with foster kids we have some advice on the best way to prepare them for what’s coming up so that everyone has the best holiday possible.
Do You Have The Authority?
The very first thing you want to do when making plans is make sure that you have the authority to travel with the foster child in the first place. Travel restrictions could be mandated by the court or the foster care agency. You might have a restriction on how far from home you are allowed to take a foster child; conversely, you might be able to take a child out of the country for a vacation.
Even if you know that you are allowed to travel out-of-state in order to visit relatives, you’ll have to inform the fostering agency of your plans. They’ll want to confirm that all contact information is current and need to know exactly where you’ll be going. Oh, and if you’re flying, make sure you have all the documentation that the airline needs to be able to take the child with you. You don’t want to get to the airport and be denied.
Consider How Close They Are To Reunification
Here’s something you probably don’t want to do: take a child with you during the holidays just days before they are scheduled to return to their birth parents. It can present such dichotomous change — going from dozens of new family members to heading back to a single parent — that it could overwhelm the child emotionally.
Also, it’s important to remember that you might not even have the choice to take a child with you if the parents are given time with them during the holiday. If you plan on being gone for a week on either side of Christmas, that won’t work if the child is scheduled to spend Christmas Eve with their birth parent.
What About Therapy?
While living with a loving foster family such as your own can certainly help a child heal emotionally, many children will also be seeing a professional therapist to help them with their problems. Talk to the staff at a foster care agency to see if it’s okay for them to miss a session.
What are the options? Consider a shorter time away than usual so that the child isn’t missing as many therapy sessions. You can also ask about rescheduling their times with a therapist, or find out if the therapist offers Skype sessions.
Is There Adequate Sleeping Space?
Here’s another reason to contact Contra Costa County before you travel with your foster kid: accommodations. It’s important to know the legal standards that have to be kept as you travel. For instance, your own son and daughter might (begrudgingly) share the spare bedroom when visiting grandparents, but that probably won’t be an option for opposite-gender children if one of them is a foster, even for a short amount of time. This might mean that you have to give up the comfy bed and sleep on the couch while the foster child gets the private bedroom. Thinking about this ahead of time can prevent a lot of problems (and arguments) once you get there!
Prepare The Foster Child For Get-Togethers
If you are fostering a child whom you are related to, they might already know the people at a family get-together. But if a foster child has been placed with you from outside your family, it’s most likely because they didn’t have an extended family that could take them once their parents weren’t able to keep them. In that case, they might never have been to a family gathering, and suddenly meeting many new people could overwhelm them.
It’s important to talk to your foster child beforehand in order to prepare them for what they might expect. Will there just be two new people to meet? Six? Or perhaps it a huge gathering with three dozen people in a rented space. What will the days be like? Is it sitting around playing board games, or a bunch of screaming kids packed into a small house?
It’s also important to let them know about family members that could be a bit more…well, let’s just say eccentric. Does Aunt Judy kiss the cheeks of every child as they walk through the door? Is Uncle Joe incredibly blunt and apt to ask the foster child every detail of their past? Practice saying “thanks for asking, but I’d rather not talk about that.” It’s a good idea to prepare a child for those relatives who might be a bit hard for your own family to take!
Prepare Your Family
You’ve done a wonderful thing by taking a foster child into your home. But we’re guessing that not everyone in your extended family understands your need to do so. After all, they might believe many of the myths associated with the foster care system and expect you to bring a child to their house that’s going to ruin their carefully-planned get together. In most every case, their fears are unwarranted.
Make sure to tell your relatives ahead of time what your foster child is really like. Are they shy? Overly expressive? Perfectly normal in every way despite what they’ve been through? It’s good to let them know what the child prefers and if they have any particular actions or topics that could make them sad or angry. Again, it’s a good idea to talk to someone at the foster care agency beforehand to discuss the right way to discuss your foster kid’s situation and how much is appropriate to disclose.
If your foster child wants to be included with the other children, let Aunt Judy know that she’s perfectly welcome to give them a kiss on the cheek. Otherwise, warn her that it might make the child uncomfortable. Let Uncle Joe know that his usual candor could bring up bad memories for the foster child, and that he should keep his question on the lighter side.
Make Them the Photographer
This is a fun little tip that makes a lot of sense. If your foster child is a bit shy around people, give them a camera and have them document any events they go to. This allows them the best of both worlds: they are able to be a part of the action while still remaining removed from it. It helps them get to know people, and later you can go through the pictures and talk a bit more about who’s in them.
Remember, you’re never in this alone. If you have any questions about traveling with foster children, Contra Costa County’s foster care agency is ready to help. Keep those lines of communication open and you’ll have a great time traveling for the holidays with those you’re caring for.