YES, if you go on vacation you should take your kids with you.
A la Jeopardy, my husband and I tried to figure out the right question associated with the answer because certainly there weren't people out there who thought their foster children were expendable during a vacation right? Well, as we learned being in and around foster care rules are made for a reason, usually as a result of a tragedy of some sort caused in part by a foster parent's unthinkable action.
The actual question does in fact turn out to be valid though as foster parents do have to pay attention to the rules about traveling with foster kids if and when travel does occur. As I have recently traveled out of state these rules are particularly timely to share with you all (and as always, are Texas specific - other states have some sort of variation).
- Traveling within county limits is almost always acceptable unless you will stay outside the home (i.e., hotel) for more than 48 or 72 hours. Technically, traveling outside the county requires prior permission, which is unrealistic for us seeing as how the county line is 8 houses down. Nevertheless - if you're reasonable and stick with the "48 or 72" hour rule, you're probably fine - and neighboring counties are probably fine too.
- The 48 or 72 hour rule - If you are going to stay out of the home for 48 or 72 hours, as in staying overnight visiting someone else or staying in a hotel, you need to get permission in advance. I say 48 or 72 hours because the paperwork that I've received all says that I have permission to travel within the state of Texas for 48 hours or permission to travel within the state of Texas for 72 hours...it says both of those things just like that and I can't figure out how I have permission for 72 hours and yet only permission for 48 hours...in other words why does it say both. I guess it's best to let the caseworker know if it will be more than 48 hours.
- Out of State travel - if you are going out of state, you need to have the court's permission in advance. To get that permission the caseworker needs to submit something to the court saying where the child is going, with whom, where the child will be staying (address) and contact information. I don't know if this needs to happen, but in the case where I am going out of state I provide that information to the caseworker, the CASA, and the ad-litem just in case. Then, I maintain a record of written approval, just in case.
- If in traveling a visit will be missed, it will need to be made up ASAP.
If for some reason you can't take your kids with you then you can do respite care. Respite care is essentially a temporary foster placement with someone approved by the state for respite care. In my most recent trip, I had my kids only 5 days before my trip was scheduled, so I couldn't reasonably purchase plane tickets to bring them with me or get court approval, nor was I confident that I could travel on a plane with 4 kiddos under 5 by myself seeing as how I just met 2 of them. So, I used respite care.
Respite can take 2 forms. In my most recent case I used a family member since the trip was only for 3 days. To do that, I had to submit the information for each member of my sister's household (over 18) so the state could run background checks. Because they passed, the kids were allowed to stay with them. It worked out well because the kids had already met my sister and her family and weren't placed with yet another stranger for a few days.
The other form of respite care is with someone who is licensed through the state either as a foster parent who has spots open in there home or who is licensed just to provide respite care. In those situations, the state can help you find someone if there is a need, usually for 7 days or more. Of course, as you get involved in foster parent associations or other foster/adopt circles you often end up having friends who are licensed, so you could use them as well. Usually in the cases where respite is more formal, it is expected that you pay the respite care provider the amount of the daily stipend foster parents receive.
Respite care can be useful when you have an adult-only trip (sometimes foster parents need a break just like any other parents!) or in emergencies. Last year when my dad was injured I needed to hurry up and get to California, taking the first flight out there with my son. Magically, I didn't have foster kiddos at the time so I didn't have to worry about all this, but if I did I probably would have been better off to find respite for them rather than bring them to California with me as I waited in the hospital for his recovery. Respite can also be used when the state doesn't want you to take the kids out of state for some rea
Other than that, we are under the mindset that our foster kids are part of our family and we plan to do everything with them that we'd plan to do with our biological son. In between foster care cases, we try to take time to celebrate our "permanent" family, rest, and relax before the craziness begins again with the next call.