Saw this article this week in the Irish Times: Children in Care to Have Holiday Abroad Without Parental Approval. It struck a chord with me after facing so many difficulties getting passports for children I have fostered.
When I started fostering, I was very clear that, with family living abroad, I would be taking holidays abroad and would prefer to take fostered children with me. I was told that wouldn't be a problem as long as each trip wasn't too long - say two weeks at a time. I explained that it was a deal breaker. Again, I was reassured that it wouldn't be a problem.
More than three years in and the memory of those conversations evokes a cynical smile. Getting passports for fostered children is a total nightmare. And, to add insult to injury, once I was approved and trying to get one of these elusive documents, everyone pretty much agreed that I might as well whistle into the wind. Other foster carers laughed out loud when I told them I was asking for passports, and told me they hadn't been out of the country in years!
I got my first placement in April 2011. I asked for a passport immediately but was told it would be unlikely as he was on a Section 20. As soon as he went onto a care order, I asked again, hoping to travel in July. They agreed he could have a passport and said they'd get on it straight away. July came and went. So did August. In the end we managed to get away in October. Not exactly a summer holiday.
I was also promised that if I wanted to visit my family and a passport wasn't forthcoming then respite care would be available. This is not what I want for my fostered children. Apparently, it's not what social services want either as last year I was refused two placements on the grounds that I was planning to go away for a week's holiday and they didn't want the child in respite. This resulted in me only having 2 weeks work in six months.
Getting parental consent, though sometimes problematic, is only part of the problem. Court documents must be sent off with each passport application. But these documents are only valid for a few weeks, after which they must be renewed. The application must be granted while the documents are valid. If the court takes a month to send the documents through to social services (as apparently is often the case) then there is often not enough time left on them to get the passport application done before they expire.
Not only that, but, to be honest, getting a passport sorted is way down the list of tasks that social workers need to do. In our LA, children have one social worker when they first come into care - a sort of emergency team - and are then transferred to another to get them through the various processes. Sometimes, children are waiting with the emergency team for weeks and weeks before getting transferred. Social workers on these teams are dealing with high pressure and serious child protection issues. I can understand why getting a passport sorted is not high on their list of priorities. I've been told as much, in as many words, by a frustrated social worker when I called for about the millionth time asking about a non-appearing passport.
I totally understand why the passport isn't important to that social worker. But it is important to me and to the child. We are supposed to include our fostered children in all aspects of our family lives - make them part of our families. I take this seriously. So does my family, who are willing to purchase equipment and provide bed and board for fostered children when we go to stay, out of their own pockets. Travelling abroad a couple of times a year is what this family does. I was clear on this from the beginning. I wish they had been as clear with me as I was with them.