Understanding Respite Care

Understanding Respite Care

What is respite? Respite is a temporary break, given to caretakers, that provides a period of rest and renewal. The Respite Guide, “Taking a Break: Creating Foster, Adoptive and Kinship Respite in Your Community,” is intended to help parent support group leaders develop and provide respite programs to the families in their communities, or to partner with public agencies in their program development and implementation.

Respite care is a much needed service for all families, especially foster, adoptive, and kinship families. Scheduling time for respite allows primary caregivers an opportunity to plan activities and most importantly, it helps to keep families from becoming overwhelmed by their many ongoing responsibilities. It is imperative for all families to take time to refuel and re-energize.

Parents can utilize different respite providers as caretakers for their children. However, for children in foster care, finding respite caretakers can sometimes be challenging. All respite caretakers must have thorough background checks completed, which includes finger printing, to provide respite for foster children.

Some of the children in foster care have emotional, behavioral, or medical challenges. Respite caretakers for these children need extra training to work with the many challenges these children may have.

Respite is not only a great opportunity for primary caregivers, but it is just as important for the children in foster care. Often when the children are in respite, they are able to build healthy relationships with other children in foster care, pursue a special interest, or have fun doing an activity they enjoy. They get the opportunity to build onto their social skills and self-esteem. This allows them to learn to trust others and to trust that the care- giver is going to come back to pick them up. This is often important for children who are in foster care because many have often been abandoned by people earlier in life and they fear they will be left again. Ultimately, respite leads to healthier families and less placement disruptions.

The Respite Guide has three major sections. The first section is devoted to exploring the benefits of respite. These include: (1) allowing the caregiver to get some much needed free time, (2) a decrease in child abuse and neglect, and (3) a decrease in disrupted placements.

One adoptive parent quotes, “Now, ten years later and after adopting six more children, we know when we keep ourselves healthy we can help our children heal and bond to our family. If we let ourselves get so drained we have nothing to give our children, we are in fact letting them down. Our health and the health of our marriage have to be intact so we can be a good parent to our children.”

Although the respite is beneficial to families and children it is not always available. First of all, one must also find a provider who can properly and safely care for the child. It is important for the family and the child to feel comfortable with the provider, so the experience does not feel like punishment for the child, and that it is a wholesome and positive experience for all.

The second section of the guide explores the various respite care options that might be developed for families. There are several model respite programs around the country. The models are designed to inform parent support group leaders about the programs that are available and helps them develop a program that is right for their families. What works in one area may not work in another area. There is also an emphasis placed on the parent groups conducting a needs assessment. This allows the parent group leaders to receive feedback from the families regarding the types of respite the families need.

The Continuum of Respite Care is based on the needs of the families. Respite can include in-home care which allows the child to stay in his or her own home and have a trusted adult come to the home. Group child care is another option and it allows the child to go to a daycare center with other children while the parent is at a parent group meeting.

Special interest and mentor relationship experiences are also a great option. These include the child being involved in an activity that they enjoy such as sports, music or Girl Scouts. Camps can also provide a planned form of respite care. Camps can be day long, overnight, weekend, or week long. It is up to the family and what the family needs are to determine what type of program would be best.

Therapeutic care is another option available to families. This is a much more restrictive type of respite care that is provided by trained professionals or experienced caregivers. Again, it is all based on the needs of the child and the family.

The final section of the guide shows the applicant how to develop a plan. Using the parent assessment tool, parent group leaders would design their respite program. Additionally, applicants are provided the guidance to ensure they have addressed all the legal requirements for a respite program.

Finally, this section emphasizes how important it is for the provider of respite care to form a good relationship with the public child welfare agencies in the jurisdiction of the program.

The group leaders must also determine the number of children to be served, the type of respite program desired, how often families can request the services, how many staff members are needed and where the program will be housed.

With the plan outlined, the budget can and must be developed. Last but not least, once a provider receives a grant, they will need to locate and train respite care providers.

Evaluations are a must. They are important for the group leader to gather information from the group to find out if the program met their expectations and needs, and to deter- mine if the program should continue.

The evaluation is also a good way for people to share their ideas and discuss any changes they would like to see in the program. The evaluation can be done by survey, interview or just general conversation.

Finally, the Respite Guide also provides forms that groups can use for their program. Medical history, billing information, authorization forms, and child information forms are a few examples of the forms that are included in the guide.

Additionally, there are also several organizations and websites listed that can provide additional resources to the respite groups. For more information about the Respite Guide, “Taking a Break: Creating Foster, Adoptive and Kinship Respite in Your Community,” contact Diane Martin-Hushman

Stacey Leidner began her career in child welfare more than ten years ago. After graduat- ing from college, she worked at a group home for children with severe emotional disabilities for four years.

There she gained significant experience with and knowledge of the children in foster care. There she met a child who she adored so much she brought him home to provide him with a family. Although he no longer lives with her, she is his family and he is her son. For the past seven years she has worked at AdoptUsKids. Her work with the families and the children is quite rewarding and it has been a learning experience. She has been a mentor for another child for the last four years and she is a foster mother to two little boys. Reprinted with permis- sion from Fostering Families Today magazine.