Raising foster children with challenging behaviors, sleep disruptions, or other trauma-related struggles is demanding and intensive work for foster parents. Resource and foster parents need a break that helps them refresh and rest so they can return to helping kids heal. The foster system recognizes this need and provides a path for foster parents to get the break they need to recharge. However, accessing respite care – often mentioned in foster training sessions – can be challenging for resource parents.

What is Respite Care?

Every parent or caregiver needs a break occasionally. The foster system in the US acknowledges the need for resource parents to take time away and refresh themselves. Respite care aims to offer safe, short-term alternative care for kids to help resource and foster parents prevent burnout. When we say short-term, we mean that most commonly respite care occurs over a weekend. However, sometimes it is as long as two weeks.

Typically respite care providers are other foster parents within the community who have also been vetted, trained, and approved for care. This form of short-term respite care might be a regular date night where foster parents swap childcare duties each month. Other times, it could be a resource parent offering weekend care so another foster family can go to a wedding out of state.

Sometimes, respite care providers have joined the foster system solely to provide this short-term temporary care without doing typical fostering. As you can imagine, the need for respite providers is tremendous, and being connected to a family offering this care can be a huge support to the resource parents in a community.

Why is Respite Care Necessary?

Children who have experienced trauma, neglect, and removal from their homes come with challenging behaviors, broken little hearts, and other complex needs. Foster parents are trained to be a safe landing place for these kids and guide them toward healing while the children’s parents do the work for reunification. The most common challenges that these resource parents face include things like:

These difficulties are all in addition to typical struggles parents face when raising kids, managing careers, and running a home. It can quickly get overwhelming — many parents forget to take care of themselves to avoid exhaustion or burnout. We’ve all been in the trenches with a child who needs us. So, we put ourselves on a back burner, intending to return to healthy self-care when the crisis passes. The problem is, far too often, parents and caregivers raising kids with trauma don’t often return themselves to that front burner. Respite care can help prevent burnout and support foster parents to continue the work of helping kids heal.

Physical and Emotional Health Issues Common with Foster Kids

How Do Foster Parents Access Respite Care?

Most foster training programs include information on respite care and how their county or state handles it. Because each state and county handle their foster services differently, they also manage respite care in various ways.

Caseworkers Can Find Respite Care.

In many counties, when a foster family needs short-term care for a foster child, they reach out to their caseworker. The caseworker can coordinate care or offer the resource parent a list of already approved local options for care. Sometimes, agencies have a designated staff person – many are called home finders – who helps foster parents coordinate the care.

Foster Parents Can Build a Network for Respite.

Other times, resource parents have a circle of friends, family, or other foster providers already approved for short-term care. In those cases, they arrange their breaks themselves. They keep their caseworkers in the loop with the details and contact information necessary for their time away. These foster parents have usually spent significant time cultivating relationships with people they can rely on for this support.

Additional Resources to Help With Respite Care.

Our friends at the Child Welfare Information Gateway offer helpful information for understanding the need for respite care and ideas for how to access it. We also appreciate the many resources offered by AdoptUSKids for helping with the respite care needs of resource families.

What are the Challenges to Accessing Respite Care?

There is a need for more providers.

The experienced foster providers in our online community report that hearing about respite care in training and accessing the actual services can be two different realities. Finding adequate care for a foster child is challenging because there are not enough respite providers available. This makes sense when one considers that there is always a significant need for more foster parents nationwide.

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“We can’t leave these kids with strangers.”

Another obstacle foster care parents face is finding respite providers willing to meet the foster parents and children before providing care. That might sound surprising, considering most of us would never consider leaving our kids with total strangers, right? However, many respite providers feel that because they are adequately trained and vetted to provide care, the added step of getting to know the child and foster parents first is unnecessary.

In our conversations, most resource parents we spoke with preferred to meet with respite providers before leaving children in their care. In addition to allowing the kids to meet and feel comfortable with new caregivers, foster parents mentioned the desire to discuss issues like medicine protocols, behavior struggles, sleep challenges, and emotional support. Respite providers must hear these concerns and think about how to better serve the foster parents they work with.

One foster mom said it like this:

I prefer to treat these kids like they are family and I would meet anyone who watches my kids before leaving them there. One who did push back on that said that she was approved (licensed) by children’s services and I should be ok with that. And so I just restated that I’m more comfortable meeting first and if that’s an issue I would look for someone else. I was friendly and didn’t act all judgy but stood my ground. And we ended up meeting before the kids stayed there. I did bring the kids with me so they would be comfortable as well.

“I will only leave the kids if I must.”

Finally, another obstacle many foster parents face in accessing respite care is their own commitment to the routine, predictability, and safe space they provide for their foster children. Resource parents who understand trauma and its impacts on a child’s development also understand the necessity of providing consistent, structured care for these kids.

Many resource parents are raising kids who have had multiple placements, and sometimes accessing weekend respite care feels almost selfish. It’s one more new place for the child while the foster parents are “getting away” to rest. They do a cost/risk analysis of how much everyone will pay when they return to routine after respite is done. Thus, they end up putting off their own care for the child’s needs.

However, we want to gently caution against taking this mentality too far. Thinking like this leaves foster parents primed for burnout when taken too far. There must be a healthy balance between caring for the needs of the children and meeting your own needs to recharge. Nothing is noble about being so depleted in body, mind, and spirit that you inadvertently neglect yourself. The children in your care deserve a healthy parent who can model self-care, regulation, and hope for healing.

There is a Need for Respite Care Providers!

We would be remiss not to include information for those reading this and thinking, “I could do short-term or temporary care for foster kids in my community.” If you are interested in becoming a respite care provider, please get in touch with a foster parent you know. You can also contact your local foster care county offices. In most cases, some training and licensing are required – especially if you plan to do overnight care for foster families. They can guide you to the right resources to accomplish that.

In the meantime, let the foster parents in your circles know you want to support them while you work toward licensing. Every child deserves to be surrounded by safe, loving, accepting adults who value them deeply. Offering respite care communicates how much you love the child and their resource parents in tangible, practical ways!

Have you accessed respite care during your foster journey? Tell us about it in the comments.

Image Credits: Pixabay; Oleksandr Canary Islands; Uriel Mont