What happens when, despite your best efforts, caring for a challenging or handicapped foster child becomes overwhelming? In many states, you can apply for respite care that will allow you to take a break in order to regroup and recharge your energy. Before you make use of respite care services for your foster child, however, make sure that you take these steps.
1.) Decide which type of respite care will work best.
Respite care can include overnight (or extended) visits, daytime services at a care center, or individual services in your own home. Ultimately, you have to try to strike a balance between what you need and what your foster child needs. If there's unusual tension between you and your foster child, a few days apart can provide a "cool off" period to diffuse anger. If you're looking for a small break once or twice a week and an opportunity for your foster child to make friends with other children who share similar challenges, a care center might be more appropriate. If you need daily assistance with a more severely handicapped child, one-on-one care with an individual may be the right fit.
2.) Consider the things that you want most in a respite care provider.
Evaluate the respite care provider based on what you and your foster child need the most. An overnight or long-term provider should be willing to adapt to the child's needs and routine, to a certain degree, so that your foster child has to do less adapting. If you're looking for respite care that will give your foster child a chance to interact with other children with challenges, make sure that you look for a facility that has children in attendance that are similar in age or with similar special needs. If you're looking for an individual care provider who comes to your home, you want someone that is able to fit into your household. A caregiver should be generally supportive of the values you embrace and the parenting methods you follow.
3.) Introduce your foster care child to the respite caregiver before there is a crisis.
It's best to arrange respite care services before you need them—waiting until there is a crisis because you are overwhelmed, sick, or exhausted can be traumatic for your foster child, especially if he or she has difficulty adapting to new situations. If you are going to take your child to another place for respite service, try to make a few short visits—an hour or two at a time—so that he or she can get comfortable with the caregiver and settings. This may also help relieve any anxiety that you have over the suitability of the respite care provider as well.
Keep in mind that taking a temporary break from foster care doesn't mean that you're failing as a foster parent—if anything, taking a break can make it easier to handle the long-term demands of foster children with demanding needs. Click here to learn more about respite care in your area.