What is Respite? The Easiest Way to Ease Into Foster Parenting

Respite care calendar

If you are considering becoming licensed for foster care, offering respite to current foster families can be a great way to ease yourself in slowly, while learning a lot about the challenges faced by foster parents and foster kids alike. And you would be fulfilling a strong need faced by foster families.

Foster parents don’t use respite unless they truly need it: they are chaperoning a Scout camping trip and aren’t allowed to bring siblings who aren’t enrolled in the troop, or they planned a vacation that isn’t ideal for little ones before they knew they would even have little ones. In my case, I believed the siblings in our care would be going home on their court date after a few months of transition visits that were going very well. They didn’t go home as expected, our airfare was non-refundable, and the vacation destination was not toddler-friendly. Respite care offered the perfect solution.

To be honest, I was terrified to leave these kids with a stranger. We loved those children fiercely, worried about them incessantly, and the idea of respite kept me up at night. So I contacted the mom offering respite care and invited ourselves over for a visit the week before our four-day trip. “Of course, come on over!” the mom responded. And during our visit, she loved on the kids and admitted making a similar advance visit before her first time using respite care. I also learned she is a nurse, which came in handy as one of our kids ran a high fever while we were away.

Our family has offered respite to others on a few occasions, and here are some of the reasons I learned that respite is more like dipping a toe into the water, rather than diving in headfirst:

1)    You make it work for your schedule. True, you can’t decide when another family needs the break or plans a vacation, however you have complete control over when you are (and aren’t) available to offer respite care to others. You simply say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the request. And daycare is already paid for and available for many kids in foster care so, even if you work full time, you may be able to offer respite during the workweek, not just on weekends.

2)    You are protected from some ugly scenarios. When a foster child is removed from the home, they are dealing with a huge set of issues that range from trauma (strong emotions, fears) to physical health needs (lack of proper nutrition or medical attention) to hygiene issues (lice, bed bugs or just in need of a long warm bath). However, these needs are already being addressed for kids already in foster care, and therefore you don’t have to worry about much of it (obviously, other than addressing any emotional reactions or fears from the move into your home).

3)    You are provided with nearly everything you need. Often kids enter their first foster home with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Or a garbage bag of dirty, misfitting clothes (yes, unfortunately, the stories you have heard are true.) But in most respite care situations, the foster family provides most of what you’ll need, such as clothes, diapers, favorite books, blanket or toys. (Sorry, I can’t imagine what teenagers need besides an electronic device because I haven’t experienced that yet.) You can request a schedule the kids are used to, a list of favorite foods or television shows. How I wish kids entering care came with those cheat sheets!

4)    You learn how far (or how short) the board payment goes. Payment for respite care can be handled in two different ways, and you should ask upfront how you will be paid. Either the foster parents pay you directly, or they complete the paperwork for DSS to send you payment. Both scenarios offer you the amount of money the foster family would receive during the days you are offering respite (called the daily board payment). Some families offer respite without accepting payment. To be blunt, the board payment isn’t much. But it’s enough that you should more than break even for any expenses incurred, and it also validates that your time and service is valuable.

5)    You can learn a lot. Not sure what ages you are best suited to care for? Offering respite, as well as short-term care, can be a great way to learn what you and your household can handle. Consider caring for a sibling set of varying ages, or care for little ones, then tweens, then teens. They are guaranteed to be extremely different experiences for you, and it can help you decide your age preferences and the number of children you want to accept as future placements. This knowledge puts you in a great position if you pursue your license and accept children for a long-term commitment in the future.

Not sure how to get started? Rest assured that you don’t need to be licensed to offer respite care to your friends who foster. If you are already licensed, simply let your agency know that you are available for respite care. When you get the call, you can decide if that particular request will work for you. In the meantime, know that you are contributing to the foster care system in an extremely important and much-needed way. We are all in this together, my friends. It truly takes a village.

Ready to take a first step and ease into foster care by offering respite? Contact Kaley at Care2Foster for more information about how to get started at (864) 202- 6839 or kaley.lindquist@fgi4kids.org. Want to learn more about respite care or offer support directly to foster parents in your area? Connect with your local Foster Parent Association or join our SHAREfostering group on Facebook.

Read more from Sara about her family’s experience offering short-term respite care in Waiting for the Phone to Ring (and Wondering What Will Happen Next).

Sara has been a foster parent since 2018. She and her husband have biological twin daughters, as well as a son who was born prematurely and died as an infant. She is a proud fundraiser for the March of Dimes and an active volunteer for the local, state and national organizations of parents of multiple birth children. In addition to caring for foster children in her home, Sara also is passionate about recruiting new foster parents and increasing public awareness about issues related to foster care in South Carolina.

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