Many parents hit a point while raising their children when they need a weekend to themselves to relax and restore their sanity. For parents raising their biological children, a weekend alone can be as easy as dropping their son off at the grandparents. For foster parents, extended time away from their foster son requires the use of respite care.
What is Respite Care?
Respite care exists to help you avoid having your foster son removed from your home when a circumstance requires you to be away from him for an extended period of time. During this time, your foster son is placed with a local respite carer. You can trust that he’ll be in good hands while you’re away, as every respite provider goes through a licensing process to ensure they’re qualified to care for foster children with various needs.
You may think that sending your foster son away to a stranger’s house could do more harm than good. It may lead you to think it could undo all of the work you’ve done to help him acclimate to living with you, but it can actually be beneficial for you both. By spending time with another carer, he has the opportunity to experience kindness from another family, form more positive relationships with more parental figures and, depending on his age, even gain a new sense of independence. It can also help strengthen his trust in you by showing him that, even when you have to leave him for a few days, you will always come back for him.
When Should I Use Respite Care?
Along with being a positive experience for your foster child, respite care can be even more beneficial for yourself. During your time as a foster parent you’ve likely experienced the highs and lows of foster care, from the excitement of welcoming your first foster child to the frustrations of a difficult caseworker. There can be times when these low points begin to feel overwhelming and make you wonder if you’re on the path to burning out. Before these thoughts start creeping into your head, consider using respite care to step away from fostering for a few days and hit the reset button. This short break could be the difference between a healthy, lasting foster care experience and having your foster son removed from your home.
Respite care isn’t reserved only for those who feel close to burning out; there are other reasons to turn to this useful service. While the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (CP&P) encourages you to include your foster son in all family vacations because they can be positive experiences for him, there are times when he may not be allowed to travel out of the state. If there’s a court ordered visitation, a scheduled court appearance or a scheduled doctor’s appointment that can’t be postponed, your foster son would be required to stay in the state.
While you may feel guilty about going on vacation without him, you still can go on your vacation. When he can’t travel with you, it is CP&P’s responsibility to find a respite care household for him to stay in while you’re away. There are also specific cases with some children in care where there’s a court order that prohibits the child from leaving the state. Before planning any family vacation, talk to your caseworker about traveling with your foster son.
Family emergencies are another reason to consider using respite care. A medical or personal issue within your family doesn’t mean you have to give up fostering. Whether you’re recovering from a surgery and temporarily unable to care for your foster son or you feel that a personal issue, such as a passing in the family, is creating an atmosphere that isn’t beneficial for him, you can request that he be placed with a respite provider.
While you may put your foster son’s wellbeing before your own, there are times when placing him in respite care is the best option for both you and him. Trying to foster through a difficult time can do more harm than good. Before feeling burnt out or pushing yourself while recovering from a medical issue, talk to your caseworker about respite care and see if they think it’s appropriate for your situation. It’s better for both you and your foster son that you take a break from fostering for a few days rather than a permanent break.