The Top 10 Non-Negotiables When Choosing Respite Care Providers.

We’re big believers in utilizing respite care when you’re a foster or adoptive parent. But, there are a few musts when it comes to choosing the right person to care for your children.

People with clipboards

We had to travel down a dangerous dirt road to get to the person’s house. After that, there was an obstacle course to get from the driveway, through the yard, and to the front door. My son was hesitant. “Dad, I’m not staying here!” he proclaimed as we knocked on the front door. Once inside, the challenge to get to her front door seemed like a walk in the park. The house was trashed and in complete disarray.

Honestly, I could look past all of that. I understand the craziness of this life, and have compassion for it. Messy homes don’t bother me (for the most part). But, the problem came through our conversation about my son’s diet. As I explained that we do not allow him to have Red 40 or Yellow 5 food dyes, or high fructose corn syrup, her eyes glazed over. While she didn’t say she was against it, I could tell she had no intention of following our restrictions. Plus, the food I saw out in her kitchen already set off every alarm in me. This was going to be a disastrous experience.

However, I was in a pickle. I had driven almost an hour to this lady’s house with my son, without asking her critical questions ahead of time. I could have taken the time to find out who she was, what values she held with her children, and what kind of caregiver she was. Big mistake, and frankly, too late at that point.

We were in crisis and needed a break so I decided to leave my son in her care. When I picked him up a few days later, I could tell he had fun, but also that he was seriously dis-regulated. We paid the price dearly for the next several days afterward. We needed the break but not at this cost. Fact is, you need respite care too. But, like us, it doesn’t need to come at a high cost. We’ve learned, over the years, what to look for, and ask for in respite care providers.

Here are the top 10 non-negotiable characteristics we believe you must look for when choosing the right care giver for your children…

  1. In the trenches. Are they in the trenches of foster care and adoption? If you’re a foster parent you have to choose respite care providers who are also licensed foster parents. So, they are automatically in the trench. But as adoptive parents, the game changes a bit. You don’t have to choose from licensed providers. So where do you begin? Choose those who are currently in the trenches or have a working knowledge from the trenches. It eliminates a lot of front end conversation and explanation.
  2. Trauma informed. Do they have a working knowledge of trauma and how to respond to it? I’m willing to bet the children you are caring for, or parenting, have come from places of trauma (to some degree). A second good rule of thumb is to choose folks who are trauma-informed. This means they have a working understanding of what trauma looks like in kids from hard places, and how to respond.
  3. Background checked. Have they completed criminal background checks for everyone over 18 in their household? Pretty sure I don’t have to go into detail on this one, right? This is just a safe bet for you and your children. Plus, if you’re currently a foster parent, it’s a must.
  4. Organized. Is their home and life organized? Let me be clear on this point. I’m not talking about a person who answers the door with a clipboard, a fleshed out itinerary of your child’s stay with them, and a laminated sheet of emergency contacts, or has a home that jumped off the pages of Better Homes and Gardens. That would be amazing (sort of), but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about a person who’s life and home isn’t coming apart at the seams. It’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s also not in massive chaos or crisis.
  5. Values values. Do they value the same things you value? Here’s an exampleIn our household, we stick to a strict diet and we believe foods with chemicals and dyes in them have negative effects on our children. So, we don’t allow them. And we make sure our providers are on board with that. They don’t have to personally do this with their children, but they must at least support our value.
  6. Not in crisis. Are they personally in their own state of crisis? If the answer is yes, not a good fit. And certainly not a healthy option for your children. They need respite themselves and that’s okay. We all get to the place where we need help at times.
  7. Understand safety plans. Do they understand the meaning of, and the need for, safety plans? This is a biggie if you have gone through something with your children that has caused you to establish safety plans in your home. In fact, if the provider is unfamiliar with safety plans and how they work, it’s a deal breaker as far as I’m concerned. You’re risking a lot more than your personal care if you choose a person without knowledge or experience in this area.
  8. Reputable. Are they in good standing with their licensing agency, or in high regard with other adoptive families? Are they known to be caring, compassionate, and focused on the well-being of children they care for? Word travels fast, so you could ask around and get your answer pretty quickly.
  9. Compassionate. Are they compassionate toward children from difficult places? This may seem like an obvious one, but it’s important to choose people who have deep hearts for children from difficult places. Compassion fosters patience. And your children may need care-givers who are patient.
  10. Big picture view. Do they understand the bigger picture and how they fit into it? Your children will spend most of their time in your care. In fact, in comparison to the respite care provider, it’s 99.9 percent. While the respite care provider takes part in the picture, it’s a very small pixel compared to you. So your values, your boundaries, and your intentions supersede all. You’re not asking for a respite care provider to step in and take your place as your children’s parent. You’re asking them to step in and care for your children while you get some rest. We’ve seen this before. A respite care provider misunderstands boundaries, and their role in the big picture, and tries to become a parent to your children over a 2-day period. Not healthy. Make sure your respite care provider understands the big picture and how they fit into it.

Don’t be afraid to utilize respite care, if it’s available to you where you foster. You need a break every now and then. And if you’re no longer a foster parent, and your babies are yours permanently, be proactive in finding care-givers you trust, and who have your children’s best interest in mind.

Question: What has your experience been with respite care? Share your story with us in the comment section below. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Malen

    hi, if we can’t find a respite care, is it healthy to ask the orphanage where our child came from to care for him? What will be the effect?

    • 2mommas

      …If orphanage will take private pay placement.
      Insurance won’t pay for respite that I know of. Of course it also depends if they have any space available! Our P. A. Agency could have also placed at our local Pysch Residential Tx Facility, but they’re packed- 30 kid wait list.

      Depending on hiddos age check with your local social service agencies. A lot of cities have emergency care, which doesn’t involve authorities, although they wouldn’t take our daughter because of her FAS dx (they used foster homes for respite care, but not THERAPEUTIC foster homes).
      The affect? You may have major behaviorial issues upon return. We always paid for it on day 3 of return 😒. Found bringing back a few inexpensive “souveniers” for her helped!

      • Malen

        Thank you, very helpful

      • Good answer. 👍👍

      • Allisonm

        Medicaid does pay for respite for parents of emotionally and/or developmentally disabled children in at least some states. Each state has their own program, so it is worth calling the agency(ies) in your state that handles Medicaid, mental health and developmental disability to find out what may be covered for you and how you get those services.

        We got respite through our state’s public mental-health system for years before our kids got healthy enough and old enough that we no longer need it.

    • This is an interesting question. Would love to see the responses.

  • 2mommas

    We have had a very difficult time finding respite care for our foatadopted daughter during the last couple of years when we needed it the most (we’ve had her and her little brother a total of 4.5 yrs/adopted 3.5 yrs ago). We have Post Adoption Care through the state and our contract provides for respite, but since our family/friends are scared and the PA agency’s homes are usually full (our daughter must be an only child/ cannot be left alone with any child) we took a chance this summer for a 2 night weekend, as we were desperate and in crisis. Our only other option had been a local youth center which we’d utilized twice in the past (during a 2 yr period) and our daughter had a breakdown the 2nd time there. The Respite Provider is a very experienced long time foster parent we didn’t know well, but is well thought of in the foster community. She listened to The Story, asked appropriate thoughtful questions, and reassured us it would be ok. We emphasized the strict 24/7 supervision she needed to provide especially because there was another little girl in the home in Care.
    Not 24 hours later we got the frantic phone call…
    So we put out the campfire, packed up the van, tried our best to comfort our 6yo son, and drove an hour back home to pick her up.
    The Respite Provider had done it all great. There had been no problems, so she let her guard down a bit. What could happen?
    RP had sent the girls ALONE TOGETHER to the bedroom to clean up as each had been in and out- singularly- grabbing toys, dumping, and trading for new ones. Not 5 minutes later she went back there and the girls were up on the top bunk together, room still a mess. She had the girls get down… then left them alone again with stern instructions to finish cleaning *sigh* … A few minutes later she sent her Assistant (yes, background checked) to check as she was busy. Assistant saw the girls being extremely sexually inappropriate, didn’t say anything to stop them, but quickly notified RP who went to check again. Girls were in closet now continuing with the maladaptive behavior. It was stopped with a verbal interruption. My daughter was sent out to the kitchen while RP asked her fosterdaughter what had happened. When our daughter was questioned next she said the same things. Then RP called us.
    I calmly had to instruct her on calling DCS to report incident. That it’d be filed against RP because girls were in her care, in her home etc. Calmed her down reassured her it’d be ok… All while packing up our mini family respite getaway supplies, listening to our 6yo crying, and just trying not to break apart myself.
    RP apologized for the x2 lapse in judgement and was, bless her heart, sincerely shocked and apologetic.

    So DCS got involved (case since closed). I’m shouldn’t have been surprised when I found out DCS made a mistake in the paperwork and although details we’re clear had accidentally typed in my name as the person responsible!!! And ya can’t redo that paperwork, just extensive notes explaining the error (which they did). But STILL!!!
    So in addition to the neglect investigation on me, now daughter has a DCS mental health status case opened on her. She has to attend counseling for sexually maladaptive behaviors, although she has FAS and a borderline IQ. She has to be forensically interviewed, our home checked, and later we found out the state strongly recommended we NOT renew our foster license because our daughter’s needs are so great and our attention should be on her not on other children. I imagine safety also was a concern, but the state didn’t write that reason down.
    So we have until June of this year to decide if we will renew and have our agency petition that we’ll only be respite providers for a year and see how that goes. State can still say no. Devastating. We have the desire to help so many children and even continue to adopt.
    Respite since? Yes!…within about 6 weeks we were able to get 2 weekends and 3 evenings of respite by a local agency because she was finally approved for the Family Support Medicaid Waiver! We were so hopeful.
    But soon she needed admittance to a acute mental hospital from which she came home 1 night. Within 3 hours we had to evacuate our home and call police to escort her back to the hospital for evaluation. She hasn’t been home since and is now 2 weeks into her first stay at a PRTF.
    The guilt I’ve had to overcome to enjoy our time now that she’s away was immense.

  • Cherí Howard

    Oh, this is a huge thorn in my side right now! Hubby and I have had our foster-adopt boys for 13 months now (we finalize in 5 weeks) and have had NO respite. All our family lives thousands of miles away, and we do not know anyone who would be able to handle our son if he melts down (he has FASD). My husband and I have decided that we will just have to settle for a once weekly in-home date after the boys are in bed. I miss real dates. A LOT.

    • Cheri, are you on our email list? If not you will want to be. We’re very close to sharing news about a brand new resource centered around online support in real time. 🙌🙌👍

  • Nicholas Wilkinson

    I read this article, and I think some people should quit telling their whole life story in a blog.
    #1: you didn’t ask questions on the phone
    #2: your child had more common sense than you the 10 seconds before he said “I’m not staying here”….your the parent….act like it-
    #3: if you can’t walk safely through the door, turn around!!!
    This is a in-fire hazard waiting to happen.
    #4: if they don’t care about their OWN cleanliness or safety, they won’t care about your kids….hello….McFly!!!
    #5 if they you see that someone doesn’t care about your verbal words, they won’t care about your kid.
    & finally…

    #2: your child had more common sense than you the 10 seconds before he said “I’m not staying here”….your the parent….act like it-

    • Nicholas, it’s unfortunate that you have to comment in such a negative way.

      • Allisonm

        I didn’t see the comment before it was deleted, but I am imagining that it may have referred to the respite experience you described at the beginning of your post. All parents make what turn out to be mistakes. We learn from them and do better when we know better. That respite situation was far from ideal, but the upshot of it was that your son stayed at a messy house, ate junk food and got dysregulated for a few days–not the end of the world. And, like any good parent, you figured out what you should have done before accepting the respite placement and have generously shared your insights with your readers. It takes a thick skin to blog about your learning experiences and I’m thankful that you care more about being helpful to others than about acting perfect.

        It is so important to get respite resources in place before we need them–even if we don’t think we will need them. The kind of relentless crisis, that struggle to keep holding things together that brings us to a place where we become desperate for a break, any break, any chance to breathe and regroup, does not lend itself to methodically vetting respite providers. Foster/adoption classes did not tell us how to choose a respite provider. We couldn’t hire a babysitter, so we had little experience interviewing respite providers. From experience, I’ve learned that I have to tell providers not to tell our kids to lie to us about what happened while we were gone and to check with us before allowing our kids to spend money that may or may not be theirs. I’ve also learned to tell providers to call us right away if one child takes everybody’s evening meds–not mention it as they are headed out the door when we return hours later. Our first respite agency was amazing, but the next one was hit or miss.

        You don’t know what you don’t know to ask until things go wrong or you read an excellent post like yours that lays out a checklist. As I read your opening story, I could relate. The first time we were supposed to have respite, there was a scheduling error at the respite agency and the worker didn’t come. It was back when our son was combative full time. I was crushed and just lay across the bed and sobbed. We were just going to walk around the park and go for some dinner, but I was so desperate and exhausted and the disappointment of losing that little bit of relief that had kept me hanging on all week was overwhelming. I had waited too long to utilize respite. I learned.