I have had a number of questions from readers across the US the past few months about the use of respite for foster parents. Respite care refers to one foster family caring for another family's foster children for a short amount of time. This type of short break gives the original foster family the opportunity to have a break. This type of foster care is especially helpful when foster children have behaviors such as seen in many therapeutic foster homes.
Respite can be used for a variety of reasons. To begin with, the foster family may need to attend to a family emergency, and may not have the ability or opportunity to take the foster children with them. This happened recently to a foster family I consulted. The family had a death in the family, and had to travel outside the state with only one day’s notice. As the foster child was one who had severe social challenges and disabilities, it was deemed by both the foster family and the child welfare agency that a funeral was neither a healthy fit nor an appropriate environment for the child. As a result, the child was placed in a respite home with another foster family during this time.
Another foster family I recently consulted was forced to place their foster child into respite for several weeks as the foster mother in the house battled an illness. As the foster father was often away at work, the foster mother was unable to properly care for the child during this time, and the child was placed into another home in the community. During this time, the original foster family remained in constant contact with the child, thus ensuring that the bonds of attachment, security, and love they had created earlier were not separated throughout the respite placement.
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There are those times, of course, when foster families simply become exhausted, or “burned out,” if you will. Perhaps the foster child has been in the home for an extended period of time, and the family has grown mentally, emotionally, and physically weary from care. To be sure, this is a very real possibility, and is one that should not be ignored. In order for the family to remain not only healthy foster parents, but a healthy family unit, they may merely need a break from care, an opportunity to “recharge their batteries,” and a chance to focus on their own family unit, lest it begin to suffer from exhaustion and lack of attention. Respite may be the solution, as the child is placed into another foster home while the original foster family regains some of their strength,
Indeed, it is not healthy for a foster child to move from home to home to home, in what is known as “Multiple Displacement,” the placement of a child from one home to another. Yet, there are those times when it might be necessary, whether this be due to unforeseen circumstances or to, as stated earlier, a time to “recharge those inner batteries.” Respite is an opportunity for foster parents to focus on their own family and their own challenges. This short break usually results in a healthier relationship between the foster child and foster family when both are reunited. To be sure, if you are considering respite care for your own family and foster child, do not feel guilty about it, as it is a service that is provided to foster families in times of need.
-Dr. John DeGarmo