Have you ever heard that foster care “takes a village?” It truly does! We are all in this crazy journey together, my friends. We all occasionally will need a break and that’s okay. That’s why respite exists. But still there is often confusion around respite care- what it is, how to access it, and how to offer it (because it just may be the perfect way for you to ease in to foster care.)
Jocelyn Bailey Gibson, SC DSS Upstate Foster Family and Licensing Support Program Coordinator, is our guest on #FosterFridayLive. She coordinates the foster family licensing, support of DSS families, and facilitates child placement into all licensed foster homes and group homes in Upstate SC. With over 500 DSS foster families, she assists them with accessing respite care.
As we talk about respite care here, we are primarily talking about the policies and procedures for DSS licensed foster families. Privately licensed families are also encouraged to take advantage of respite. Any licensing agency wants their families to use respite care, to take care of themselves, but it’s going to look a little bit different from agency to agency. For specifics, privately licensed families should talk to their licensing coordinator to get more information about how they facilitate that.
Respite care is something that we don’t talk about nearly enough. It is not understood and sometimes foster parents may not know how to use it or feel uncomfortable using it.
What is respite?
Respite care is self-care for families. It is temporary care that is for foster families that have had a longer-term placement of a foster child. It is twofold. It is used and it is encouraged for self-care. Foster care is very rewarding, but it is not without its challenges. A break can be welcomed; so a family could request respite just because they need a weekend just to recoup and to have some couple time or family time, to rest. It can also be used when a family is having a bit of an emergency and it is not as planned. For example, if a family needed to travel out of state to handle a family emergency they could utilize respite. There’s a couple different kinds of respite.
There is an official DSS respite policy where families earn a certain amount of respite care days called “paid respite” – from October to October each family earns one half day of respite for every month that a child is in their home. It’s a complicated formula. When a family is using paid respite the board payment is not affected. So even while the child is gone, they’re paid their stipend. But the other family also gets paid through DSS. This usually comes as a check six to eight weeks following the placement.
A lot of the respite that happens is more family to family respite. Under Reasonable and Prudent Parenting, foster parents can certainly use each other and work out respite between themselves. It’s a wonderful way to support each other. A lot of times they will work out the payment directly. And DSS can help make those connections too. If a family doesn’t have paid respite days or has already used them, we can help connect two families for that. We kind of help work out the details and how much they would want to pay each other. That works really well. We’re always happy to help families with that and encourage them to ask for that when they need it.
Under Reasonable and Prudent Parenting, families also have the option of using their babysitters. It wouldn’t necessarily be called “respite,” but it is another way to get a break. If you need your foster child to go with your other children and spend the weekend with Grandma, that’s fantastic. So you’re getting some respite by using your babysitter.
How does a foster family utilize DSS respite care?
DSS does it all the time- all day long, every day. Foster families can just ask their Family Support Coordinator, their ongoing licensing worker. Just let them know with as much notice as possible. Reach out to the Family Support Coordinator and tell them what the need is, when the need is and then our Placement Unit will start working on that for them.
How long is respite?
Respite is short-term care. It can look like a few different things. It could be as simple as a family is going out of town for the weekend. It could be as complex as a family is going out of state for a week to deal with things. It really varies. There is not a hard and fast rule except for that official paid respite. Those accrued paid days usually end up being about three days. But you can combine that with the unpaid respite- where some is the paid and some is the unpaid. We’re pretty familiar with working all that out and can explain to a family what they’re looking at.
If a family does not have paid does, they can still use DSS as the match-maker. DSS would help calculate the daily rate and the foster families can work out directly how payment would be made. With the unpaid respite, the original foster parent board rate is still paid directly- via direct deposit or ePay card just as usual. Then they would go ahead and pay the other family who would not be getting paid directly from DSS. It works out wonderfully.
Sometimes foster families feel nervous or guilty about using respite care. What would you tell them?
Everyone needs a break! People with their own biological children get babysitters, use their relatives, use their friends. Respite doesn’t have to be a long event. It may just be overnight. Foster parents have such a hard job. It is so rewarding, but there are challenges and stressors. Taking care of yourself helps you take care of the children. Please use respite! Please never experience guilt about asking for help. Sometimes you get a placement and you already had plans lined up – you can’t get an extra plane ticket. What works really well is finding a respite family that works and using them as your ongoing respite. Then maybe you pay back the favor by watching their kids when they need it.
Children often really enjoy respite too. It’s a respite for them sometimes too. Many respite homes make it a mini-holiday for the kids- doing special things and having special treats.
How can families offer respite care?
Many families doing licensed respite care before taking on long-term care are getting their feet wet. Respite is a wonderful option for families wanting to take a step into foster care. Some of our wonderful respite families are retirees or grandparent age. They love seeing kids for the weekend and getting to dote on them regularly when the foster family needs respite. It’s perfect for families that don’t feel like they can make the commitment to school and doctor’s visits and dentists. These families are doing an absolutely wonderful service to the children by being respite families.
The process for licensure is the same. It is not a modified process. The good news is that if a licensed respite family decides that they enjoy foster care so much that they decide to take on long-term placements, they don’t have to go back through anything else. They’re ready to go.
With unlicensed families, they would technically be babysitting. We wouldn’t officially call that respite. There is no hard and fast rule, but they can still watch the children for about a week. Case workers would need to be notified anything over 48 hours. It is not necessarily permission, but just notification. We want families to live as normal of a life as possible.
What does respite care look like for licensed respite families?
When a family gets licensed we will ask them their preferences – what kind of respite are you looking to do? They will give us their preferences – age, gender, number of children, types of special needs they are willing to accept. Usually our respite families will give us a heads up when they are available – 10 weekends a year, 20 weekends a year, a week at a time. Really it is a very flexible thing.
Sometimes we may call and they are not available; that’s okay. Our long time respite families do typically call and tell us they are available. And the time that we realize how much we need our respite families is around major holidays- Labor Day, Thanksgiving, between Christmas and New’s Year.
How is emergency care different from respite care?
The main difference is that respite is planned. Emergency is just that. We may have a particular situation with children that are coming into care and we have a foster home lined up for them but they are out of town for a few days. So we may ask an emergency family to do that short-term care for them without much notice. A lot of families could do double duty – a respite family could offer planned respite care and choose to also be available for emergency.
Ready to take a first step and ease into foster care by offering respite? Contact Care2Foster at Care2Foster@fgi4kids.org for more information about how to get started.
Read more from one foster family about their family’s experience offering short-term respite care in Waiting for the Phone to Ring (and Wondering What Will Happen Next).