Many people who consider foster care are unsure if they can juggle the demands of a long-term foster placement. They have so many questions and concerns about how their family will adjust to fostering that they feel overwhelmed and often decide not to become licensed. The desire is there. The willingness is there. But fear and uncertainty get in the way.
Lisa was a new foster parent. She had wanted to foster for a long time but wasn’t sure it was the right time to get licensed. With three young biological kids, a new nursing degree, and a job she was passionate about, Lisa knew her life was full but she still felt called to care for children and families, and support foster families.
A great way to ease in to foster parenting is to offer respite care for a licensed foster parent. Lisa eventually decided to get licensed by Connie Maxwell Foster Care. She was eager to accept a new placement, fully supported by her agency. While she waited for a long-term placement, she generously offered respite for a foster parent she did not know, Lee, who was licensed with another foster care agency.
What is respite?
Respite care is a short term foster care placement by a licensed foster parent to give another licensed foster parent (who has current long-term placement of the child/children) a break. Typically it is for an agreed upon amount of time. Respite may work slightly differently in each state and within each foster care licensing agency. Talk to your agency and licensing team about the regulations that apply.
Sometimes respite care can be done (under Reasonable and Prudent Parenting Standards) by an unlicensed person – close friend or family – but this is technically considered babysitting. Again, check your state and agency rules before arranging any type of alternate caregiving.
Why should I use respite?
Lee, the foster parent who Lisa did respite for, describes the impact of Brockington’s kindness and support which “gave her life” in a time she desperately needed it. She was was able to get the self-care and family-care she needed without disrupting the children in her home. Both of the foster parents had the support of their agencies. The kids had a great time at Lisa’s house.
At the very last minute Lisa and her family agreed to do respite for our two youngest while we went out of town. Lisa met me at the kids’ school to gather their items and she looked me in my face and said “call or FaceTime every day or don’t call or FaceTime a single day. It’s your break. There is no judgment from me.” That single statement gave me so much life. The freedom to be a helicopter (which I can be) and the freedom to focus and connect with the family I was with.
Foster parenting can be an isolating and lonely experience. There are often challenges and uncertainties that leave foster parents overwhelmed. The reality is that many foster parents quit within their first year of fostering due to challenges; research tells us the turnover is as high as 50% of families. Sometimes a short break is all we need to refresh and recharge so that we can offer our best parenting-selves to the children (and families) that we are caring for.
Paula Reed, Director of Foster Care at Connie Maxwell, said, “I love to see foster families supporting each other.” Foster parents don’t need to feel guilty in asking for a break. And foster parents who are looking for way to ease in to fostering can feel encouraged to offer respite care.
Lisa has since accepted a new placement of two school age sisters. If you’d like to support a new foster parent, you can purchase an item off Lisa’s wishlist. To support the foster parents in your own life, you might consider taking them a meal, gifting them a gas or grocery gift card, offering a free night of babysitting, or just being a friend they can rely on for encouragement and support (of all their mixed up and rollercaoster emotions).