Vol. 18, No. 1 • November 2013

A reader asks . . .
Am I right to hesitate to ask for respite,
even though I really need it?

I need respite care, but fear that asking for it will impact my foster care license. Am I right to worry about this?

Respite is essential for the survival of all parents and caregivers, including foster parents!

Foster families face an array of demands. The children who enter their homes may be disabled or medically fragile, and many exhibit emotional or behavioral challenges as a result of trauma. Each child brings his or her own needs, demands, and experiences into the foster home. All these factors can be very taxing!

The break that respite provides can allow foster parents to renew their energy for parenting, which results in better care and treatment of children. If respite is provided regularly it can help prevent foster parent burnout and exhaustion. This in turn prevents placement disruptions and multiple moves, which research studies and experience have shown to be very bad for children.

Despite these benefits, some foster families share your concerns about respite. Some fear that agencies will interpret a request for respite as a signal that the foster parent is already overwhelmed or unfit to care for the children in their homes. Others fear that asking for help will threaten their foster care license. Another common concern among foster parents is that the children will not receive adequate care from the respite provider.

However, it is important to be open and honest with your agency about your needs, which directly impacts the care of the children in your home. Being open about your needs also ensures the longevity of your role in the foster care system. Workers want to support foster parents, and they know they need respite. Some agencies have licensed foster parents dedicated to providing short-term respite. These providers receive the same training and possess the same skills as other foster parents.

Preparation is the key component for successful respite. As a first step, talk with your social worker and make arrangements before you need a break. Once a respite family has been identified you will want to take the time to prepare both the child and the respite family for the respite period. Part of this preparation should include a pre-placement visit between the child and the respite family before the actual respite period begins.

Once you have asked for and prepared for respite, don't forget to enjoy it! Do what you can to put worry out of your mind and to see this time to "recharge your batteries" as a critical part of your job as a foster parent.

Response by the NC Division of Social Services. If you have a question about foster care or adoption in North Carolina you'd like answered in "A Reader Asks," send it to us using the contact information found here.

~ Family and Children's Resource Program, UNC-CH School of Social Work ~