Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Reflecting on respite care: A mom's first respite adventure

If you've considered becoming a foster parent but were hesitant about stepping into a full-time commitment, providing respite care can be a great way to get started. Respite care involves providing temporary, short-term care for children in foster care to give their foster parents a brief break.

While you still go through the same training and licensing process and while we still encourage you to consider fostering children during longer-term placements in the future, respite care can be a good first step. Here's what one Iowa foster and adoptive mom had to share about her first time providing respite care:

Reflecting on Respite

My husband and I were licensed last year and chose to provide respite care because we wanted to help children and foster families and thought it would be an excellent way to get to know a variety of children along the way. Our first experience was a rewarding and challenging experience, and we can’t wait to do it again.
It all started with a phone call one afternoon from a foster mother caring for a set of seven-year old twins. “Perfect," I thought, since I have a seven-year old daughter who loves play dates. The care would be for five days, and they’d come meet our family the evening before I was to pick them up from daycare to begin their stay with us.
Shy at first, my daughter and the twins sized each other up a bit. I noticed their ease and her excitement grow as I encouraged them to play on the porch swing. 

As they swung, I learned more about them from their foster mom. That is one of the greatest parts of providing respite. You get to hear all about their habits, history and personality, which is not always available immediately upon placement. I was given tips for how to get them to eat, sleep and mind their manners. 

The children switched to playing in my daughter’s dollhouse while I got a run down of their medications, directions to their daycare and reassurance that they would be on their best behavior. For me, being used to one fairly quiet child in my home, that is the golden ticket about providing respite. The children, for the most part, behave superbly because they want you to like them. You offer them a fresh start, void of the labels others in their lives may have put on them and the pressure they have to live up to them. It’s what’s known as the ‘honeymoon phase’, which resembles a courtship where all parties put their best foot forward trying to impress one another. I felt completely confident that everything would be fine and that my daughter would love having some company.
I was right. The kids were sweet, courteous, obedient and not much more work than I was used to. Sure, like all kids their age, there was energy to be expended and I found myself wanting to make sure to spend quality time with each of them, which was a change of pace for me, but it was also joyful to hear giggles at bedtime and get extra morning hugs.
Respite is also beneficial to the foster parents who provide the ongoing care for the children. Raising children isn’t easy and when you add in some of the extra complexities of temporarily raising another person’s child, a child who may have some special needs or behavior issues, it can be draining. Respite allows the foster family a break. 

For blended families, it allows the birth or adopted kids in the home a chance to spend alone time with their parents, who inevitably spend a lot of their time focused on the child they are fostering. It gives them a chance to recharge so they can continue to advocate for, encourage and guide the children who are in foster care. 

An added benefit I noticed is that it gives the kids and their foster families an opportunity to miss one another. I saw that as the twins ran to greet their foster parents and tell them all about their time with my family. The foster parents beamed listening to the excitement in the twins' voices, and I could tell they were happy to be reunited and continue their journey together.
I always recommend that people try respite. It’s a great way to ease into foster parenting and there is always a need for it. If you’re thinking about becoming a foster parent but aren’t sure, go for respite and try it on for size. If you’re a licensed family and have room in your home, let your support worker know you’re willing to provide respite. I’m sure countless children and their foster parents will be grateful you did.