Special Needs Respite Care Guide: Care Options

Finding the right caregiver for your child

For parents of children with special needs, respite care -- which gives them a break -- can provide the time to restore depleted inner resources and enable them to continue giving the care. It is an often vital service.

When researching options for specialized respite care for children with special needs, many factors come into play. First and foremost, of course, will be your child's welfare. Other factors such as cost, location, facilities, hours, and staffing are also important. The following breakdown of respite care options may help in determining which route to take. Please note that costs for all options vary widely.

Overnight Respite Care

This option involves overnight (or longer) care for a child with special needs whose parent or caregiver requires a break. Some facilities are non-profit and offer free services (you may have to meet certain requirements) while other facilities require payment. An overnight stay can benefit the caregiver and child, giving both a chance to re-group. Here are factors to keep in mind:

  • Look for organizations and centers that are associated with a well-known foundation or organization.
  • Book a spot early and make one or two visits to the center (ideally with your child) prior to her stay at the facility.
  • To find an overnight respite care center, speak with your local community health professional or use the ARCH National Respite Locator Service.

Respite Day Care Centers

A break in routine, time to work, the chance to meet new friends, or an opportunity to attend appointments are all reasons why respite day care may work for you and your child with special needs. A variety of day centers across the nation that cater to and/or accept children with special needs. Try the Child Care Aware website, which breaks down care facilities geographically. Other tips:

  • Interview the day care director as well as staff to determine their daily routine, what type of meals or snacks are served, how often kids go outside to play, staff turnover rates, and state certifications and inspections.
  • Find out the ages of other children in attendance and whether any of them also have special needs similar to your child's, or if they serve children with and without special needs.
  • Spend time watching the kids and staff interact; this is often the best way to gauge whether or not it's the right environment for your child.

Individual or One-on-One Respite Care

While hiring an individual caregiver for your child with special needs offers tremendous benefits to you and your family, consider your caregiver's sick days, vacations, and the possibility that it might not work out, or that your caregiver may quit. For all these reasons, you may need to find a suitable replacement quickly. To prevent getting stuck, it's especially useful to try to build a pool of caregivers -- find a few great caregivers whom you know you can call on in a pinch.

Finding one-on-one care for a child with special needs follows the same rules as finding care for a child without special needs. Parents have the same concerns no matter what. The Care.com Babysitter Guide will give you up-to-date and concise information about how best to find and hire a sitter. Whether you're looking for a caregiver who has had previous experience with children with special needs, or one who just has the enthusiasm and dedication you need, don't skip any of the important steps -- calling references, having more than one interview, and asking the sitter to visit you in a casual setting.

Overall, spending some time evaluating your care needs will prove useful. Many people wind up hiring a sitter out of desperation without any regard for the care they really need. You don't want to hire caregivers as a reaction to a crisis -- it's much harder that way! Here's the quick list of items you want to consider before launching into a search for a great caregiver:

  • The virtues you want your caregiver to embody
  • The skills you want your caregiver to have (your ideal caregiver)
  • The skills you need your caregiver to have (nobody wants to settle for less, but you should have a backup plan)
  • The responsibilities of the job (everything from the times and days you need a caregiver to specific tasks)
  • Your child's personality
  • Your child's previous experience with caregivers
  • Your budget for care costs (out-of-pocket and reimbursed expenses)

Putting a plan together -- or at least listing your top priorities -- will keep your search for a caregiver focused and efficient.

For more information, check out ARCH's guide to the ABC's of Respite.

Lisa Tabachnick Hotta writes about parenting, health, and social issues.

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Comments (1)
Dave Anderson
Can I qualify for intermittent FMLA to provide respite during the non-school summer months for my wife, for our severely disabled child?
Posted: October 20, 2013 at 12:03 PM
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