Special Needs Respite Care Guide: Interview Questions

What to ask when interviewing a respite caregiver

The interview process can be challenging when hiring any caregiver. Preparing questions to ask a sitter, nanny, or special needs respite caregiver involves similiar preparation. However, for a child with special needs, other factors such as the caregiver's specific experience, knowledge, medical background, and previous work with children with special needs may come into play.  The following tips should make interviewing for special needs respite care a little more manageable:

Issues to Keep in Mind

  • The idea of 'respect' is of utmost importance -- respect for your child and your family as well as for your caregiver.
  • A good caregiver will look for her personality and interests, not her disability.
  • If possible, seek out a respite caregiver who has both experience and interest in the particular special need or medical condition at hand or who has great enthusiasm for child care and is willing to learn from you about your child's needs. Often parents will opt for a caregiver whose personality and values are a good match with their own, rather than chose a caregiver strictly for skills and experience. Your specific needs will determine which type of caregiver you hire.
  • If you are going away and need overnight respite care for a few days, make sure the individual has the training, tools, and background to handle this type of care. The caregiver must be able to function without your help or input.
  • Put together a list of contact information you can review and then leave with your new caregiver. Provide several names and numbers for doctors, emergency clinics, neighbors, and friends, who can assist if there's an emergency.
  • Stay upbeat about what you love and appreciate about your child, even if you are having a tough time finding the right care. Your positive outlook and optimism during the interview helps set the tone.

Sample Interview Questions

Q: Can you think of a hidden gift that might be found in a child with special needs?

A good response might be, "I learn a lot from every child I care for," or, "Yes, I love getting to know a child and to discover or learn about his abilities and wishes."

 Q: Why is working with a child with special needs rewarding for you?

A good response might include reasons why special needs care is of particular interest to the caregiver. This could be due to previous experience with special needs via her family or friends, appreciation of your child's potential, and professional or educational focus on special needs care. Although caregivers may be very well intentioned, if they're adamant about wanting a special needs job because it allows them to do "good," or "to give back to the community," be aware that they may be motivated by pity rather than sheer interest or appreciation for your child. This means your caregiver may be more focused on herself, rather than on your child.

Q: When there's a day full of struggle (with a care recipient), what gives you strength or patience?

A good response should involve basic skill and wisdom that's necessary for working with kids (with or without special needs).  This might include, "give him choices" or "change the subject" or "find out why he's feeling frustrated, upset, or sad."  You're looking for a response that shows the caregiver understands child development and how to handle conflict in a caregiving setting.

Q. Tell us about some of the children with special needs you've worked with and what types of disabilities they had. 

A good response might include examples of the caregiver's experience with full days and/or overnight care that involved a lot of responsibility. Look for overall enthusiasm and specifics about working with the challenges of special needs care and whether or not she has a preference for working with children with a particular special need or not.

Q: What would you do in an emergency while we were away (or out of the house)? How do you feel about handling an emergency or a high stress situation?

You want to hear that the caregivers will call 911 and how they would use their specific medical training and education to intervene while medical personnel were on their way. If they don't have any particular training, talk to them about how they react to emergencies and give them an example of what might happen if your child has a health crisis while you're away.  Can they lift your child if necessary, do they know how to use any special equipment required to help your child during a crisis, and can they recognize signs of your child's distress?

Asking the questions above will help you get to know your caregiver in ways that are more telling than the usual interview questions about previous experience, skills, and educational background (though you need to ask those, too!). Good luck finidng the right respite caregiver for your family's unique situation.

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

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Comments (1)
Photo of Lynda B.
Lynda B.
Thank you. This article was helpful in reminding me of some questions to ask during the stressful time of interviewing for my special needs son.
Posted: April 12, 2013 at 8:41 PM
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