Respite care can help parents of children with disabilities cope.

Importance of Respite for Parents

by Scott Thompson

Respite care is temporary childcare help for parents of special needs children. Respite care allows parents who are struggling with extra stress to take a break, clear their heads and return to parenting duties refreshed and re-energized. Respite care reduces parental stress and helps keep overwhelmed families together.

1. Respite Care

According to Nancy Olson, president of the Respite Care Association of Wisconsin, special needs children were often cared for in institutional settings far from their families and homes until the deinstitutionalization movement began in the 1960s. This movement encouraged families to care for their special-needs children at home. However, the demands of providing full-time care for a child struggling with a disability or a chronic illness can be overwhelming even for the most committed parents. Respite care was created to provide psychological and emotional support and to help parents cope.

2. Getting a Break

Respite care programs help parents of disabled children and children with chronic long-term illnesses. Some programs, such as the Bethany Christian Services Safe Families for Children program, provide respite care for adopted children with behavioral issues. Respite care varies based on the needs of a family. One family might need a social worker or counselor to take a child out for a few hours so the parents can relax a little, while another might need to leave the child with trained caregivers for several days so that parents can take an opportunity to pay special attention to their other children.

3. Benefits

According to Nicole Myers, Ph.D., respite care can help parents control their stress when a child's issues become too difficult to handle. Respite care can help a struggling parent to maintain a sense of self outside of the demands of parenthood by giving them time to engage in a favorite pastime or take time to see friends. It can also help families stay intact by allowing parents an opportunity to work on their relationship or have a date night together instead of concentrating exclusively on caring for the needs of their child.

4. Accessing Services

Respite care is not always easy for parents to find, and in some cases, those in need of respite care have had to start their own respite services when they were unable to find any in their local area. Nancy Olson of the Respite Care Association of Wisconsin advises parents to check with government agencies like the Department of Human Services, organizations for parents of children with special needs such as the Autism Society or the Disability Resource Center and state associations or church groups. Nicole Myers, Ph.D., advises parents to check with local social services organizations to see if they provide references for respite-care providers. According to post-adoption social worker Maureen J. Ticich, some state governments have programs to help families get access to respite care.

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