We had to travel down a dangerous dirt road to get to the person’s house. After that, there was an obstacle course to get from the driveway, through the yard, and to the front door. My son was hesitant. “Dad, I’m not staying here!” he proclaimed as we knocked on the front door. Once inside, the challenge to get to her front door seemed like a walk in the park. The house was trashed and in complete disarray.
Honestly, I could look past all of that. I understand the craziness of this life, and have compassion for it. Messy homes don’t bother me (for the most part). But, the problem came through our conversation about my son’s diet. As I explained that we do not allow him to have Red 40 or Yellow 5 food dyes, or high fructose corn syrup, her eyes glazed over. While she didn’t say she was against it, I could tell she had no intention of following our restrictions. Plus, the food I saw out in her kitchen already set off every alarm in me. This was going to be a disastrous experience.
However, I was in a pickle. I had driven almost an hour to this lady’s house with my son, without asking her critical questions ahead of time. I could have taken the time to find out who she was, what values she held with her children, and what kind of caregiver she was. Big mistake, and frankly, too late at that point.
We were in crisis and needed a break so I decided to leave my son in her care. When I picked him up a few days later, I could tell he had fun, but also that he was seriously dis-regulated. We paid the price dearly for the next several days afterward. We needed the break but not at this cost. Fact is, you need respite care too. But, like us, it doesn’t need to come at a high cost. We’ve learned, over the years, what to look for, and ask for in respite care providers.
Here are the top 10 non-negotiable characteristics we believe you must look for when choosing the right care giver for your children…
- In the trenches. Are they in the trenches of foster care and adoption? If you’re a foster parent you have to choose respite care providers who are also licensed foster parents. So, they are automatically in the trench. But as adoptive parents, the game changes a bit. You don’t have to choose from licensed providers. So where do you begin? Choose those who are currently in the trenches or have a working knowledge from the trenches. It eliminates a lot of front end conversation and explanation.
- Trauma informed. Do they have a working knowledge of trauma and how to respond to it? I’m willing to bet the children you are caring for, or parenting, have come from places of trauma (to some degree). A second good rule of thumb is to choose folks who are trauma-informed. This means they have a working understanding of what trauma looks like in kids from hard places, and how to respond.
- Background checked. Have they completed criminal background checks for everyone over 18 in their household? Pretty sure I don’t have to go into detail on this one, right? This is just a safe bet for you and your children. Plus, if you’re currently a foster parent, it’s a must.
- Organized. Is their home and life organized? Let me be clear on this point. I’m not talking about a person who answers the door with a clipboard, a fleshed out itinerary of your child’s stay with them, and a laminated sheet of emergency contacts, or has a home that jumped off the pages of Better Homes and Gardens. That would be amazing (sort of), but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about a person who’s life and home isn’t coming apart at the seams. It’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s also not in massive chaos or crisis.
- Values values. Do they value the same things you value? Here’s an example…In our household, we stick to a strict diet and we believe foods with chemicals and dyes in them have negative effects on our children. So, we don’t allow them. And we make sure our providers are on board with that. They don’t have to personally do this with their children, but they must at least support our value.
- Not in crisis. Are they personally in their own state of crisis? If the answer is yes, not a good fit. And certainly not a healthy option for your children. They need respite themselves and that’s okay. We all get to the place where we need help at times.
- Understand safety plans. Do they understand the meaning of, and the need for, safety plans? This is a biggie if you have gone through something with your children that has caused you to establish safety plans in your home. In fact, if the provider is unfamiliar with safety plans and how they work, it’s a deal breaker as far as I’m concerned. You’re risking a lot more than your personal care if you choose a person without knowledge or experience in this area.
- Reputable. Are they in good standing with their licensing agency, or in high regard with other adoptive families? Are they known to be caring, compassionate, and focused on the well-being of children they care for? Word travels fast, so you could ask around and get your answer pretty quickly.
- Compassionate. Are they compassionate toward children from difficult places? This may seem like an obvious one, but it’s important to choose people who have deep hearts for children from difficult places. Compassion fosters patience. And your children may need care-givers who are patient.
- Big picture view. Do they understand the bigger picture and how they fit into it? Your children will spend most of their time in your care. In fact, in comparison to the respite care provider, it’s 99.9 percent. While the respite care provider takes part in the picture, it’s a very small pixel compared to you. So your values, your boundaries, and your intentions supersede all. You’re not asking for a respite care provider to step in and take your place as your children’s parent. You’re asking them to step in and care for your children while you get some rest. We’ve seen this before. A respite care provider misunderstands boundaries, and their role in the big picture, and tries to become a parent to your children over a 2-day period. Not healthy. Make sure your respite care provider understands the big picture and how they fit into it.
Don’t be afraid to utilize respite care, if it’s available to you where you foster. You need a break every now and then. And if you’re no longer a foster parent, and your babies are yours permanently, be proactive in finding care-givers you trust, and who have your children’s best interest in mind.
What has your experience been with respite care? Share your story with us in the comment section below.