It is a contentious subject but the legalities of the foster care system make this necessary. There are situations that require an authorized place to leave foster children in your care in the care of someone else. Some of these are when you are going to be required to go out of state on short notice. Normally, to even take foster care children out of state requires preapproval from official sources. So in the case of a death in the family or the sudden hospitalization with serious implications of an important family member, that may not be possible.
This need for respite care can be misunderstood and even abused in some situations but for the most part the rules and regulations of the system do prevent that (of course, unfortunate exceptions occur within any system). In a foster care family that has biological children of their own, a plan to leave all the children with a family friend or relative, isn’t a possibility for the foster child. The reason for this is that a foster child can only stay with adults who are licensed to take care of children in foster care. This is where respite care can be very helpful. A child can stay in respite care while their regular foster parents are away and then return to their regular foster family when the foster parents return home.
Examples from current foster carers –
We have used respite a couple of times. 2 of those times were for adult only vacations, the respite home we used however; was friends of ours that our foster had met before. Our family members that kept our other son couldn’t keep our foster son because they are not licensed. We also have used respite when overnight stays were needed for medical care. I have been a foster carer for almost 3 years and I personally do not know anyone nor have I ever been asked to do respite for children we do not know. We have a pretty good support group that will help each other out and we are not strangers to our kids. I can’t imagine leaving any of my kids with a stranger ever.
I provided respite for a foster friend that was visiting a family that reunited and moved out of state. I have also used it when out of state travel was denied for a little child. It can be reassuring that if you have to be out of town – the child is with someone trauma trained and already set up for foster care. Our state pays $17 per day. In my experience, most people do it for free because they just want to be helpful.
We have been respite provider for other foster carers, Twice they were people who had never met us but they had family emergencies come up and we were recommended by our caseworker. There are a few foster carers near us that we have done respite for, but those kids had been around us and knew us prior to respite care. That made it more like a family friend situation. We have had family members watch the kids in our home but have never left them with strangers.
We never use it as a break. If these were our biological children, we would let them spend the weekend with friends or family. We’re not comfortable doing that with our foster kids, but we made sure to really vet the respite provider ahead of time, and it’s only for a weekend. The couple of times we have is when one of us was out of town and the other at a scout function with our older foster kids. We went through a process to make sure it was a fully trained and licensed respite home and the caseworker had to approve it as well. Both times we used the same place so our younger kids were comfortable. They love it, it’s like a mini vacation for them.
We had to get approvals and back ground check even for any regular babysitter, pre-approval and background check for anyone that invited the kids for a birthday party sleepover, and pre-approval to bring them with us on vacations, if we went out of state overnight. We live in Rhode Island, so is a bit unusual in that it is literally only 30 minute drive in any direction and one leaves the state.
Even so, there is something that is known as Dept of Child and Family Services – “Normalcy and Reasonable and Prudent Parent Policy.” That means that you can allow anyone to watch the foster children in your care as long as you deem them appropriate. They just won’t get paid. And that’s unfortunately the route many foster parents take because they can’t find respite through a licensed family. I had a foster parent reach out to me and ask me to watch a baby for the weekend. I only knew her through a friend of a friend. I could’ve been unsafe for all the person knew and yet they were willing to give me a child for a weekend. I declined and said I didn’t feel comfortable caring for a foster child I had no relationship with. All I could think of was “This is someone’s child. Their whole heart. And this foster parent was willing to leave her with a stranger. So not okay.”