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Reasons a Foster Parent May Utilize Respite Care

Updated: Oct 5, 2023

foster parent

Before we got licensed, I thought the only reason a foster family would seek respite care was for a foster child with challenging behaviors.

I was totally wrong.

Respite care is needed for SO many situations, many of which have nothing to do with the child or sibling group in care.

Foster care is governed at the state and county level. In my state of South Carolina, you cannot leave your foster child with an unlicensed caregiver for more than one night. You can leave them with someone on your "approved babysitter list" (people who have been vetted by the agency) for a short time, but if you need help for a full weekend or longer, they have to stay with another licensed foster parent.

Depending on where the foster parents are going and the circumstances of the child's case, the foster parent may not have permission to bring the child(ren) along. Crossing state lines can be tricky, and the child needs to be present for family visits, therapy appointments, court dates and the like. Even if the family could take the child along, it may be triggering or emotionally disruptive for them to go - in which case a respite family may be the best option.

Here are some of the many reasons a foster parent may utilize respite care:

  • weddings

  • funerals

  • family emergencies

  • reconnecting with biological children

  • daycare conflicts

  • moving

  • visiting family or friends out of town

  • marriage retreats

  • foster care conferences

  • work travel

  • health issues

  • needing relaxation

  • holiday plans

  • vacations that were booked prior to accepting a placement

Here are some of the scenarios we've personally seen for our own respite placements (some minor details changed for privacy):

  • A family with biological teenagers was fostering two little ones (a 1 year old and 2 year old). They went on vacation out of state while their kids were home for Christmas break. After a full year of no respite, this family vacation would certainly be more restful without two little ones (who wouldn't remember the trip anyway) and they were able to get more intentional time with their teens.

  • A family had a cruise booked before they accepted the placement of a 2-week old baby who was still in the NICU. The baby was in withdrawal from meth, and it was unclear when the baby would be well enough to leave the hospital. The cruise was booked for a couple weeks out, and the foster family told the agency that if the baby was in fact able to leave the hospital within the next few weeks, they would need someone else to keep him just until they could get back home.

  • A family needed to help their older parents move to a new home in another state. (Moving trucks and heavy boxes aren't a conducive environment for toddlers)!

  • A family with no biological children was fostering a young, high-energy sibling group. They just needed a relaxing weekend at home to recharge. When I asked the foster mom what she had planned for the weekend, she said, "I just want to clean my floors!"

  • A family accepted the placement of a 4-month old boy, but needed a few days of respite help to have time to get her daycare situation lined up. It just so happened that they took the child in on a Saturday and the foster mom was starting a new job that Monday, so she wasn't able to coordinate taking off of work until they could get daycare lined up.

  • Another family had a young sibling group. They needed a weekend with some extra time and space to process a difficult loss, and respite care gave them that space.

As you can see, the scenarios surrounding the need for respite care are endless. But one fact is true in every case: foster families are making sacrifices for children every day and they all need support. Seeking or needing respite care does not make them weak in any way. I would argue that the foster parents who (1) know when they need a break and (2) are willing to ask for help are the most effective at what they do.

Respite foster care is incredibly important because it allows our long-term foster parents to receive support, encouragement and reprieve. It allows them to take care of the things they need to take care of without additional stress!

Emily | Respite Foster Mom


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