Preparing Your Kids for Respite Care
Respite care can be a great support for foster parents, especially treatment foster parents, especially when the kids have a good experience. Because foster kids have experienced abrupt removals from their own home and/or other foster homes, going to a new place may cause a lot of anxiety. Advance planning and conversations can help ease the anxiety and help you have more peace of mind so you can take care of yourself while your kids are in respite care.
Foster parents know that transitions and new environments can be hard for kids in care. Children need to know that the respite care will be temporary. Let them know when the respite care will be and how long they will be there. Because many foster children have trouble trusting adults, you may need to have several conversations about it to reassure them that their stay will be temporary and that they will be coming back to your home.
It is important to make sure your respite providers have detailed information about the kids and their needs, but it is also important to have some information about the respite providers and their home so you can talk to your kids about it. Knowing where they are going and who will be taking care of them can help ease children’s fears. It can also help you feel more comfortable leaving your kids there!
In an ideal situation, you could visit the respite provider’s home a week or two before the respite placement. This is especially important if it will be a long stay or if a child is particularly anxious about going to a new place. A visit allows your children meet the respite provider(s) and other children in their home and to see the house ahead of time while you are there with them.
We recently had two boys come to our home for respite care for almost two weeks. A week-and-a-half before they were coming to stay they visited our house for dinner with their foster mother. We made up the beds with colorful superhero sheets and put some toys and books on the shelves in the bedroom. We gave them a tour of the house and showed them where they would be staying. The boys immediately ran into the room, explored the toys, and each chose their bed. They also had a chance to hang out after dinner and play in our playroom with our little guy. Seeing the room and playing in the playroom actually made them a little bit excited to come stay with us.
You can let the respite provider know the kids’ favorite meals so they can make something the kids will definitely like for their first meal in the new place, especially if your children have issues with food. Familiar foods can help a child feel more at ease in a new place. You could even send them with a special snack or dessert (store-bought, no need to make a big effort!) to eat and share with any kids there too.
When you are away, try to set up times to video chat or talk on the phone with the kids. This is especially helpful for long respite placements. Knowing that they will still be able to see and/or talk to you while they are in a new place helps the kids when they miss you. It also provides the opportunity to reassure them that you are coming back.
Preparing your children well for a respite placement makes things go more smoothly for everyone and can even make it a fun experience for the kids.