Respite for Foster Parents

by Jo Ann Wentzel

When you become a parent, you have a period of time, usually several months to a couple of years, where you are obsessed with parenthood. After that, things mellow out a bit and you feel more comfortable with the fact that you can release those babies into the care of others for a short time. Babysitters, daycare, and family members are brought into play. This is not as common with foster kids.

Family members may tell you how wonderful what youŐre doing is, but seldom offer to supervise your foster kids. Requests to baby-sit them are heard infrequently. Even offering to spell you a few hours so you can get away never happens. Foster parents must often deal with tougher kids for more hours a day with less breaks.

Foster kids are almost always troubled kids. They are often children with a variety of learning disorders, behavioral problems, and health issues. We see many with disabilities and many with emotional problems that mean regular care is just not enough. This situation is wearing for most folks and can result in early burnout.

Respite, the scheduled breaks given to foster parents, never comes often enough and sometimes is delayed for weeks. This is a dangerous situation if you want your foster parents to be effective.

We had a way of trading help in one agency I worked for, where foster parents would help one another when they needed to be away. This worked great for most foster parents. We had teen boys, mainly, the last chance ones. The group would be offering help to one another, when I would request help. The answer- anyone, but your boys was replied. I had tough kids, but still needed to get away for personal things occasionally. This made it difficult.

If other foster parents are in this same boat or get too few respite times off, you need to bring this matter to your county or agency. Everyone needs adequate breaks to remain fresh enough to function and do this most difficult job.

When counties or agencies hire respite workers for the foster parents who just come in and take over that is one way of handling this problem. Some parents find this intrusive in their own homes and others would like to be able relax in their own home without the extra children. Of course a lot of this depends on how you view your foster children. If this is family to you, this problem may be a moot point. You wish them to be with you at all times. You do not need a break from them because for all intents and purposes they are yours. But, some kids in a home of many foster kids may not fit this description.

I have worked in homes where the foster parents left, and the respite workers came in. I also have been involved where kids were taken to a respite workers home. Either way has some problems, so I guess it is a matter of preference.

The main point is to receive the opportunity to take respite. When you are given the opportunity to get a break, take it. Some folks I knew almost never took the respite, which was very unhealthy. If, however, you must pay to go to a hotel or other place to get away, then money becomes an issue. Agencies or counties should supply a fee for respite so it doesnŐt come out of the foster parentŐs pocket. We knew one agency that provided a place to use, which eliminated that problem.

Whatever the plan, there must be respite for parents who do such a challenging, difficult job. Coming to each otherŐs rescue is a wonderful plan, if all can participate.

Remember that foster parents find their own best friends among their ranks and should all help one another. If you can spell each other for much needed break, that is the easiest solution. But houses with several kids can have numbers double when that happens and not be able to provide adequate coverage.

Choosing respite when kids are on home visits sounds ideal, except they never all go on home visits at the same time. This is also a good plan if that could be arranged, but that is a long shot.

Foster parents need respite, ask for it, and find ways to get it, and use it. Foster parents- you deserve it.

Jo Ann Wentzel is Senior Editor of:   Parenting Today's Teen

Jo Ann has a new book released on CD-Rom - "It Begins and Ends With Family" For info Click here
Now- in E-Book format-It Begins and Ends with Family Click here

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Other articles on Foster Parent Community by Jo Ann Wentzel:

Biography of Jo Ann Wentzel

Between the years of 1966 and 1993, I brought children into life, into my foster home, into court, and into their own apartments. Mother of three, two natural children born to me and one foster kid who never left our family, grandmother to five, foster mom to over 75 kids, and mother, friend, guardian angel, or their worse nightmare, depending on which of the other hundreds of kids you ask.

A quarter of a century devoted to raising children, learning what issues concerned them, volunteering to help groups serving kids, and teaching others what little I know. Life Ready was our own business where we installed kids, who had no other choice, into their own apartment. My husband and I, as para-professionals, also were contracted by counties in Minnesota to supervise kids and work with families to help get foster kids back home.

Before foster care, I was a licensed daycare provider and cared for all ages of children. During foster care, our specialty was teenaged boys and we had a group home where we served up to eight youth at a time. Street kids and gang members were among those we worked with and families ranged from traditional to what in the world. Our kids came from all over Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and North Dakota. Volunteer positions were held in Pennsylvania, Texas, and Minnesota.

I have held the position of Guardian-ad-Litem in Goodhue County, a paid not volunteer position. I trained to be a surrogate parent which enables you to sign I.E.Ps for children whose parents can't or won't. I have taken Mediator training for Minnesota court system. With my husband, I presented a seminar at the Minnesota Social Worker's Convention in Minneapolis, spoke at the Federal Medical Center( a prison), and gave several talks to school classrooms.

My book is about the experiences and adventures of a foster parent. It encourages creative parenting and offers useful methods and ideas for everyone raising kids. It features just a few of the many wonderful kids that lived with us.It tells how we ran our home of as many as eight teenaged foster kids at a time. It is written from the viewpoint of the expert, the one who does the job, the hands on provider- the foster parent.This book is currently looking for a publisher and will be available just as soon as we find one.



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