There is a growing need for respite carers to facilitate breaks for families with a disabled child or young person. From care a few hours at a time to helping out at weekends, this type of specialist, part-time foster care is rewarding, and can help families get the respite they need. One foster carer shares her journey of being a specialist respite carer
Fostering is an enriching way to care for children or young people in need of additional support. Finding Homes for Hampshire Children, Hampshire County Council’s Adoption and Fostering Service also has a special scheme called Specialist Respite Care providing respite – a short period of rest – for families of children with disabilities.
SPECIALIST RESPITE CARE
There are many ways specialist respite carers can help families. Anyone with experience of caring for someone with a disability, in a professional or personal capacity, is welcome to apply to be a specialist respite carer.
Experience with disability is required for specialist respite carers. Lee Moden, team manager at Finding Homes for Hampshire Children says: “We would need to consider their understanding of disability. A lot of children who need respite care need 24-hour attention, they may need feeding on a regular basis. Obviously, there are a wide range of different care needs for children with disabilities to be taken into consideration.”
Specialist respite carers are supported with costs and receive training so that everyone can experience the full benefits of respite. Care can be given in the specialist respite carer’s home, at the child’s home, or could mean regular weekend visits for several hours or overnight. Specialist respite carers and families can choose the option that best suits their needs.
Clare Thomson* has been a foster carer for many years. She and her husband Dan initially became specialist respite carers. However, their strong relationship with one of the children they cared for, led to a unique development.
Their first-hand personal experience of disability meant becoming respite carers was a decision that felt right. “My husband grew up with an uncle with disabilities and when he was growing up everyone in the family chipped in and helped. I worked at a children’s home and I really enjoyed that job, it was really challenging, and I had thought about being a foster carer one day,” explains Clare. “We thought if we could offer some respite that might be good. We provided respite for seven children before we had Tanya*.”
From the age of eight, Tanya would visit Clare and her family for regular respite visits and a strong bond was formed. Tanya’s time in the family has been a rewarding experience for everyone involved, all through respite care.
“I now have a lot more patience. I’ve also learned an awful lot about myself, not to take things for granted, and to cherish what you’ve got,” says Clare. “When Tanya used to come to us for specialist respite care, she was a quiet little girl and wouldn’t really interact. She just sat in the corner and blew a lot of raspberries or she would sit and flick through a book. When Tanya moved in with us full-time, she just flourished and started to interact with us and to play. We stopped some of the more difficult habits she had, and she became more independent.”
Aged 18, Tanya is non-verbal but can communicate with a small amount of Makaton signing and seeing her blossom is just one of the reasons specialist respite care is a rewarding route to take.
After Tanya’s birth family’s circumstances changed, and she was no longer able to live with them, Clare felt strongly that she wanted to step in for Tanya and the family decided to take her on full-time, becoming her foster carers.
Over the years that Tanya has been with the family there have been challenging moments but the achievements, no matter how small, have made it all worthwhile.
Clare says: “Her personality has really developed. It is a privilege to watch her grow and develop and it is really humbling as well. You take for granted all the things you can do and it is the little things you get immense amount of pleasure from.”
Their personal journey with Tanya and Finding Homes for Hampshire Children has been hugely gratifying, and Clare would encourage anyone interested in fostering to get involved.
BECOMING A SPECIALIST RESPITE CARER
Many children with disabilities have a loving and stable family, but their parents may need additional, part-time support from specialist respite carers, with experience of caring for people who have a disability.
Anyone over 21 with the relevant skills to care for children can apply to start the process, which can take up to six months. During the application process, social workers will provide valuable information, training and guidance. After all, ensuring the right environment for children and their respite carer is paramount.
Becoming a specialist respite carer can open the doors to new training, meeting interesting people and getting to provide vital respite for children and their families.
Watching a child develop and progress is an incredible journey and you could be the one to help lead them in the right direction.
FIND OUT MORE
Are you ready to support a child by fostering or provide specialist respite care to a family of a child with a disability? Contact Finding Homes for Hampshire Children on 0300 555 1384 or visit www.hants.gov.uk