An Introduction to Respite Foster Care

teenage boys laughing

While some foster families can commit to a long-term family member, others are more comfortable with shorter placements. Known as respite foster care, this type of arrangement can be over the weekend or for the entire duration of the summer holidays, depending on the unique circumstances of the child.

Respite carers step up when foster families need a temporary break from their caregiving responsibilities. There are a variety of reasons why a foster family may enlist the help of a respite carer, including personal issues and work commitments. In many cases, respite care for foster carers is requested when a family needs a break, is feeling burnt out or needs some alone time.

Every situation is unique and as a respite carer it’s your responsibility to step in and provide a child with a loving and caring home while they’re away from their full-time family. Want to know more? Read on for a comprehensive guide to respite foster care, covering everything you need to know about this important role.

How respite foster care works

Respite care generally takes place during the school holidays or on weekends, though it’s not limited to these scenarios. It could be a week during term time or a month over the Christmas break. Transfer arrangements are carefully planned, with foster carers, social workers and local authorities kept in the loop every step of the way.

As a respite foster carer, you’ll take on the regular day-to-day duties of a full-time caregiver. This can include school drops offs, extracurricular activities and mealtimes. That said, the nature of respite foster placements can often mean getting a little creative with your caregiving. If your placement falls within the holidays or on a weekend, why not plan a fun trip to the coast or a nature walk in the countryside?

Could respite foster care work for you?

Respite care is all about short-term placements, making it ideal for people who want to get involved but can’t commit to a full-time foster child. As well as established families, respite care is also a good fit for couples and singles.

Think you’re a good fit for respite foster care? Below, we explore some of the key qualities required to become a respite foster carer and why they matter.

  • Energy and enthusiasm

Whether you’re a full-time foster carer or stepping up for respite duties, energy and enthusiasm are a must. These traits are especially important for respite carers as there’s a good chance you’ll be looking after a foster child on the weekend or during the holidays, when they’ll need the most attention. From trips to the seaside to campouts in the garden, energy and enthusiasm will help create a fun, engaging and stimulating environment for your foster child.

  • Compassion and patience

Switching between foster homes can be a difficult experience for a child, so it’s important to have lots of compassion if you’re thinking of becoming a respite carer. Getting settled can take time and it’s important to create a space where your foster child feels safe and comfortable. Respite foster care is often sought out by families caring for children with behavioural difficulties, emotional issues or medical needs. This makes compassion and patience all the more important when fostering children with challenging circumstances.

  • Flexibility

While all respite foster care arrangements are carefully planned, it’s always beneficial to have a little flexibility. Respite care requests can sometimes come at short notice or can be extended at the last minute, making flexibility a great quality for foster carers.

The benefits of becoming a respite foster carer

Fostering is an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling experience. There are so many benefits that come with respite foster care, with some of the best highlighted below.

  • Offering much needed support to full-time foster carers

Fostering is both rewarding and challenging, especially for full-time carers. As a respite foster carer, you offer invaluable support to carers who may be feeling overwhelmed or burnt out. Taking a temporary break from fostering gives carers a chance to rest, reset and return to their fostering responsibilities with a fresh perspective. Long-term carers are critical to the fostering system. As a respite carer, you’re helping to support these caregivers and ensure they can continue to welcome children into their homes.

  • Making a positive difference to a child’s life

Respite care may be a short-term commitment, but it can have a big impact on a child’s life. Welcoming a foster child into your home and providing them with a safe and supportive environment can make a positive difference to the child’s life, even if it’s just for the weekend. The chance to interact with a new caregiver also helps children to build trust and improve social skills.

  • Enjoy the rewards of fostering, without the full-time commitment

Fostering a child is one of the most rewarding journeys you can take, but it can be an enormous commitment. Respite care is a unique chance to enjoy the rewards of fostering, without the full-time responsibilities.

How to become a respite foster carer

Thinking of becoming a respite foster carer? The first step is to reach out online, by phone or via email. Once you’ve registered your interest, we’ll arrange a home visit where we’ll talk in-depth about the fostering experience and cover any questions or concerns.

If you like what you hear, from there you’ll fill out an application form and be assigned a qualified social worker to carry out the assessment. Expect to receive between six and eight visits from your social worker, as well as undergo several statutory checks.

You’ll also need to attend a ‘Skills to Foster’ training course designed to equip you with the knowledge and information you need to excel in your new role as a respite foster carer.

Once completed, your application is assessed by a panel made up of independent members and experts working in a variety of fields. Final approval sees you eligible to begin your journey as a respite foster carer so you can start making a genuine difference to some of the most vulnerable children in society.