Another way to help: respite care

What does it look like in practice?

Fostering and adoption is a huge commitment on the part of a family, a commitment that brings tremendous rewards but frequently great challenges also. One of the things that helps families meet some of the challenges is having other people to turn to for practical help with the children. For many reasons, not all are called to adopt or foster children, but another extremely helpful way to serve children and families is to offer respite care. 

We interviewed one such couple – Julie and Ryan Lidstone – to learn more about their ministry of providing respite care. In addition to providing respite, Julie and Ryan lead a fostering/adoption ministry at Centre Street Church in Calgary.

WTB: What is “respite care”?

Respite is temporary care of children and youth in foster care in order to give a foster family a break. Children and youth who are unable to stay with their birth families may come into foster care as a safe and temporary place to stay.

WTB: Do you need any special qualifications to provide respite care? 

Respite providers go through foster parent training and a home study in order to be licensed to provide care for children and youth in foster care. Many respite providers are active foster families with other children in their care. Others choose to become licensed foster homes to solely provide respite care.

Foster families may also choose those they know and trust to provide short-term care. This type of care is called relief care and those who provide relief care do not need to be licensed. Many social workers require that their foster families request their relief providers to, at minimum, obtain a child intervention record check and a criminal record check. This varies from one jurisdiction to another.

WTB: Why did you decide to become respite caregivers?

We decided to become respite providers based on the need. In our city there is an urgent need for foster homes. For families to be able to provide foster care well, they will require support. Respite is one way to offer support.

WTB: How much of an investment of your time is this?

As a respite home, we choose how often we provide this care. The need is so great that if we chose to, we could have children in our home for respite every day of the week! We have connected with a few foster families, and their kids regularly stay with us. With one child, this is once a week during the daytime, and occasionally we’ll have a child or children for a few days or up to a couple of weeks.

WTB: What do you find most challenging about it?

Rather than continuing with our regular busy adventures, we find that we have to be deliberate about slowing down when kids join our family temporarily. Given the disruptions in their lives, kids in foster care tend to do best when they receive more focused attention. 

We also find we need to be intentional about finding the right balance in making sure our biological children continue to receive the attention and care they need while we are caring for additional children for a time.

WTB: What do you find most rewarding about it?

We find that as a family we do love welcoming new kids into our home. Our biological children are usually excited to have new friends (or little ones to help care for) for a weekend – though it can be difficult to say goodbye! It’s awesome to be part of God’s plan for healing in each of these children’s lives.

WTB: Would you encourage others to get involved in this?

Definitely! This is something that most families could take on – even if committing to just a few days every month. It makes such a difference to foster families to be able to get the rest they need in order to provide continued loving care.

WTB: Is there anything else you would like to share about this?

Most of the kids in foster care will have a mom and a dad, but for various reasons mom and dad aren’t able to care for them right now. So in those cases, the children are some of the “fatherless” that Scripture refers to. As believers, we are called to care for the fatherless, the vulnerable, and the hurting. Respite care is one way we can do this.