Marinette County, like most Wisconsin counties, focuses its recruitment efforts on acquiring full-time foster families. Respite homes, largely, take care of themselves because foster homes with placements trade off and do respite for each other. However, Foster Care Coordinator Denise Kunze makes sure respite gets discussed at pre-licensing orientation meetings. She asks families to begin thinking early on about who they trust to provide care at those crucial times when the family has a scheduling conflict or they simply seek a break from the high-stress tasks of caring for children who have suffered abuse or neglect.
These early conversations may result in respite becoming the end-goal for some families who self-select out of the licensing process. Some families may decide the licensing and training requirements to become foster parents are too daunting, yet they want to "dip their toe in the pool." Denise spends time talking about ways these families can help. Respite is one way for families to test the waters.
In addition, families who opt out of the licensing process but who want to do respite are an important resource for this rural county. Marinette County is geographically spread out, and towns may be more than an hour and twenty-minute drive from the county seat. That can be a challenge when linking families together. So Denise is open-minded about working with the resources that are close by. At times she utilizes respite providers who are not licensed foster homes.
Some of these families are found through existing foster parents. Denise begins talking with full-time foster parents early in the licensing process about identifying their own respite provider. Her foster families choose one family (friends or relatives) that they trust and feel comfortable turning over the care of the children in their homes to. Marinette County then follows DCF 56 in approving these respite families. Denise does a lot of screening on the phone and then goes out to the home for face-to-face meetings. Confirming Safe Environments, background checks, and a respite care agreement are all completed prior to a family being approved to do respite. In Marinette County, an unlicensed, approved respite provider is attached to just one foster home, ensuring good communication, safety, and accountability. In addition, Denise stresses that the needs of the individual child are the most important consideration in determining whether a particular respite home is appropriate for that child.
There are a number of positives to having a substantial and consistent respite pool of families, both licensed and unlicensed:
- Families, as well as the agency, have confidence in and familiarity with their respite providers.
- The children in care often develop a relationship with the respite family prior to going to respite. This removes many of the typical challenges of respite care, such as children feeling like they've moved again, or children deciding the respite home is the home they'd rather live in.
- Some foster families arrange for the respite family to care for the children in their own (foster family's) home.
- Good communication and safety are easier to ensure with an identified respite resource that the family is well-connected to.
From a recruitment standpoint, we all know support of our existing foster families is the cornerstone of good recruitment. A respite program like the one in Marinette County accomplishes this in a number of ways:
- Parenting children who have experienced abuse, trauma, and neglect is emotionally draining and taxing. Everyone does better with time away from challenging work. Respite provides foster parents with a safe, rejuvenating break.
- A good respite program has been shown to decrease placement disruptions, reducing the strain on a system already stretched to capacity and beyond.
- When foster parents are able to participate in the selection of respite providers, they may feel less insecure about requesting respite. They have confidence in their respite partners and may feel less fearful that a child's difficult behavior may be seen as a sign that they are unable to provide adequate care for the child.
- Some respite providers eventually choose to become full-time licensed foster parents. These families bring with them experience, connections, and an existing relationship with the agency.
While safety is always the most important consideration, Denise states that Prudent Parenting is helping foster families feel more empowered in making decisions on issues like respite. Denise values their input. Given the limits we all operate under, she says she "doesn't know where we'd be if foster families weren't creative in thinking of resources."
For more information about respite and other topics, please visit the resources below.