As the parent of a child with special needs, your responsibilities can seem overwhelming. You need—and certainly deserve—a break from time to time. In fact, without any “time off” from your parental duties, you are at risk for developing a stress-related illness, and jeopardizing your mental health.
But finding a caregiver might seem, at first, like an impossible task. Often parents of special needs kids rely solely on family members as babysitters, or else take their child with them everywhere they go. Family members can be good and attentive care-givers, but sometimes they are not available. Perhaps they live far away, or have difficult life situations of their own. Resentments can build if family members are made to feel burdened by the constant need for their assistance: “I really need you to watch Michael again,” etc. You would be doing yourself and your child a great service to find a good, reliable babysitter. But how?
Here are some ways to locate a caregiver:
- Visit the National Respite Locator Service website. “Respite” is a term meaning “relief, break, or interval,” and refers to assistance for caregivers who need time off from their duties of caring for a special needs child or adult.
- Find foundations associated with your child’s disorder by visiting the National Resources page of the NICHCY—The National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities. Contact the society associated with your child’s disorder, such as the Autism Society of America, United Cerebral Palsy, or Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, etc. Locate your local chapter, and given them a call. Ask about what respite services are available, and how you can get them started.
- Contact a University or College near you, where students studying behavioral sciences are available. You might need to be routed around and transferred until you get to the right department, but hang in there. For my son, Kyle, I was able to locate a student studying autism who was thrilled at the opportunity to work with my son.
- If your child is chronically ill, give her pediatrician or specialist a call. Explain that you need respite care for your child so you can have a break. Most specialists know who to contact to get the process going.
- Often you can receive help through your local church or synagogue, where members are willing to offer services to those in need. Contact the Pastor, Bishop, Rabbi, or local religious leader.
I can’t afford a babysitter. What am I supposed to do?
In many states, respite care, especially for the profoundly disabled, is free or subsidized. You will have to get approval through the state, and will be given a certain number of allotted respite care hours per month. You’ll need to fill out “time sheets” documenting babysitting hours as you use them, and mail or fax them in. The foundation associated with your child’s disorder should have more details. They should be able to walk you through the steps.
I was able to receive state-funded respite care, and selected my own babysitter. I found Katherine, a student at the University of California, San Diego, who was studying autism. After interviewing her thoroughly and giving her my house “rules” (no boyfriends at the house, no smoking, etc.) she was extremely eager to help me out. Personally, I loved the fact that she was a student enrolled at a university. It meant, for me, that she was responsible, that she had knowledge of the disorder, and that I had some recourse through the university if anything went wrong. We decided to set-up a regular babysitting routine. Katherine would arrive at my home at 7:00 p.m. and stay until 11:00 p.m. every Friday night.
I can’t tell you how wonderful these breaks were. My husband and I were able to spend time alone on “dates,” or else I could take the time to write or work on projects I needed to. Fridays became a welcome source of much-needed relief. Katherine became a good friend to our family and we have kept in touch over the years. And her association with my son provided her with a source for research, making it a mutually-beneficial arrangement.