One of the questions that I often hear is how the community can help foster children and foster parents.  My immediate answer is to consider becoming a respite care provider.  Those families provide care to a foster child for only a few days at a time, allowing the full-time family to have a break.  The rules of most child protection agencies prohibit a foster parents’ allowing their child to stay for more than a night or two with anyone that the agency has not vetted, trained, and approved.  By becoming a respite care foster home, people can be licensed and give a full-time family a break without taking on the entire burden of fostering a child.

I was reminded of this need when I ran across this story of a grandmother who lost custody of two of her granddaughters after she needed to recuperate from back surgery.  She says that because she was unable to care for them for a few days, and because the agency does not offer respite care for grandparents, the girls ended up in permanent foster care.  Of course, the complete story may be more complicated, and there are always more facts than a news story can include.

I was struck, though, by the agency’s explanation that the respite care that the grandmother requested would require a home study and background screening.  That requirement seems to violate at least the spirit of the “reasonable prudent parent” law that the Florida agency claims to follow.  The whole point of the law was to allow people raising other people’s kids the same leeway that biological parents have.  Allowing children to stay with friends for a few days would seem to fit within those parameters.

But I am not a Florida lawyer, and perhaps the law applies only to formally licensed foster parents rather than kinship care providers.  Nevertheless, there clearly is a need for licensed homes to be available.  People who want to consider how to help foster children without becoming a full-time parent should consider being a respite care provider.  I started out as an emergency and respite care placement, and found it very rewarding.  The only caution I give is that I started there, and eventually found myself a long-term foster parent to teenage girls.  The downside of starting out part-time is that you never know where those first steps will lead you.

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Debbie Ausburn

I make my living as a lawyer, but what I do is take care of other people’s children.