#GotMySix: How respite services support military families

November 19, 2018


By: Jannel Thomas, CHAMP intern*

During CHAMP’s 2018 #GotMySix campaign, HPRC is looking at ways military families support others and receive support within their communities. Jannel Thomas, an intern at CHAMP, sat down with respite specialists Brooke Kaiser and Lauren Whaley to talk about how respite care helps military families and enables Military Service Members to optimize their performance. Read on to learn more about how respite providers “have the back” of military families.

Jannel: Tell me a little bit about yourselves.

Brooke: I’ve been working in respite care for 11 years. I always had a passion for working with children with special needs or disabilities. The military community is also dear to my heart as I’m a military spouse. Respite care encompasses my passion for helping others along with supporting the military community.
Lauren: I’m a military respite specialist. I’ve been working in respite care for 5 years. I always had an interest in helping others. I was intrigued by being able to help military families too. After a few short months, I realized this is my calling: to help others who have helped our country.

Jannel: That’s great. What’s “respite care”?
Brooke: Respite care relieves caregivers (such as parents), so they can take a temporary break from providing care for a family member. One of the biggest issues facing caregivers is burnout. If you can’t get a break, you’re not able to provide the best care possible for your loved one.

Jannel: So, respite programs enable caregivers to “take a break” from caregiving for a bit. Who benefits from these types of programs?

Lauren: Many respite programs provide care for families with preemies and children with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, behavioral challenges, developmental delays, chromosome deletions, heart defects, special needs and disabilities, and much more. A child also must be diagnosed by his or her doctor as an Exceptional Family Member (EFM) category 4 or 5 in order to qualify for respite services. Parents get a break from caregiving duties, allowing them to focus on other family members or even themselves, while preventing burnout and keeping families whole. Or they can run errands, go on dates with their spouse or partner, attend events, take naps, and more.

Brooke: In addition, the child with the disability benefits by receiving specialized respite care, and any siblings also benefit in 2 potential ways. Parents can take the child on a special outing, so he or she can receive that one-on-one attention. Or the child can have a fun day at home with her or his sibling and the provider.

Jannel: And what about the providers? What kinds of credentials do they have?

Lauren: Providers come from a wide range of backgrounds. Some are nurses, Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapists, special education teachers, or others who have devoted their lives to caring for children with special needs. They often have interviews and undergo reference, federal and state background, and registry checks (for child abuse, child neglect, and sex offenses). Providers also must be current in CPR and first aid training, and they must complete courses on medication dispensation and how to recognize child abuse and neglect. After completing all requirements, providers are matched with families based on their experience, skills, location, and personality. There’s often a large pool of providers, but families are also welcome to use a preferred provider if they have anyone in mind who they think would work well.

Jannel: Wow, it sounds like the providers are well trained! Are there any limitations on who can use respite services?

Brooke: They’re available to all families who meet eligibility requirements for that particular program, regardless of rank. And services are completely free to families. Some programs offer several hours of care each month. Unused hours often don’t roll over to the next month, so families are encouraged to use as many hours as allowed.

Jannel: At HPRC, we provide information and resources that enable Military Service Members to optimize their performance and stay mission-ready. How do respite programs help?

Lauren: If Warfighters are worried about their family members, they’re unable to focus at work. This can result in lowered performance and excess stress. Respite services help give Military Service Members peace of mind that their loved ones are being cared for. They’re then more prepared at work because they’re not worried about their family and can truly focus on the mission. Respite care also enables a military couple to spend quality time alone together on dates and outings to help strengthen their relationship. We frequently hear from couples that they haven’t spent one-on-one time together or gone on a date for years because they haven’t been able to find reliable care for their children.

Jannel: And if a Military Service Member is deployed? What happens then?

Brooke: Programs often work the same way if the Military Service Member was at home. Respite care is a great support to families with a deployed parent because the respite provider can really help the partner and children through the transitions and changes back home. While the provider’s main role is to care for the children, she or he often becomes a huge support to the parents as well. They can offer a great listening ear and support to parents, especially when the Military Service Member is deployed or TDY.

Jannel: Holidays can be a particularly tense time for all families, especially military families who might be far from other loved ones or have a family member on deployment. How do respite programs serve military families during the holidays?

Lauren: Holidays can definitely be a very stressful time for military families. Many military families don’t have a lot of extended family close by. Some families also struggle financially. Some respite programs host holiday parties for
military families where Santa arrives on a firetruck, and each child receives a gift from her or his wish list, gets a chance to sit on Santa’s lap, and enjoys lots of games and crafts. These parties are another amazing way for military families in similar situations to get together and build friendships.

Jannel: That’s great. Lastly, tell me about some of the strengths of military families you’ve observed during your time working with them.

Brooke: Military families and families with children with special needs face unique sets of challenges. When those situations are combined, they face a completely different level of stress from deployments, long hours, relocations, building new support systems, locating new therapists and doctors, choosing the best school for their child’s needs, and much more. We’ve seen military families with tremendous amounts of stress remain positive throughout their experiences. The love these families show for each other and their children is inspiring. Military families are truly resilient.

Jannel: Yes, they are! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk about how respite services support military families.

Use social media to show your support for military families in your life who “have your six.” Remember to tag @HPRConline and include #GotMySix in your posts too.
* The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences or the United States Department of Defense.

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