Respite care refers to short-term care that is provided to children with special needs. The purpose of the short-term care is to give temporary relief to family members who need a break from the exceptional demands of their role and daily routine as primary caregiver of a child with special needs.
Respite care services are different from customary childcare or baby-sitting services provided to families whose children do not have special needs. For a child without special needs, usually a baby-sitter can be engaged within typical informal support systems such as a neighbor, a local teenager, or a relative. Whereas families of children without special needs may benefit from the break in their daily routine of childrearing, respite care is especially intended for families with children with excessive care needs who have disabilities, chronic disorders, or terminal illnesses. The demands of having a child with a disability, severe developmental delay, or terminal illness will often exacerbate stresses that exist even in normal family relationships. When their child has exceptional needs, families experience even greater levels of tension, anxiety, worry, and financial hardship than families that have children who are developing typically. If the pressures of stress are not managed, then the stability of the family unit can be jeopardized.
Providing personal care for a young dependent child who has special care demands is a daunting responsibility that can add unforeseen pressures and strain to a family's life. In virtually all families there is an understanding that in time of need the family may seek help from any of its relatives, such as a grandmother, sister, aunt, cousin, or others. However, due to the increased level of need that the extended family member might be asked to address, primary care families may feel stifled asking for respite support from extended family as often as their help might be needed. In addition, extended family members may be reluctant to volunteer if the child has significant developmental disabilities or delays, or has chronic or terminal illness for which special nursing skills and training may be necessary to adequately care for these children. The child's special needs may include the administration of oxygen, tube-feeding, frequent diapering, proper dosing of medication, or being properly managed if behaviors are extreme or particularly challenging for the caregiver. Some relatives are simply unable to cope with the extraordinary responsibilities of caring for a child that needs constant supervision, monitoring, and/or special personal care. Families may feel abandoned by their relatives who have fears about participating in the care of the child with special needs, even if those fears are understandable. In situations where relatives are unable or unwilling to provide the respite care, then a family must seek respite services outside the home from qualified individuals.