Respite Offers a Break for Caregivers and Those They Support

A Brief Overview

  • Respite offers a short-term break for caregivers and those they support. This article provides information and resources to get started seeking respite services.
  • Lifespan Respite Washington, a program of PAVE, provides vouchers with up to $1,000 per qualifying household, to fund respite care.
  • Pathways to Respite, an online booklet published by several Washington agencies, provides further guidance. The guidebook defines caregiver stress and explains why breaks are critical to everyone’s well-being.
  • The ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center provides a free, downloadable 17-page guidebook, ABCs of Respite: A Consumer Guide for Family Caregivers. ARCH stands for Access to Respite Care and Help. The ARCH resource center also provides information and resources specific to Respite During COVID-19.
  • Veteran’s families may qualify for respite through the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC), operated by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. The final section of this article includes additional military-specific resources.

Full Article

Modern families come in many styles. Primary caregivers may be parents, and they might be other relatives (kinship providers), friends, or neighbors. “Care recipient” is a term for anyone who requires assistance for daily living. “Caregiver” refers to anyone who provides regular assistance to a child or adult with a chronic or disabling conditions.

Caregivers and care recipients develop unique rhythms and relationships. Sometimes, both need to press pause and reset. Pathways to Respite, an online booklet published by several Washington agencies, provides guidance about caregiver stress:

“Putting the needs of everyone else before your own may solve an immediate stress; however, in the long-term, it can lead to increased anxiety, frustration, overwhelming feelings, resentment, depression, burnout, and even illness. Whether you think of yourself as a caregiver or not, these are all signs of caregiver stress.”

Respite offers a short-term break for caregivers and those they support. Time apart can boost well-being for all: While caregivers temporarily shift their focus to self-care, care recipients have time to meet new people and explore new interests.

Finding an appropriate respite service and organizing payment can feel challenging. This article provides guidance to simplify the steps.

Check standards and safety measures

When researching a respite agency, caregivers can assess whether the agency meets standards and is following appropriate safety measures, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lifespan Respite Washington provides a checklist with questions to consider. Here are a few examples:

  • How are the workers selected and trained?
  • Can the respite worker administer medications or assist with medical tasks?
  • If the provider will be driving the care recipient, do they have a valid driver’s license?
  • How are emergencies and problems handled?
  • What safety measures are in place to protect against COVID-19?

Registered, publicly funded respite providers are required to meet certain standards and qualifications, including background checks and training. The public agency that pays for the service is responsible to track and share information about those procedures and quality measures. If respite is paid for by private medical or long-term care insurance, providers must meet the insurance company’s standards. Caregivers can ask an insurance company representative to explain the standards and how they are upheld.

The ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center provides a free, downloadable 17-page guidebook, ABCs of Respite: A Consumer Guide for Family Caregivers. ARCH stands for Access to Respite Care and Help. The ARCH resource center also provides information and resources specific to Respite During COVID-19.

What respite services would be most helpful?

Respite includes a broad range of services. Some organizations offer short-term, overnight stays in their facilities and some provide daytime services. Some respite services are delivered into the home, including these examples:

  • personal hygiene care
  • meal preparation
  • light housekeeping
  • companionship, activities, or supervision

Community Living Connections (CLC) provides an online assessment to help caregivers figure out what type of help they may want or need. Washington State’s CLC is part of a national collaborative that includes the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Veterans Administration, and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Washington’s Pathways to Respite booklet includes “fill-in-the-blanks” tools to help define needs, including the following example:

“I would like to take a break, but I am concerned that___________” and “If I had some time to myself, I would _____________.”

Pathways to Respite was developed by Informing Families, a resource of the Washington State Developmental Disabilities Council, in partnership with the Washington State Developmental Disabilities Administration, Aging & Long-Term Support Administration, and PAVE, which administers Lifespan Respite WA.

Determine payment to choose a provider

If a family will pay directly for respite services, providers are easily found online. Here are some suggestions to launch a search:

  • Adult Day Services Washington State
  • After-school programs children with special health care needs Washington State
  • In-home respite care Washington State

Another way to navigate the provider system is to connect to a website managed by SEIU 775:  The Service Employees International Union is comprised of independent service providers who have a collective bargaining agreement with Washington state’s Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).

If a care recipient is eligible for respite through private medical insurance, the insurance company will list approved providers.

Publicly funded respite programs also provide lists of registered providers. Family caregivers who have respite funding through Medicaid or the Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA) can use CarinaCare.com, an online tool to connect individuals with providers. A Who’s Who page describes provider credentials.

Vouchers are available from Lifespan Respite WA

Lifespan Respite WA provides information about how to apply for a voucher. Vouchers are “mini-grants” for unpaid caregivers supporting a family member, friend or neighbor who has a special need or condition. The vouchers, up to $1,000 per qualifying household, can be used with any of the registered Lifespan Respite Providers

To qualify, the caregiver or care recipient cannot be enrolled in a respite or Medicaid personal care program. (Exceptions are made for persons on a waiting list and not scheduled to get respite services within 30 days of applying for a Lifespan voucher.) Additionally, a caregiver must:

  • Be unpaid
  • Provide 40 or more hours a week of care
  • Not receive respite from any other program
  • Live in Washington State
  • Be unable to afford to pay privately for respite care

Who qualifies for free or low-cost respite care?

In Washington State, eligibility for free or low-cost respite services may depend on a person’s circumstances or the category of disability.

  • Seniors and Adults with Disabilities
    • Seniors 65 and older who meet functional and financial eligibility can receive a variety of services through Home and Community Services (HCS).
    • Unpaid caregivers of adults 55 and older who meet functional and financial eligibility can receive respite care and other needed support services like caregiver education, support groups, housework and errands and other services.
  • People with Developmental Disabilities (All Ages) and Children with Disabilities
    • Children and adults with developmental disabilities who meet eligibility criteria for Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA) may be able to receive respite, personal care, assistive technology, community engagement support, and other services provided through Home and Community-Based Services and Community First Choice (CFC).
    • Children with disabilities who are not DDA eligible may still be able to receive CFC through DDA.

How to apply:

Foster care respite

Respite care is available for foster parents licensed by the Division of Licensed Resources (DLR), a Tribal agency, or a Child Placing Agency (CPA). Unlicensed relative caregivers or those determined to be “suitable person placements” also can receive respite, as can caregivers assigned by the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) or a Washington Tribe. 

Child Specific Respite (CSR) is linked directly to the medical, behavioral, or special needs of an individual child. CSR authorizes respite relief to families providing care to a child placed by DCYF on a case-by-case basis, consistent with the written service plan for the child.

Veterans and Military Family Caregivers

Veteran’s families may qualify for respite through the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC), operated by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. PCAFC offers up to 30 hours of respite: Program options, eligibility and the application process are described in a downloadable booklet published Oct. 1, 2020.

The Elizabeth Dole Foundation and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offer Respite Relief for Military and Veteran Caregivers, no-cost, short-term relief with the help of in-home care professionals. See Hidden Heroes for further information.

Active-duty military and Activated Reserve or National Guard family caregivers may be eligible for respite care through TRICARE, the military healthcare system. Here are resources for military family caregivers:

  • Respite care for primary caregivers of service members injured in the line of duty can be found on the TRICARE website.
  • Extended Care Health Option (ECHO) can be a respite resource for caregivers of non-military family members.
  • Some installations have respite funding available when the care recipient is enrolled in the Exceptional Family Member Program.
  • Coast Guard family caregivers have the Special Needs Program which may offer respite or funding for respite:
  • Coast Guard Mutual Assistance has Respite Care Grants available for eligible Coast Guard clients who have responsibility 24 hours per day to care for an ill or disabled family member who lives in the same household.

Relatives Raising Children Face Unique Challenges

Imagine a knock on the front door at night. Outside is a police officer, bringing a child to the safe-haven of a grandparent’s home. A grandparent might experience fear and confusion, trying to reconcile what has happened in the family and how to support the child. This is how a journey toward kinship care can begin.

May is Kinship Awareness Month, an opportunity to acknowledge relatives other than parents raising children. Nearly 50,000 family members in Washington are kinship caregivers. Many of the children in their care have experienced trauma and need special education or uniquely designed physical- or mental-health services.

Relatives who provide kinship care can qualify for state support. The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) provides a resource guide about kinship care that includes information about benefits and services, health care, legal issues and more. DSHS manages the kinship program as part of its Aging and Long-Term Support Administration (ALTSA).

Reasons that relatives other than parents raise children vary. Some family members are granted custody by courts involved in the child welfare system. In other circumstances, law enforcement places children with relatives after finding parents unfit. Parents may have died, or a relative may have intervened because of issues related to addiction or abuse. Some kinship caregivers are meeting a grandchild, niece, or nephew for the first time when that child needs a new home.

A child might arrive without any possessions. The financial cost and life disruption can significantly impact the relative providing kinship care. In Washington, the Kinship Navigator program can help. This program was adopted by the state in 2003.  

A Kinship Navigator can direct family caregivers to a variety of community resources related to healthcare, finances, legal services, support groups, training, child care and emergency funds. Kinship Navigators also can explain how to apply for federal and state benefits. The Kinship Navigator helps families establish or maintain greater self-sufficiency and long-term stability, often with a goal to keep children out of foster care.

A navigator can help family caregivers get involved with support groups and learn to balance the needs of the child with a potentially complicated relationship with the child’s parents. Daycare options can be located, and children might gain access to recreational and social activities to help them find belonging in a new life circumstance.

In spring 2019, Governor Jay Inslee signed into law Senate Bill 5641 to create a statewide kinship care legal aid coordinator. The state budget was expanded to include $500,000 for growth of the Kinship Care Support Program and $468,000 to fund Tribal Navigators for Native American families. One of the bill’s supporters was Rep. Eric Pettigrew, who in 2002 helped create a statewide Kinship Care Oversight Committee that led to development of the state’s kinship programming.

The Seattle Times published an article Dec. 28, 2018, about kinship care and reimbursement rates in comparison to foster care. According to the Times, about 43,000 relatives other than parents are raising children in Washington State. More than 90 percent of those caregivers are grandparents. The article includes data that most families choose not to become legal foster parents because of state scrutiny over the welfare system. Informal kinship-care arrangements are four times more common than formal foster care.

Generations United, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, collects data about government costs and savings related to kinship care. The agency coordinates projects to strengthen intergenerational connections and offers ways for families to advocate for system improvements to benefit children, youth and older adults.

The Military Parent Technical Assistance Center, The Branch, provides specific guidance about benefits and other issues that impact short- and long-term kinship caregivers in military families.