Respite care tries to keep families together by offering children a break, or a regular series of breaks, from a difficult family environment or a problem for which the child needs some support or help. This could help prevent family breakdown or a child being placed in foster care.

Shared care is a similar service linking children and young people with disabilities to approved carers who look after them for short periods of time. This can be from a few hours to a weekend a month.

Below is more information about shared care and some frequently asked questions about about respite care for children in Portsmouth, and information on how to become a respite or shared carer. 

To find out more about respite or shared care for children, phone Portsmouth City Council on 023 9283 9111, or Beechside respite care unit on 023 9264 2291.

Shared care provides regular short term breaks for children and young people with disabilities, in the households of approved carers who look after them for short periods of time. This can be from a few hours to a weekend a month.

The children who use the shared care service may have a physical disability, a learning difficulty or sensory impairment. The scheme gives them a chance to make new friends and to widen their experiences by spending time away from home with supportive carers.

The service is provided to families following an assessment of the young person's needs. Shared carers receive full training and a small allowance to cover expenses.

Primarily, it is day care for children in a family environment other than their own. The arrangement could be for short periods of time, such as a few hours in the morning or afternoon, after school or at set times over a weekend.

Occasionally respite carers can be asked to have the child for overnight stays, if appropriate. There are also instances when respite carers can be asked to provide longer terms of care of a week or more, but this would be subject to their availability, approval and would not exceed a period of four weeks.

Respite care can be arranged on a one off or a regular basis. It is usually planned in advance, but is sometimes arranged quickly in an emergency situation.

In short, respite care places a particular child with the same carer for a series of pre-planned short visits to give the family and the child a regular break. The length and timing of the arrangements depends on the needs of the child and their family.

For children to be offered respite care there has often been some family crisis, such as a family illness, parents finding the child's behaviour very difficult to handle or the parent not coping well. The true value of the respite carer scheme is that it seeks to maintain a child in their own home and helps to keep families together.

Children will to be consulted about their needs and about the services to be provided. The council's social services team will draw up a care plan for each child using respite care. Social services will visit the child from time to time and review the placements regularly. Respite care is part of an integrated and co-ordinated approach to meeting the child's needs.

All children referred to the respite carer scheme will have gone through change in their lives by being withdrawn from their own family, if only for a short time. They may have been emotionally disturbed and upset due to the events of a family crisis. Children in respite care could also have had to cope with other moves, maybe with relatives or alternative respite carers. There could be many reasons why a child needs sensitive care.

Respite care aims to provide families and children with regular breaks, but carers agree their level of commitment, taking their availability into account and the needs of their own family. Carers may be able to vary the times the visiting child is with them throughout the placement.

Some carers find it easier to work with just one or two children, while others enjoy the dynamics and demands of working with a number of children.

All children react and respond to the change of an alternative home differently. Some can be aggressive and uneasy, others may at first be over-polite and willing to please. Others withdraw into themselves, or act as if they haven't a care in the world. In some circumstances, children come from very deprived homes and on other occasions, they may have been neglected and not provided with the same level of care that you would be able to offer. Respite carers do work very closely with families and social services to help parents overcome the problems they experience. 

What is involved in being a respite carer?

Respite carers are a group of caring, responsible people who are trained to work with children and families offering them support, respite, advice and attention.

All respite carers:

  • work for the council's social services
  • work from their own home
  • prepare reports and assessments
  • provide short term emergency placements
  • support first time mothers before and after birth and assist with parenting skills
  • are available at short notice
  • work with children up to 14 years old
  • provide planned summer holiday care.

From a child's point of view, a respite carer will:

  • always treat them as part of the family
  • listen and talk to them
  • discipline them
  • protect them and look after their needs
  • be there for cuddles, reassurance and trust
  • help build ongoing relationships with people who are important to them and will provide them with information
  • work with different children at different times.

Respite carers are a group of caring, responsible people who are trained to work with children and families offering them support, respite, advice and attention.

All respite carers:

  • work for the council's social services
  • work from their own home
  • prepare reports and assessments
  • provide short term emergency placements
  • support first time mothers before and after birth and assist with parenting skills
  • are available at short notice
  • work with children up to 14 years old
  • provide planned summer holiday care.

From a child's point of view, a respite carer will:

  • always treat them as part of the family
  • listen and talk to them
  • discipline them
  • protect them and look after their needs
  • be there for cuddles, reassurance and trust
  • help build ongoing relationships with people who are important to them and will provide them with information
  • work with different children at different times.

Becoming a respite carer requires:

  • commitment
  • flexibility
  • energy
  • tolerance
  • ability to satisfy requirements of statutory checks and references
  • attendance at support training meetings.

You would not be considered suitable if:

  • you are over 58 years old
  • you and your partner work full time (unless you wish to do weekend respite)
  • any member of your household has a serious criminal conviction
  • you already respite or foster for another agency
  • you are currently waiting to adopt
  • you have a child currently being looked after by a social services department.

An initial visit to your home will take place to discuss the respite scheme.

With agreement to continue, your permission will be sought to undertake statutory checks and references. These include police, probation, health visitor (where appropriate) and two referees. You will be asked to attend a medical with your own doctor, paid for by Social Services. A health and safety inspection will be made on your home and garden.

Subject to satisfactory references and checks, you will be invited to attend a series of training sessions, and a family assessment will be completed during a number of visits to your home.

The council's social services panel has to approve your registration as a Portsmouth city council respite carer.

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