Respite caregivers needed for the Mid-Shore
CHESTER — On the Mid-Shore there is a significant need for respite care. “There are children who are difficult to place otherwise, children that need a chance to succeed,” said Leslie Allen, Maryland state administrator for Children’s Choice, a respite and foster care agency providing service to the Mid- and Lower Shore. Children’s Choice offers parents and caregivers the opportunity for respite care. The agency works with mental health professionals and the Department of Juvenile Services.
The mission of Children’s Choice is to bring together a dedicated, highly trained staff with a faith-based philosophy to support individuals and families who want to open their homes and their hearts to foster children.
Many of the children are between the ages of 8 and 12 and have a medical or mental or behavioral health diagnosis. Their parents don’t have the support they need to allow them to take a much-needed rest from the challenges, said Allen.
Often these children would not do well in an after school program or have such challenges that it becomes difficult for a grandparent or other family member to help provide care and allow the parent a rest.
Allen said the respite program is voluntary and is a service that can be requested by the parent or physician/therapist of a child with a qualifying mental or behavioral health diagnosis.
Respite allows these kids to experience new things in a different environment while receiving the benefit of structured parenting, said Allen. The respite can include after school activities, church or youth group activities with the respite family and overnight weekend visits.
Children’s Choice is licensed by the Md. Department of Human Resources, said Allen, and families have to go through a 30-hour training course to make themselves available as respite providers. However, Allen said they want to make the program acces- sible and want to encourage persons who are interested in becoming respite caregivers; they will work around work schedules of the parents who wish to provide respite.
In addition, respite care is funded through medical assistance allowing a financial stipend to those providing respite.
Often they are hear that someone is interested in becoming a foster parent, they really want to help, they have a lot to offer, but they are nervous about making a full-time commitment, Allen said. Respite is a great place to start becoming involved, she suggested.
As a respite family with Children’s Choice, there is a maximum of 12 overnights per quarter when participating in the program.
Parents Tommy and Michelle Conneely work with Children’s Choice to provide respite care in addition to being full-time foster parents.
Although other agencies in the state work to provide respite care, Conneely said they chose Children’s Choice because they provide therapeutic respite. Parents of five older children themselves, they found themselves with an empty nest, said Tommy Conneely.
“We had something that we could share, and we thought that we could be a benefit to these children and make a difference,” he said.
The two have been participating in the program for two years now. Michelle Conneely said many of these children are or have been in foster care or are being raised by someone other than a parent, and respite services allow these caregivers to regroup and take a break.
Respite provides a chance for the children to start over clean to go back to their homes with a fresh slate, said Conneely.
“We felt like we could bless these kids ... some of them just need a little bit of hope, and we know from having had our own struggles and struggles with their own kids that it is not always easy,” she said. “But you don’t have to be a perfect parent, you just need to be able to show them love and be able to give them a safe place.”
Tommy Conneely said the kids love coming to their home, and they keep a regular routine with school, church and daily activities. The plan is always re-unification with the biological parent, and both agree it is easy to get attached, but being able to work with and be a part of these children’s lives is a blessing to them as well, the Conneelys said.
“We are just hoping to plant seeds of faith and provide a good foundation, it is awesome to see theses kids changing through a positive influence,” he said.
For more information about Children’s Choice and how to become a respite provider, contact Andrew McCauley, project supervisor for the MidShore. The office is located at 1563 Postal Road in Chester, or he may be contacted by phone at 410-643-9290 or visit www.childrenschoice.org.