Respite care­givers needed for the Mid-Shore

Record Observer - - News - By HAN­NAH COMBS hcombs@kibay­

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.chil­dren­

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