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Respite care for children

Respite care is a form of short-term substitute care provided by someone other than the parents or usual carers for a child.

The 1989 Children Act provides a clear framework for the provision of short-term care known as respite care. The act requires children to be consulted about their needs, the services to be provided and if a child is using ‘respite care’, Hackney children’s social care services draw up a care plan, visit the child from time to time and review the placements on a regular basis. Whichever agency is providing the short-term care, it should always be part of an integrated and co-coordinated approach to meeting the child’s needs.


Respite care provides a series of pre-planned short term placements of a particular child with the same carer. However, this would be subject to the availability of the carer and their approval. The length and timing of the arrangements can vary according to the specific needs of the child and their family.

Respite care for children with disabilities is accessed following an assessment from the disabled children’s team. This can be either in the residential respite; or family based respite care scheme Hackney Family Back Up; a Hackney foster carer; or a specialist residential placement for children with complex needs.

Care in the home

Respite care can also be offered in the home to help families with the care of the child with disabilities. It gives parents free time, to enable them a rest, spend time with their other children or in an emergency. No single respite placement is for more than four weeks.

It can be arranged on a one off or a regular basis. It can also be arranged for short periods of time (such as a few hours) or for longer stays of a week or more. Respite care is usually arranged on a planned basis, but it may be arranged quickly in an emergency situation.

Why do children need respite care?

Respite care can be used for the benefit of children and their families.  Families can be offered respite where there has been a family crisis or problem for which they need some support or assistance. This includes a family illness, the parents finding the child’s behaviour very difficult to handle or the parent is not coping. Respite care offers a break or a series of breaks that could act to prevent a family breakdown or the child being placed in foster care.

The true value of the respite care is that it seeks to maintain a child in their own home and helps to keep families together.

Are all children who need respite care difficult and disturbed?

All children who are placed in respite care will go 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. Indeed there could have been many circumstances in their lives that mean they need sensitive care.

The way in which children react and respond to changes whilst being introduced into an alternative home will be different. Some can be aggressive and uneasy, others may at first be over polite and willing to please. Others will withdraw into themselves, or act as if they haven’t a care in the world. In some circumstances children can 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.

What respite care does do, is provide the family and the child with the chance of a break while at the same time helping social care services to gain more understanding of both the child and family’s needs. Respite carers work very closely with families 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:

  • are recruited and approved by the Council’s children’s social care services
  • provide respite care in their own home
  • provide short term and emergency placements
  • are available at short notice
  • work with children of varied ages
  • 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
  • provide clear, firm but fair boundaries
  • protect them and provide their identified 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

Requirements of becoming a respite carer

Becoming a respite carer requires:

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

Assessment for becoming a respite carer

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. A family assessment will be completed during a number of visits to your home. The completed assessment is submitted to the Council’s fostering panel. Subject to the Panel’s agreement, you will be approved and registered as a Council respite carer. For more information, please contact us.

Service providers and partners

We work with parents, carers, children and young people to plan respite care. We also work with the Hackney Family Back Up through a contract to provide this support.

For other enquiries, contact the fostering service.

Page updated on: 4 July 2019

Disabled Children’s Service


Technology And Learning Centre
1 Reading Lane
E8 1GQ


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