The Church Ministers Through Parent Respite Care

Special Needs Respite Care Programs

The church can minister to parents by offering respite programs to give temporary, short-term relief.

If you are looking for a feel-good, act-good, be happy and have fun opportunity, respite care is it. Everyone benefits. But it takes organization, careful planning and budget.If you are looking for a feel-good, act-good, be happy and have fun opportunity, respite The church can minister to parents by offering respite programs to giveemporary, short-term relief hurch can minister to parents by offering respite programs to give temporary, short-term relief to caregiveu are looking for a feel-good, act-good, be happyand have fun opportunity, respite care is it. Everyone benefits. But it takes organization, careful planning and budget.If you are looking for a feel-good, act-good, If you are looking for a feel-good, act-good, be happy and have fun opportunity, respite care is it. Everyone benefits. But it takes organization, careful planning and budget. Respite care provides needed time off by providing goal-oriented time for persons with intellectual or physical disabilities or other chronic illnesses. Most church respite is temporary – once a week, once a month – although some churches are involved in longer-term care such as a weekday care or weekend respite care. These longer respites may require licensing by the city or state.

Circumstances in each congregation are different, so the churches’ task is to discover where parents’ needs lie as they consider one or all of a broad spectrum of models:

  • At-church recreational respite for persons of all individual ages with special needs staffed by a director, nurse and volunteers. Or it may be a parent cooperative with a parent director who coordinates with church staff. If resources are not sufficient, consider providing housing in cooperation with another community group that will staff and operate the respite program with oversight participation of the local church. Some churches include siblings in respite care, but our group does not. Siblings have time with parents.
  • In-home respite care involves a trained volunteer who is a companion who entertains, feeds, etc.  Some churches hire a trained person to provide respite for caregivers with a fragile person.
  • Crisis nursery care gives parents a break during a time of family crisis, and, in some instances, crisis childcare can prevent child abuse by removing a child from an emotionally charged situation.
  • Adult day respite care – some are dementia specific, some are entertainment and food, some offer therapy, etc.
  • Community cooperative respite care is jointly planned by several churches that rotate facilities and staffing. This is usually for adult care, but works for other ages.
  • Summer day camp daily care is usually short term and for children or teens. It requires a director, medical assistant and church volunteers.


Getting started


Form a taskforce to discover respite needs that currently exist, then consider what other options are available to parents. Present a proposal to your council on disabilities or governing board that will give permission to go forward in establishing a respite care program. Interested parents should be part of the taskforce.

Chapelwood’s Respite Care Program

The following mission statement was written as the taskforce worked through our goals:

Called by a loving God to serve persons with special needs, we will provide a loving and secure haven for persons with special needs that will provide time away for caregivers.

After the respite program is in operation, an advisory board oversees its operation, and parents then become beneficiaries, but their opinions are solicited.

The greatest need at Chapelwood was expressed by parents of teens, so our taskforce targeted that age. Job descriptions were written for a director, nurse and volunteer mentors or buddies. Sample job descriptions are at the end of this paper.

A respite program requires investigation in the local church about insurance, emergency procedures and emergency paperwork for students, budget and definition of boundaries. Who can attend?

Will it cost them? How will leaders be trained? Who will train leaders in Safe Sanctuary? What shall the program be called?

Our program is called Pals’ Place. It meets monthly from 6:00 until 9:30 for supper, activities, and special entertainment. There is much socialization. Parents pay $10.00. Reservations must be made in advance. In the last three years, attendance has more than doubled, and several attendees that were not church members have joined the church and/or they attend other weekly functions.

A church respite care program may have several goals, but all of them can be achieved only when the program establishes trust with caregivers. Their participation in establishing the program builds trust.

For students Pals’ Place provides the following:

  • safety
  • a spiritual environment
  • activities with purpose
  • socialization
  • food in the form of meals or snacks
  • fun


Creating a respite care program is a win-win situation for church, parents and students. Your program will look different from others as you work to meet individual needs, but to ensure that it is an ongoing program, the advisory board overlooking  it  should be attached to the proper church committee or staff person.


Parents who know the care resources in the community are outstanding resources.

How to start a respite program:

Job description ideas:

Job Description

Director of Pals’ Place


The director of the monthly respite care program for youth will have ultimate responsibility for all aspects of the program and will report as required to the church’s Respite Care Advisory Board (RCAB). The person ministering to those with intellectual and other disabilities and their families in this position must have a sense that this is something God has called them to do.

Specific Duties:

1.   Using the input of the Advisory Board and the guidelines of the mission statement, prepare a written outline of the program including goals for the families, children and the church

2.   Establish a written manual outlining the requirements of medical, paid staff and volunteers involved with the program.

3.   Report monthly to the RCAB regarding the program’s attendance and compare actual outcomes to mission statement and expected outcomes.

4.   Ascertain that all participants in the program are eligible to attend and accept monthly reservations.

5.   Keep records on all attendees including emergency contact information, medical information, etc.

6.   Plan meaningful activities for participants for each session and supervise the staff or volunteers to be sure that the planned sessions are carried out effectively.

7.   Staff each respite night adequately with staff, volunteers and RN.

8.   Establish written guidelines that assure the safety of both the children and the volunteers. Share these guidelines with parents.

9.   Director must satisfy the screening process of the church known as Safe Sanctuary.

10.                 At least annually prepare a written survey to be completed by   the parents of the children participating in the program and communicate the results of the survey to the RCAB.

11.                 Attend training as required by RCAB.

12.                 Be responsible for a petty cash fund not to exceed ­________and prepare monthly accounting of revenue and expenses to be presented to the RCAB.

Job Description



PALS PLACE will meet once each month in the new Circle of Friends facility. A director will plan and supervise activities, and a nurse will be on staff.

Volunteers will serve as mentors to teen-age students who have physical and/or mental challenges. Mentors are friends who help when needed. Some mentors will be assigned to an individual and others will work with a group.

What will you do?

1.    Learn names of students (they wear name tags)

2.    Arrive on time (5:30) to welcome students at 6:00.

3.    Help students with food.

4.    Engage students in conversation.

5.    Assist students in recreational activities.

6.    Assist to the restroom and if necessary stay with student.

7.    Watch for when to help and when to stay in the background.

8.    Enjoy yourself. These students are FUN.

9.    Remain in the room until the last student is gone and help clean up.

10.                 Notify the director if you will be late or absent.

11.                 After experiencing the group, make suggestions for programming or handling students.

12.                  Attend orientation training prior to working.

13.                 Pass safe sanctuary check for working with children and special needs of all ages.