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Huntsville, Alabama

Innovative and Exemplary:

HEARTS (Health, Emergency, And Respite Treatment Service) provides home-based respite to caregivers of children birth to 19 years with intellectual, developmental, or physical disabilities, mental or behavioral health conditions, and chronic illness or special medical needs through a voucher service model. Beginning as a single respite service 28 years ago, HEARTS has been replicated statewide in Alabama by five United Cerebral Palsy affiliates, totaling six programs that serve families in all 67 counties in Alabama. Funded by the Alabama Department of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention, and the Children’s Trust Fund, HEARTS’ approach is guided by protective factors research and includes a thoughtful and intentional model of parent education and support. Caregivers are informed and supported in selecting and training respite providers, and are reimbursed for respite costs through flexible funding that may be increased based upon family need. Parents are also offered training and support in stress reduction, strengthening parenting knowledge and skills, pediatric CPR and first aid, and responding to emergency situations. In addition to parent-to-parent support, a Caregiver Wellness Initiative provides mental health counseling stipends and social work staff, and monthly support groups supplement respite breaks and caregiver education. Formal evaluation is conducted and a report produced by an outside evaluator, and data are regularly collected to allow program staff to make informed decisions to support families in real time.