The impact of formal and informal respite care on foster, adoptive, and kinship parents caring for children involved in the child welfare system

Author(s): Madden, E.E., Chanmugam, A., McRoy, R.G., Kaufman, L., Ayers-Lopez, S., Boo, M., and Ledesma, K. J. (2016)

Published In: Child Adolesc Soc Work J, 33: 523-534

Study Aim/Purpose:
This study explored the utilization of formal and informal respite services by foster, adoptive and kinship parents, as well as the association between each of these kinds of respite on family experiences, ability to care for their children, and stress levels.

Summary of Methods:
Using a cross sectional study design, the authors conducted a survey that included a final sample of 160 foster, adoptive and kinship parents who had participated in parent support groups. The 42-item survey collected information on parent demographics and the type of respite the parents had received, and measured parents’ perception of the outcomes of respite (ability to care for their children, reduced stress, family stability, and family cohesion) as well as their reasons for using respite. The respite was categorized as either formal, informal, or a mixture of the two. “Formal” respite was defined to include financial assistance by an external entity to pay for in-home caretakers, group activities for children and youth hosted by parent support groups, or services provided by a private trained provider, respite care agency, day care or institution. “Informal” respite was defined to include paid or unpaid child care provided by friends, family, neighbors, or other caretakers selected by the respondent who were not reimbursed from an external entity.

Summary of Results:
The large majority of respondents reported positive outcomes of receiving respite, regardless of type. This was true on all the outcome/ family experience measures. Parents who used a combination of formal and informal respite reported positive experiences related to respite more frequently than the parents who received just formal or just informal respite, with a particularly stronger association with family stability. Additionally, parents who had used formal respite (either alone or mixed with informal respite) reported greater stress reduction than those who had only used informal respite.

Study Limitations (as cited by authors):
Study authors noted several limitations in their research. Particularly they suggested that because the sample was recruited from support group participants, the findings may not be generalizable to a broader population of foster, adoptive and kinship parents. The lack of data on the children was also noted as a limitation.

Authors’ Discussion/Conclusions:
The authors suggest several practical implications of their findings. First, they recommend that families should use a mix of informal and informal respite care to allow them to maximize opportunities for taking care of themselves and their families’ needs. Second, they recommend that access to formal respite care should be increased for this population because of its beneficial effect on reducing stress levels and enhancing family stability. They also stress that further research is needed to examine how outcomes for families vary based on the type of respite services accessed as well as the need for more research to examine the benefits of respite services for children.