To understand the possibilities of respite care ministries at your church, try this experiment: call it the “Blue Buick” experiment. Think about your drive to work or school yesterday. How many blue cars do you recall seeing on the road around you?
According to people who know, about six percent of your fellow motorists are behind the wheels of blue cars—so they’re all around you. But until you’re looking for them, blue cars are all but invisible.
It’s like that with lots of things in life: Until you’re paying attention, you don’t notice them. It’s as if they don’t exist.
What’s true for blue cars is equally true of families raising children with special needs. A mom pushing a wheelchair through the park. A dad strolling along holding the hand of his daughter with Down syndrome. When’s the last time you saw a scene like that?
To be fair, spotting a family raising a child with special needs can be hard to do because they aren’t necessarily where you’ll see them. They can’t be—given the challenges of caring for a child with special needs, these families are often unable to go take in a movie, make it to the neighborhood pool, or show up at church.
They wish they could, but they can’t.
And when you get a glimpse of the life they’re leading, you can understand why.
The need for respite care—by the numbers
According to the National Respite Coalition, there are nearly 17 million unpaid family caregivers taking care of children with special needs in the United States.
Nearly half of those caregivers report they’re overwhelmed, and that they have far more caregiving to do than they can handle. More than half spend 40 hours per week providing support to their children—and half of that number is at it 80 hours per week.
Caregiving is exhausting, emotionally draining work—and it takes a toll.
Family caregivers report suffering from physical fatigue (88%), emotional stress (81%), and experience emotional upset or guilt (81%) some or most of the time.
These are families on the edge. They’re fraying and frustrated, peering into a very long, very dark tunnel without seeing even a pinprick of light at the far end.
What these family caregivers need is a break—a place they can safely leave their children for a few hours so they can rest and recharge.
Except finding those places is proving difficult.
A study done in Massachusetts echoes what’s happening elsewhere in the country: Try as they might, families can’t find anyone to provide respite care (64%). And even if a respite care option is located, more than half of families (52%) can’t afford it.
Imagine how these families would respond if your church offered an afternoon or overnight of respite care once or twice a month.
Imagine the needs that would be met for these families. Imagine the growth in the lives of your staff and volunteers who served. And imagine how the character of God would be revealed to members of your congregation as families who love so deeply were drawn to find a home in your church.
The power of respite care
A study conducted by researcher Marsha Mailick Selzer found that mothers of children with autism experience a hormone associated with stress that’s on par with levels found in combat soldiers.
Let that sink in for a moment.
The stress of raising an adolescent with aggressive behaviors due to autism ranks up there alongside being shot at by enemy troops…though there’s one key difference.
Soldiers who survive combat eventually rotate off the front lines. Not so for the parents of kids with special needs. They’re on the front lines forever.
Caring for their children can make sleeping through the night a distant memory. It can erode patience and empty bank accounts. It can make it next to impossible to focus on the typically-developing children in their families, the kids who’ve not received a special-needs diagnosis.
Because taking time for self-care feels selfish, exercise goes by the wayside. So does shopping for and cooking healthy food. More and more often dinner comes home in a sack.
Life becomes a blur of appointments with therapists, doctors, counselors, educators, and intervention specialists. There’s no break, no buffer, no way to push “pause” and catch a breath.
If only there was some way these parents could rest, even for a few hours. Some way they could unwind and find respite.
There is—because your church can provide it.
To find out more about respite care and how your church can provide this ministry, check out the book, Jill’s House: The Gift of Rest.