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Can Emergency Respite Program Handle Behavioral Challenges?

by Jill Kagan, Respite Care Expert
August 06, 2015

Question: Is the emergency respite program equipped to handle behavioral challenges imposed by the care recipient and do they have policies and procedures in place for doing so?


Consider an individual with serious mental health issues who may have a history of repeated suicide attempts, a child with autism, or an adult with dementia, who is adept at escaping his or her surroundings and running away. When the family is already in crisis due to the situation that warranted emergency respite, they need to feel confident that their loved one will be cared for in a safe, responsible and supportive manner.

Not all respite programs can offer that degree of care. It is therefore up to the professionals who are assisting families in crisis, to assist them in finding appropriate accommodations for their loved one with extensive special needs. While these are concerns that everyone who seeks planned respite must consider, for those in a crisis situation there may not be time for the caregiver to research whether or not these concerns will be appropriately addressed.

Accessing Services. If a family member is anticipating an emergency situation, like an impending trial date or a planned medical procedure, they have time to prepare for care that is out of the realm of their traditional planned respite. Even for a family who does not receive planned respite services, advanced warning provides them with an opportunity to find safe shelter for the family members in their care.  These situations allow caregivers to plan for short term ‘emergency’ respite care.

 Planning for a possible emergency is somewhat easier for families who regularly use planned respite or are involved in other family caregiver support services. They already have a relationship with a provider and can more easily broach the subject of planning in the event of an emergency.

Not all families have additional family, friends and respite providers who they can call upon in an emergency. For those families who are isolated and lack family or a social network of potential helpers, they may want to contact their health care provider, hospital social worker, public health nurse, law enforcement or other professional helpers who can direct them quickly to the services they may need.

There are always some emergencies that do not allow for a caregiver to thoughtfully turn over the care to someone else. Again planning in advance is critical.

Jill Kagan, MPH, is the Director of the ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center and Chair of its policy division, the National Respite Coalition. ARCH has been a leader in the areas of respite research and evaluation, training, advocacy, and consumer issues for more than twenty years.

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