About respite care for children with disability, autism or other additional needs
Respite care is when someone looks after your child with disability, autistic child or child with other additional needs.
Respite care can be for a few hours during the day. It can also be overnight or for longer periods like a few weeks. You might use respite care occasionally or on a regular basis. Your child can be cared for in your home or somewhere else.
You can get respite care from respite care services. Or you might arrange something informally with family and friends or use community recreational activities.
Why respite care for children is good for families
Taking a break is good for you, your family and your child.
Respite care gives you the chance to recharge and look after yourself. For example, you could go to a weekly exercise class, meet friends, go out for a meal with your partner, get an uninterrupted night’s sleep, or go on holiday.
Taking a break can give you a chance to spend more time with your partner or other children.
Respite care is also a break for your child. Your child can have a change from their usual routine. This can help your child develop new skills and some independence.
It’s OK to say you need a break. When you look after your physical and mental wellbeing, you’ll be better able to look after your child.
Formal respite care services
You might have a range of respite options depending on where you live, how old your child is, what your child needs and what you want to get out of respite care. Many respite services have waiting lists, so it’s a good idea to plan ahead.
This is when a support worker comes to your home to care for your child. Your child might get care for a few hours once a week, for longer periods, or overnight. The person might stay at home with your child or take them out – for example, to a local park.
This is when your child goes to a centre to be cared for in a group for part of the day. Centres or clubs often organise group activities, outings and holiday care programs.
Community access respite
This kind of respite gets your child involved in activities that can help them develop independent living and social skills. This could be a group in a neighbourhood house or at a community health centre. Or a support worker might go with you as a family to help you join in with a community activity.
This is when your child stays at a residential care home or at a cottage-style respite house. It might be overnight or for a longer stay.
Informal respite care
Formal respite care services might not suit your family, or they might be hard to get where you live. There are other options that can give you a break.
Family and friends
You could ask family and friends to look after your child while you go out for the evening or to an appointment. It’s good to ask for and accept help when it’s offered. And people who care about you and your child will want to support you.
It can also help to be specific about what you need. For example, you might say, ‘Can you look after Lachlan on Monday evening, please? I’d like to go to the cinema’.
After-school and vacation care
These services offer fun and inclusive activities for school-age children. They might be offered by your child’s school or by other providers like the YMCA. These services can get support to include children with disability, autistic children and children with other additional needs through the Australian Government’s Inclusion Support Program.
Inclusive music classes, story time at the local library, Scouts, sports clubs and other community groups can give your child something fun to get involved in. They can also be an opportunity for you to have a break and connect with other local parents.
Some government-funded and community organisations run camps specifically for children with disability, autistic children, or children with other additional needs.
Mainstream child care
Long day care centres, family day care and occasional care services can get support to include children with disability, autistic children and children with other additional needs through the Australian Government’s Inclusion Support Program.
Emergency respite care
Most respite care services need to be booked in advance, but you might be able to get emergency and short-term crisis care if you unexpectedly can’t care for your child – for example, if you’re very ill.
Emergency respite care might be for a few hours, overnight or for several days or more.
To find out about emergency respite care in your area, contact the Carer Gateway on 1800 422 737. Emergency respite is usually available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Funding for respite care
Some respite care services are free, but you’ll need to pay for others. The cost depends on the type of respite care, the provider and the length of time involved.
Alternatively, the NDIS might fund supports that give you a break from your caring responsibilities. For example, these supports might include help with personal care tasks or strategies that build your child’s skills and ability to take part in social and community activities.
If your child isn’t eligible for the NDIS, you might be able to get other funding to help with the cost of respite. Call Carer Gateway on 1800 422 737 to find out more.
Finding respite care
To find out about respite care options in your local area, you can contact:
- Carer Gateway on 1800 422 737, Monday-Friday, 8 am-5 pm
- your local council
- your state or territory disability service
- your NDIS professional.
You can also talk about respite care with an NDIS professional, even if you’re not eligible for NDIS support. To do this, call the NDIS on 1800 800 110, Monday to Friday 8 am-8 pm.