About respite care for children with additional needs

Respite care is when someone looks after your child with 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

It can be hard to take a break from caring for your child. But it’s good for you, your family and your child.

Caring can be stressful and emotionally and physically tiring. Taking a break 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 dinner with your partner, get an uninterrupted night’s sleep once a week, or go on holiday.

Taking a break can also give you a chance to spend time with your partner or other children.

Respite care is also a break for your child. Your child can have a change from her usual routine and do something different. This can help her 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, your child’s age and 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.

In-home respite
This is when a carer comes to your home to care for your child. You 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 him out – for example, to a local park.

Centre-based respite
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 and outings too.

Community access respite
This kind of respite gets your child involved in activities that can help her 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.

Facility-based respite
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 difficult for you to access. 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 go to an appointment. You might find it hard to ask for or accept help when it’s offered, but people who care about you and your child will want to support you.

It can 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. You’ll need to ask whether services can accommodate children with additional needs.

Recreational activities
Music classes, story time at the local library, Scouts, Guides, 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. You’ll need to ask whether these activities and organisations can accommodate children with additional needs.

Some government-funded and community organisations run camps specifically for children with additional needs.

Mainstream child care
Long day care centres, family day care and occasional care services can get support to include children with additional needs through the Australian Government’s Inclusion Support Programme.

Emergency respite care for children

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’re unexpectedly unable to care for your child – for example, if you’re ill.

Emergency respite care might be for a few hours, overnight or for several days or more.

Here’s how to find out about emergency respite care in your area:

  • Call your local Commonwealth Respite and Carelink Centre on 1800 052 052 during business hours, or on 1800 059 059 for emergency respite support at other times.
  • Contact the Carer Gateway on 1800 422 737, Monday to Friday 8 am-6 pm.

Costs of 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.

You might be able to get funding to help with the cost of respite. Call your local Commonwealth Respite and Carelink Centre on 1800 052 052 to find out more.

The NDIS and respite care

If you live in an area covered by the NDIS, you might get some respite care as part of your child’s NDIS plan.

The NDIS doesn’t use the term ‘respite’. But you can still get a break from caring responsibilities if the support benefits your child. For example, your child’s NDIS plan might include someone coming to your home to help with personal care, or support for your child to take part in social and community activities and build skills.

It’s a good idea to talk with your NDIS professional about what will suit your child and your family’s goals and needs so you can work together to identify the right supports.

Finding respite care

To find out about respite care options in your local area, you can contact: