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Agency gives respite for special needs caregivers

Published October 08. 2019 01:41PM

Everyone needs a break sometime. Caregivers of special-needs children can attest to that.

Children with these challenges have emotional, behavioral or mental health issues, such as autism, attention-deficit disorder and learning disorders, said Melissa Dziedzic, director of Respite and Host Family Recruitment for Access Services.

Based in the Philadelphia area, Access Services provides a variety of support services from respite care to foster care in 11 counties: Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Chester, Delaware, Lehigh, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Pike and Schuylkill.

Respite service is available for adults with special needs in 10 of the counties it serves. But for children it is limited to a few counties. The service is provided free to the families, because the cost is covered by the county where the family resides, Dziedzic said.

Recently, Access expanded its respite services for children ages 0-21 to Northampton County. Northampton County agreed to cover the cost of the services through June 2023, because it discovered there has been a need for the service for a long time.

In Carbon County, Access has a few host families for children, and they will find funding on an as-needed basis, Dziedzic said.

According to the Access website, Carbon County has Life Day Programs for adults in Lehighton and Tamaqua to give them an opportunity to “develop functional skills and discover their talents through volunteer work and engaging social activities.”

For children, Dziedzic said “often times, these families haven’t found a baby sitter that can fully provide the care the children will need,” so without respite care, they are left without assistance.

She said respite service for children is not day care, but the nonprofit will assist families looking for daily or weekly child care. Access Services provides a home for a weekend once a month with a specially trained host family.

Parents use the weekend to de-stress, go shopping, sleep or do something special, Dziedzic said. Special needs children are not always able to do everything a typical child can do, so siblings miss out on these activities, too. Some parents use the weekend to do these activities with the sibling.

In order for a family to be considered for respite services, they need to complete an application that states why they want the service, and agree to have their child undergo a psychological evaluation. This helps Access Services to know exactly what the child needs and the best host-family environment for the child.

Once the paperwork is completed, then Access sets up a “meet and greet” for the family and a host family. That way they can decide if they think they are good match.

“Every child served is unique, and the skills and gifts that our providers offer are also unique. We work hard to make a successful match, which requires a proactive and person-centered approach,” said Kathy Skrapits, a respite coordinator.

Families can contact her at 484-7474-7429 or email at kskrapits@accessservices.org.

As far as host families, Dziedzic said, “there is such a high need for respite providers.”

Host families have been people who work with special needs children on a routine basis, such as teachers, nurses and therapists.

One reason they choose to be host families, is because “they want to get their children involved,” she said.

Host families have also been “empty nesters,” who don’t feel like their days of parenting are over, as well as people of a faith community who consider the service a ministry.

Anyone in Carbon County who would like to apply to be a host family should contact Casey Ciufo at 484-747-7588 or email her at cciufo@accessservices.org.

A list of Frequently Asked Questions about Host Family Programs is on the website at www.accessservices.org.

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