Grandparents and Other Relatives Raising Children: Respite Care

— Generations United
Updated on Dec 16, 2008


“If I could just have an hour to myself every so often.” “My energy level is not the same as when I parented the first time.” “Other people don’t realize how hard it is… or how gratifying it is.” These are comments that grandparent and relative caregivers have made when asked about needing a break, or respite, from their daily caregiving responsibilities.

This fact sheet is about “grandfamilies” or families in which grandparents or other relatives are primarily responsible for caring for children who live with them. Reasons causing these grandfamilies to come together include parental substance abuse, military deployment, incarceration, poverty, HIV/AIDS, and death. Like most families, these caregivers occasionally need a break from their 24-hour, 365 days a year role.

Almost six million children across the country are living in households headed by grandparents or other relatives, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.1 4.4 million of these children are in grandparent-headed households, and another 1.5 million live in households headed by other relatives, such as aunts or uncles.2 About 2.4 million grandparents are responsible for most of the basic needs of the children, but unfortunately similar Census data does not exist for the other relatives. 3

The National Family Caregiver Support Program (NFCSP)4 was created in 2000 as part of the Older Americans Act (OAA). Administered by the Administration on Aging (AoA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the NFCSP allows for all states, working in partnership with Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) and local community-service providers, to offer five categories of support services for grandparents and other relatives who are relative caregivers of children, and family caregivers. The Older American Act (OAA) was reauthorized in Congress in 2006, changing the age of eligibility from 60 to 55. This allows more than 400,000 families to be newly eligible.

One of the programs created under the NFCSP is respite care. Respite care allows temporary relief for those caregivers from their responsibilities. Area Agencies on Aging receive funding to provide or contract with a local agency respite services to caregivers.

Respite Care Terms


Respite care provides relief to informal primary caregivers by providing shortterm services to a care recipient. Care is primarily provided to people with: disabilities or other special needs, chronic or terminal illnesses, or individuals at risk of abuse and neglect. 5 Children being raised by grandparents or other older relatives may have special needs resulting from a difficult start in life.


The two main purposes of caregiver respite are: (1) to decrease individual and family stresses associated with caregiving, and (2) to postpone or avoid the need for institutionalization of the care recipient. For grandparents and other relatives, respite may prevent the children they are raising from entering the formal foster care system. In all cases, the underlying values associated with respite care include support and preservation of family or caregiving relationships. 6

Types of Respite

There are two basic types of respite:

  • Brief, regularly scheduled episodes, which allow caregivers to do routine chores and/or take a break, or
  • Sporadic, longer periods, which allow caregivers to leave town for business or vacation, go into the hospital, or attend to another emergency.7

Respite programs can occur in a variety of settings including families’ homes, providers’ homes, residential facilities, camps, day care centers, recreational facilities, churches, therapeutic child development centers, family resource centers, schools, and senior centers. Programs are often administered by public or private welfare agencies, mental health agencies, religious institutions, family resource centers, childcare centers, aging service providers, or some combination thereof. 8

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