By Lea Johnson
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Parents and caregivers of special needs children have been anxiously waiting for this moment to arrive.
July 8 marked the launch of the Air Force’s Respite Care Program for families of special needs children.
Jackie Wickham, Exceptional Family Member Program family support coordinator, said “Respite care, to simply put it, is a short term break for parents or caregivers from their special needs children.”
Colorado Springs is currently one of only seven cities to offer the program. The service is available to eligible families at Peterson Air Force Base, Schriever Air Force Base and the U.S. Air Force Academy.
“We are so very pleased that this program has finally been launched and we were lucky enough to be on the ground floor to provide this service to our families,” said Paul Smith, chief of the Airman and Family Readiness Center.
To be eligible for the program, Wickham said, families must be enrolled in EFMP, provide documentation of the severity of the disability as decided by a physician, and provide proof of deployment if applicable. Eligible families will receive between eight and 20 hours a month of free care for their child, the amount being determined by the degree of disability and if there is a deployed family member.
She also said it’s important for families to remember that enrollment in EFMP does not guarantee eligibility for respite care.
Respite care has previously been available off base in Colorado Springs but for many families, the cost was more than they could afford to pay. Now, Wickham said, the Air Force will cover the cost.
To further ease the load, families are able to choose neighbors or friends, people they already know and trust, to be the care giver.
Anyone interested in becoming a care giver must fill out an application through the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies. “They do the background checks, CPR classes, all the training that is necessary to be a provider,” Wickham said.
The training and background checks can take a significant amount of time. “It’s really in their best interest if the provider gets signed up as soon as possible and trained,” Wickham said.
If families choose, they can also use an organization already established in the area. In most cases, Smith said, respite care takes place in the child’s home.
Parents are free to use the time however they wish. “These parents are providing 24-7 care for this child,” Smith said. “The idea of this is just to give that parent a few hours within that month that they can go to the movies, or get their hair done, or read a book. They really do deserve this break.”
Applications for families and care givers are available online at www.naccrra.com. For more information call the Peterson A&FRC at 556-6141.