Why your church needs to start a respite care ministry


Raising a child with a significant mental illness or special need is often physically, emotionally, and financially draining. A limited amount of respite care may be available from government-funded agencies, but service is often expensive, waiting lists may be lengthy, the quality can be very inconsistent, and middle-class families often experience difficulty in accessing care.

According to information compiled by the National Resource Center for Community Based Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Grants (CBCAP), 75% of families with children ages 0-17 receiving support from the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program because of a disability had unmet respite needs, but only 8% were accessing respite care. Very little research has been done examining the respite care needs of families impacted by mental illness, but when our ministry was actively training churches across our region to offer respite events, the majority of kids served had primary mental health concerns as opposed to traditional “special needs.”

Through offering respite, churches help meet an immediate need for parents of kids with all types of disabilities and provide members and attendees with an opportunity to meaningfully serve others while forming connections with families who often lack a meaningful connection with a local church. 

What do respite events look like? They generally look like a party! Respite events are typically held on weekend nights for approximately three or four hours. Each guest with a disability, (as well as their typically developing siblings) is assigned a volunteer buddy. The volunteer and the guest spend time doing fun activities throughout the church while the guest’s parent(s) or caregivers enjoy the evening out for some well-deserved time off. This might mean a romantic dinner and a movie, a nap, a trip to the spa, or time to complete errands…whatever the parent/caregiver desires.

Churches can host respite without stigmatizing kids with mental health conditions or other "hidden disabilities" by providing “buddies” to everyone, including “typical” siblings of kids attending the event.

An alternative approach for smaller churches lacking the facilities or volunteer resources to host respite events is a “relational respite” model, described here by Libby Peterson, in which a family or a small group in a church takes turns providing respite in the home of the family being served.


The theme of our upcoming Inclusion Fusion Live Disability Ministry conference is every church can do something. We want to make it easy for any church to start a respite ministry to serve families of kids with disabilities. We're delighted that the largest church-based respite care network in the U.S. is partnering with us to make that possible! Nathaniel's Hope will be providing a day-long ministry intensive at Inclusion Fusion Live to provide the necessary training to churches seeking to launch new respite ministries.

This full-day Basic Leadership Training (BLT) will be led by Marie Kuck, co-founder and Executive Director of Nathaniel's Hope on Friday, April 20th from 9:00 AM-3:00 PM. This training constitutes the first step in launching a Buddy Break respite ministry. Buddy Break operates the largest church-based respite care network in the U.S., having trained over 200 churches in 28 states and Puerto Rico.


Whether your church is looking to start or expand your respite care ministry, this training  will enhance your church's ability to provide a high quality service to kids with disabilities, their parents and siblings. The $49 cost of the training (click here to register - check the ministry intensive option) includes workshop materials and lunch. The registration fee will be applied to the cost of a start-up kit for churches joining the Buddy Break network within during the next six months. The Buddy Break team will be available to your church for support every step of the way as you launch your respite care ministry. 

Come to Inclusion Fusion Live for the Buddy Break training and stay for the rest of the conference!