Churches, mental health inclusion and respite care…

BPC respite teamIn the sixth installment of our series, Ten Strategies for Promoting Mental Health Inclusion at Church, Steve discusses respite care as a practical strategy for churches seeking to connect with families of kids with significant mental illness.

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

shutterstock_174158831According 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 I was actively serving in a respite ministry offered by a nearby church, the majority of kids served had a primary mental health concern as opposed to a more traditional “special need.”

Through providing respite care, churches can step in the gap to meet an immediate need for parents of kids with mental illness while providing an opportunity for members and attendees to serve others in a practical way and connect with families who likely lack a meaningful connection with a local church. A growing number of churches are offering respite events to kids and families through special needs ministries. The “invite list” may be easily expanded to reach families of kids with primary mental health concerns.

Churches can host respite events without stigmatizing kids with mental health disabilities while serving kids with physical and intellectual disabilities is by providing a “buddy” to everyone, including “typical” siblings of kids attending the event.

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.

Smaller churches without the facilities or volunteer resources to consider hosting respite events might consider a “relational respite” service 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 receiving respite.

Both of our ministry consultants (Shannon and Ryan) serve at churches offering respite and are available to respond to specific questions or inquiries about starting respite or serving kids with mental health concerns through existing respite programs. I’d also direct church staff/volunteers seeking to launch respite ministries to two outstanding organizations supporting rapidly expanding respite networks across the U.S…

Buddy BreakBuddy Break is the respite ministry of Nathaniel’s Hope, with 75 churches currently offering respite in 12 states and another 27 churches trained and in the pipeline. Churches participating in Buddy Break get training for their leadership team and volunteer buddies, tools for building a safe and sustainable ministry, promotional materials, ongoing coaching and support and membership in a national Buddy Break network.

rEcessrEcess is the respite ministry of 99 Balloons, with 21 active sites operating in 11 states and Canada. rEcess operates under an open source model, which is implemented and run by the host church and local rEcess leadership team after agreeing to several “non-negotiables” (a ministry team, an established location accessible to persons with disabilities and a completed program agreement) in exchange for the tools to support your ministry and the right to use the rEcess name.

Respite ministry is an incredibly practical strategy for connecting with families of kids with mental illness in your local community that meets an immediate need through demonstrating the love of Christ!

Photo: Respite volunteers of Bay Presbyterian Church in prayer, February 6, 2015


KM Logo UpdatedKey Ministry has assembled resources to help churches more effectively minister to children and adults with ADHD, anxiety disorders, Asperger’s Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, depression and trauma. Please share our resources with any pastors, church staff, volunteers or families looking to learn more about the influence these conditions can exert upon spiritual development in kids, and what churches can do to help!

About Dr. G

Dr. Stephen Grcevich serves as President and Founder of Key Ministry, a non-profit organization providing free training, consultation, resources and support to help churches serve families of children with disabilities. Dr. Grcevich is a graduate of Northeastern Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), trained in General Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland/Case Western Reserve University. He is a faculty member in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at two medical schools, leads a group practice in suburban Cleveland (Family Center by the Falls), and continues to be involved in research evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medications prescribed to children for ADHD, anxiety and depression. He is a past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Dr. Grcevich was recently recognized by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers in children’s mental health. His blog for Key Ministry, was ranked fourth among the top 100 children's ministry blogs in 2015 by Ministry to Children.
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4 Responses to Churches, mental health inclusion and respite care…

  1. Yes and let’s not forget the children and teenagers of a parent with a mental illness who too often are invisible people.

    Children and teenagers of a parent with a mental illness could use some respite too. They are often invisible to others and so much has been written only for the adult child of a mentally ill parent. Australia is ahead of us on this and NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) is currently working on this.

    I have a page with what I’ve found for children of all ages of a parent with a mental illness.

    I also have a page for parents who have a mental illness.


  2. Michelle Dawson says:

    Hello i am leaving a reply to how ever sees this in hope that some one can direct my email to the right hands i have many mental illnesses wbich hane led me done the path that i can not return back to mysef for the past year sever depression a heart condition an a rare bbrain malformation that has changed my life negatively i have twins that itake care of on my own i do nothing but suclude myself they pretty much do everything else i do have outside the help a respite programe has been mentioned but i habve no care for the twins and they dont want to leave me however i need to get out of this ugly place i hate so much so much of it has ruined my life ive looked everywhere here at home no one is willing to help me because its not for outside their state. I want my life back i want to be my twins mom again


    • drgrcevich says:

      Hi Michelle,

      We’d encourage you to follow through on the suggestions here to find help for yourself…and please call a friend, neighbor or family member and let them know you’re in need of help.

      We made a point of praying for you.


  3. karina afaro says:

    Hi, I would l ike to know if I can get someone from respite care to provide care at Sunday School class? While my husband and I are upstairs in the preaching? I know respite care can come to our home on Sundays and watch over our son that has Autism


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