11 Tips for Finding, Hiring, and Training Caregivers for Your Special Needs Child
I’ve always been the sort of person who finds it difficult to ask for help. Whether working on a project or managing my home, I tend to push myself too hard just so I can say I accomplished a task on my own.
As the mother of a special needs child, however, I have learned many lessons and one of the biggest is that there is no shame in asking for help. You don’t need to be a working parent to search for in-home care, just a parent who needs a little support and an extra pair of hands to get through the day.
Hiring someone to care for your child is a big undertaking, especially when your child has special health care needs. With so many obstacles to finding someone with the skills needed to provide care for your child, it’s hard to know where to start.
These 11 tips for hiring a special needs caregiver will help you manage your search with confidence.
Related: 7 Ways to Be an Advocate for Your Child with Autism
What To Look For in a Special Needs Caregiver
A special needs caregiver might need certain certifications or a background in special education. These are items to consider as you begin your search.
1. Look for solid references or reviews
When looking for support for your child with special needs, look at the reviews or references of the facility or caregiver. Reference checks from past families should be easy to access or ask for. If a caregiver has limited referrals or is hesitant to let you contact past employers, that’s a red flag.
2. Look for certifications or previous experience
Depending on your child’s needs, you might only want special needs caregivers who have been trained in specific areas. For example, some parents prefer hiring nurses so they can give medication, handle feeding tubes with confidence, or stay calm when challenges arise. Other parents look for caregivers trained specifically in caring for children with autism or who are familiar with Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) behavioral approaches.
At the very least, the facility or caregiver should be up to date on CPR and first aid certifications. Hiring a caregiver with or in a program to attain a degree in special education is a great option. This will ensure they know how to provide emotional support or assistance for physical disabilities.
3. Always do a background check
Even if your neighbor recommended them and their references come out clean, always do a criminal background check. You want to have full confidence in knowing your child is safe and will get the support they deserve. You aren’t being overprotective or rude by requiring background checks for your applicants.
How To Interview a Special Needs Caregiver
Interviewing potential candidates can seem intimidating. These tips will make it a breeze:
4. Start with phone interviews
You probably don’t want to have 20 people in your home or travel to 15 daycares. Start by interviewing caregivers or daycares over the phone. When you get down to the final 3, it’s time to visit the site or bring them to your home for a face-to-face meeting.
5. Give them scenarios
Want to know how your caregiver would react if your child has a seizure? Ask them! Giving the applicant a few “what would you do” questions to answer might provide a world of insight.
6. Ask why they want the job
This might seem like a basic question, but it’s one that’s often overlooked. By asking this question, you can quickly get a feel for the caregiver’s intentions and heart. You might get a peek into their morals, life situation, or upbringing.
Training a New Caregiver
Training a new caregiver is crucial for their success. Start on the right foot with these helpful hints:
7. Start with a trial period
Onboarding a new caregiver for your child with special needs is like adding a family member. Instead of committing to hiring the person from the start, begin with a trial period. This will give you an easy out should the person not be the right fit.
8. Be clear in communication
Families should provide a clear list of expectations and responsibilities to special needs caregivers. Both caregivers and families will benefit from knowing expectations. If your child has multiple disabilities, a “cheat sheet” of calming strategies, helpful tools, medications and times, etc. will be helpful.
Also, include how you’d like to receive communication from the caregiver during the day. What situations would you like the caregiver to document so you are aware of them?
9. Watch for red flags
As the new caregiver interacts with your child, watch how patient they are. Do they get flustered easily by any developmental disabilities your child has? Or do they have the physical strength to lift a non-ambulatory child?
Since your new caregiver will become like a family member, you’ll want to ensure they mesh well with your home. Use that time to get to know your new caregiver and discover their personality and values.
How To Help Your Child Transition to a New Caregiver
Your child might be less enthusiastic about your new caregiver than planned. That’s okay. Follow these tips to help the transition go smoothly:
10. Be patient
Social anxiety in special needs kids is common. For this reason, introducing your special needs child to a new caregiver can be difficult. Your child will likely need extra support and time to adjust.
Remember to be patient. If your special needs child doesn’t bond with your new caregiver right away, that’s okay. As your family welcomes the caregiver, your child will eventually feel more comfortable.
11. Transition gradually
If possible, start with part-time care for the first week. I usually have a new potential caregiver begin by shadowing me through a typical routine before we have them start full-time on their own. Transitioning gradually will allow your special needs child the time they need to adjust.
Where should I look for a special needs caregiver?
There are more places to search than you might have considered. You can ask your neighbors and co-workers, local schools, or even local colleges. You might find students trained in special education who are looking for work.
We’ve had the best luck advertising through local private special education schools or even colleges where future sped teachers are working on their degrees. Many college students are looking for experience and are eager to work with children in ways related to their field. Our son, for example, requires a lot of physical assistance and we’ve hired many physical therapy students from local colleges as caregivers.
Of course, there are also plenty of websites dedicated to helping parents find caregivers for their children, and most of these websites allow you to filter your search by needs. Cast your net wide, and you’ll be more likely to find the right fit.
How can I pay for a childcare provider?
Finding and hiring the right caregiver is hard enough, but acquiring the funds to cover their hours can be just as difficult. Being a home caregiver for people with disabilities is much more involved than a simple babysitting job, and qualified service providers often expect higher pay rates.
Many states provide funding for respite care or for Personal Care Assistants (PCAs) through Medicaid. Your child may also qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits that can be used to help cover caregiving costs. For disabled children under 22, look into possible skills trainer funding through your state’s Department of Education (in Massachusetts, we receive funding through the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education).
Finally, look around for local nonprofits that may be able to offer grants for respite care. If you’re not sure where to start, I put together a list of foundations and organizations that raise money to support families of children with special needs. There is more help out there than you may think!
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