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Making a Difference in San Antonio: Respite Care

mySA logo mySA 12/6/2021 By Jessica Else, Contributing Writer, Presented by the PM Group
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Respite Care of San Antonio is a haven for children with special needs and a life vest for their parents and caregivers, keeping them afloat through the challenges that come their way. The organization is a locally grown non-profit that helps keep families together, helps children grow and learn, and provides a safe place of belonging for children in protective custody. They’re like a day care facility that comes with a team of medical professionals and a few other extra perks.

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It’s a unique blend of childcare and medical help for families of kids with special needs according to Larry Mejia, Ph.D., Respite Care of San Antonio’s Chief Executive Officer.

“We offer comprehensive, holistic, compassionate care that enables children with special needs to be attended to during the day,” Mejia said. “It helps parents and siblings, too. It gives them a break to attend to their own needs.” 

Raising a child with special needs is a big job and Respite Care of San Antonio is dedicated to helping families successfully navigate those challenges. Simply finding time for a shower can be a huge challenge for parents of children with special needs. Parents and caregivers often neglect their own needs, and the job can take its toll on health and emotional wellbeing. The team at Respite Care of San Antonio understands that; some of them are parents of children with specialized needs, too.

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The organization was founded in 1987 by local families caring for children with special needs and complex medical conditions. The mission expanded in 1997 when Respite Care of San Antonio opened their Davidson Respite House to provide for children in protective custody who have special needs. 

“We were created to strengthen families dealing with the extras of caregiving, needs that family and friends can’t necessarily help with,” Mejia said. “And we are the only licensed emergency residential children’s home in Texas dedicated to caring for children with developmental disabilities and complex medical conditions that has a license for medical care at the same time.”

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There are many ways that Respite Care of San Antonio helps local San Antonio families. They offer full-time childcare, giving parents the opportunity to work or go to school. They also offer childcare for shorter timeframes so parents can dash out for groceries, to run errands or go out to a relaxing lunch.

Emergency overnight respite services are also available for the community for times when a parent unexpectedly needs to be away from their child that requires extra care. This service is helpful in those surprise situations in life, like a single parent needing an unexpected surgery or needing to travel to attend a funeral. 

At Respite Care’s Residential Children’s Homes, children who have been removed from their homes are attended to by a team of medical professionals from University Health.

“Davidson Respite House is a special place,” Mejia said. “The children eat together with the caregivers around the table at mealtimes and live in bedrooms that are like a bedroom that they would have in their home.”        

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A small number of children share each bedroom and are given space of their own to keep their treasures and toys. They learn skills like table manners, respecting and setting boundaries, and controlling challenging behaviors. 

The Respite House cares for children of all ages -including babies born with fetal drug syndrome, babies born with drug addictions or who had no prenatal care and had to be placed in protective custody.

“These are the most vulnerable children who can’t speak up for themselves,” Mejia said. “They have needs and we’re here to protect them and meet those needs.”

Statistically, children with special needs are nearly four times more likely to be abused or neglected and that tendency is linked to the increased stress that comes with the extra care. Respite Care of San Antonio offers services that reduce the stress load on parents and caregivers. That relieves the pressure that often can lead to abusive situations. 

“Stress is a big risk factor for child maltreatment and our programs have been successful in reducing stress for 100% of our parents,” Mejia said. 

That statistic is based on a survey Respite Care of San Antonio held for their participating parents. The organization’s services reduced the amount of stress in the lives of every single one who responded to the survey.

“We also help improve the ability to cope and the inability to cope makes it so much harder,” Mejia said. “When we improve coping skills it protects against child abuse.” 

There are families with many different types of needs that get relief and peace of mind by using the services provided by Respite Care of San Antonio. When a child is dropped off at Respite Care for daycare services or for a few hours, that child enters a world of learning development. Like school, children do learning activities, have reading time and engage socially with their peers. They play with specialized toys and staff members make sure the child is cared for and engaged for the entire time. Families use the time to do all sorts of things. 

“One set of moms who know each other, they dropped their children off and then took their non -disabled siblings and had a girls’ day – they’d get tea or go shopping,” Mejia said. “All of the kids and the moms looked forward to it.” 

Other families take the time to attend their other kids’ sports games or other activities. Others use the time to pick up part-time work, to clean their house, to take a nap or to run errands. 

One single mother even found her husband thanks to Respite Care of San Antonio. She was a member of the military who had recently been reassigned and knew no one. Taking advantage of Respite Care’s Night Out program, the single mother started dating. 

“Because she had a few hours free, she ended up finding the right person and marrying him and strengthening her family,” Mejia said. “Now they live in Austin.” 

Respite Care of San Antonio relies on donations and community support to make a difference in the lives of local families and there are many ways to help. You can make a monetary donation to Respite Care of San Antonio, or you can give in different ways – like sponsoring a child’s birthday or to the Christmas party for Respite Care’s families.

Organizations can volunteer on the campus, helping with a wide variety of outdoor activities. You can also help Respite Care of San Antonio show some love and appreciation for their dedicated staff members. 

“Our staff is so hard-working, caring and compassionate,” Mejia said. “You have to have a passion to do that job day in and day out and we’d be nothing without our caregivers and teachers. We have a holiday party for them and that’s another way that you, the community, could help.”

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