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Free respite program takes care of families

Free respite care is now available to eligible Vandenberg families currently enrolled in the Exceptional Family Member Program, with the support of Child Care Aware of America. Families with children age 18 or younger who have a moderate to severe diagnosis, are eligible for up to 12 hours of free respite care per month. (Courtesy graphic)

Free respite care is now available to eligible Vandenberg families currently enrolled in the Exceptional Family Member Program, with the support of Child Care Aware of America. Families with children age 18 or younger who have a moderate to severe diagnosis, are eligible for up to 12 hours of free respite care per month. (Courtesy graphic)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Free respite care is now available to eligible Vandenberg families currently enrolled in the Exceptional Family Member Program, with the support of Child Care Aware of America.

Families with children age 18 or younger who have a moderate to severe diagnosis, are eligible for up to 12 hours of free respite care per month.

"The respite care program has people who are specially trained to be caregivers for your child," said Raymond Vasquez, 30th Force Support Squadron EFMP-Family Support Coordinator. "You do however have to be enrolled in EFMP to use the respite care program."

Once a family with a special needs child has joined EFMP, the child's eligibility will be verified and the family can apply for respite care. Parents are then able to interview potential respite care providers and initiate use of the program.

"We're saying we're going to give you 12 hours of free care, every month as long as you're enrolled in EFMP and your child has been diagnosed with a moderate or severe condition," said Vasquez. "If you meet those criteria, you're qualified - period."

Program coordinators strongly believe in the benefits of respite care, and encourage anyone eligible to look into signing up.

"Respite is the care and supervision of eligible children by trained respite providers, which allows parents to take a break from their constant caregiver responsibilities," said Darlene Medaris, VAFB Respite Services program manager. "The service is available at no cost to the family, but the eligibility and sign up process can take some time so VAFB Respite Services should be contacted whenever a question about the program arises."

Although the program aims to provide weary parents with a temporary reprieve from domestic responsibilities, it cannot be used in lieu of daycare.

"The purpose is for parents to be resting, relaxing, and just doing something for themselves," said Vasquez. "Another great aspect is normally in other respite care programs, the care is only for the special needs child. With this program though, they will take care of all the children along with the special needs child. That is very unique and it potentially saves the family a lot of money."

In addition to providing trained caregivers free of cost, the program alleviates some of the daily stressors on parents.

"When parents of a child with special needs don't take time for themselves, they can become less able to cope with the constant demands of caring for their child," said Medaris. "Respite provides much needed and well deserved time away from those responsibilities, and gives parents the opportunity to relax and return refreshed."

For more information on respite care, contact Darlene Medaris at, 805-737-7373.