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Spring 2019

Winter 2008 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

By Rosemary Alexander, Transition Coordinator, Texas Parent to Parent
Reprinted with permission from the Texas Parent to Parent winter newsletter. To learn more about Texas Parent to Parent, please visit their website at

Abstract: The author shares valuable tips for parents to use in being the employers of the people who care for their children with disabilities.

Key words: Family Wisdom, disabilities, parent-employers, attendant care, respite care, child care, recruitment resources, training tips, maintaining working relations

 

Sooner or later, many parents of children and young adults with disabilities need to find a care provider. It might be a baby-sitter for a Saturday night out, a respite provider to stay a weekend with your child while you go to your high school reunion, an after-school childcare provider, or after graduation, an attendant to assist your young person with his or her daily activities. It's not easy to find someone you like and trust, then train them and keep them as your employee. You probably think of yourself as a parent, not an employer - but when you hire an attendant, you become an employer! Here are some ideas for carrying out this new job.

First, you have to realize you need help! For some of us, this is an easy step or a necessity, but every parent is on his or her own time-line for letting go. I remember well the first steps I took to allow someone else to care for our son Will (who is now 24!), besides the occasional sitter. My husband was offered a chance to teach a 2-week class in Finland and our way would be paid. I really wanted to do it but Will was only 8 and I couldn't imagine leaving him for 2 weeks. Taking Will was out of the question, because of the long flight, his seizure disorder and the demands of his care. Then I found a nurse who was a good friend of a friend and agreed to live in our home for 2 weeks. It was a huge success and gave me the courage to leave him with someone occasionally. The next step was when my second son began to become pretty independent, when the boys were around 10 and 12. Then Will's basic care seemed overwhelming, compared to my other son's self-sufficiency. My husband and I were miserable by the end of every weekend, bickering over who should change his diaper or help him eat. So I found a nice guy, again the relative of a friend, who came over every Saturday from 1-5 pm and gave us a break. Just having someone regular and a time that I could anticipate was a lifesaver - and a marriage saver. We decided that time off from Will's care was more important than buying a new car. And so it has gone, with Will going to Camp CAMP, spending weekends in a care provider's home, to the present when he has attendant care everyday paid for by CLASS (Medicaid Waiver Program).

So assuming you are ready and eager to find someone to help you out, how do you get started? First, you have to locate people who would be interested in a part-time job and have the skills, experience and heart for working with someone with a disability. Think about what skills are required to care for your child or young adult, but remember that the willingness to learn might serve as well as previous experience. I have found several very able attendants for my son who had no experience with disabilities but were good and able people, ready to learn.

Where to find people:

  • Your own network of friends, relatives and acquaintances; tell everyone you know that you are looking for someone and you might find someone's cousin, sister, daughter, son, or friend who is interested;
  • Staff in special education programs in public schools;
  • Students at local universities and junior colleges, particularly students majoring in education, social work, nursing, health and human services, OT, PT, etc.;
  • The Internet, such as or ;
  • Bulletin boards in high traffic areas such as grocery stores, banks, community centers, churches;
  • Local employment offices or rehabilitation agencies;
  • Local agencies or service organizations, non-profits;
  • Local newspaper ads;
  • Newsletters for neighborhoods, churches, parent organizations, community organizations.

You will often need an ad of some kind to recruit potential employees. Try to be realistic about the job requirements yet also make the job attractive. Start with the necessities, such as the hours and days of the week, a basic job description, the pay rate, if the person must drive, etc. But if there is room, perhaps you can also mention the benefits of the job, such as what's fun about the job or how the job will provide new opportunities to grow and learn. Don't include your name or address or other private information, just how to respond through a phone number or email address. One friend of mine has a website about her son where a potential employee can read a bit about the job and her son's disability and decide at that point whether to pursue the job.

Let's suppose that you have gone through the search process and have found someone that you might hire. What's next? You might start with a phone interview that will screen out those that just won't work. Give more detail about the job (you have to change diapers!) and see if they are still interested. Ask a few questions to see if you are still interested in them, such as what's your experience, do you have reliable transportation, do you smoke, are you allergic to pets (if you have pets in your home). If things seem promising, set up an interview or tell them you'll call back with an interview time and place, giving yourself time to think about it or compare them to others who might call. Even if you can't use this person at this time, keep the name and number for future reference.

Your next step depends on what you know about the possible employee. If the person is your best friend's daughter, the process can be more informal. If this is a stranger who emailed you from Craig's List, you should proceed with caution. The interview can occur in your home or if you are feeling careful, in a neutral place. Prepare for the interview by writing down a job description and the questions you want to be sure to ask. Try to make the person feel comfortable and get to know them a bit. Ask the person to tell you about themselves, what experience they'd had, why they want the job. Tell them about the job and about your child. Give the person time to ask questions. Know what you are looking for and ask yourself if this person fits your needs. Try to picture this person with your child - would your child feel safe and happy? Would you feel comfortable leaving your child with this person?

Another issue is when you introduce the person to your child, immediately or after your interview? Again, if you are feeling cautious, wait until you've checked out the person.

Be sure you deal with the business end of the job. Talk about money: what the rate is, how often they will be paid, if you will reimburse them for mileage and food or other items they may provide for your child. Write down how to reach them and other basic facts, such as references. Get permission to do a criminal background check; for a background check you'll need their full name and date of birth.

Be sure to do the follow-up: call references and do a criminal background check. To do the check, go to www.txdps.state.tx.us, then select online services, then conviction records. You will need to create a new account or sign in with your user id and password. Each search costs $3.75. You enter the name and date of birth and then the results will appear. What you want to see is NO Matching Records; that means the person does not show up in the criminal database. Amazing what you can do through the internet!

Once you've hired someone, you have to get them ready to work. Here are some ideas for orientation and training:

  • Make sure this person has CPR and First Aid training. You might offer to pay for the training as an incentive to take on the job.
  • Spend time with the new employee; give them a written schedule, procedures, and contact information for both of you.
  • Be sure they understand your expectations and how to communicate with you.
  • Be sure they know techniques for handling your child's behavior, communication methods and other essentials for your child's care.
  • Link the new person with another person already doing the job so the new person can gain on-the-job training.
  • Define the first month as a trial period and then talk at the end of the month about whether the job is working out for each of you.
  • Check in often to make sure the new employee understands the job and has a chance to ask questions and get further training.

If you feel uncomfortable leaving your child alone with a new person, let go gradually. At first, stay at home but remain in another room and leave the new employee nearby with your child. Then leave home but stay close to home so you could return quickly; stay away only for an hour or so. Gradually extend the length of time you are gone and how far away you go. Build trust gradually.

If you like the new person and they are doing the job well, you will probably want to keep them working for you as long as possible. You will need to nurture and monitor the working relationship. Here are some guidelines:

  • Do an occasional evaluation or assessment where both you and your employee talk about what's going on, what's working well and not working well; give the employee a chance to talk.
  • If you are in a program that requires a formal evaluation, (the CLASS program, for example), tell the employee several months ahead of time what the evaluation will be based on.
  • Give a bonus or gift at holiday time.
  • Give a bonus for staying and/or doing a good job.
  • Have occasional gatherings for your employees (if you have more than one) to talk, work on schedules, eat and enjoy time together. Work to build a team.
  • Provide your employee with the expertise and equipment to do a good job.
  • Use a logbook for each employee to record what went on during their time with your child or adult and ask the person to write in it every day.

Your attitude toward the employee makes a big difference. To retain an employee, you must always be respectful of this person. Never yell at them, berate them, or be overly critical. If you have to confront the employee with negative feedback, think first about how to present it. Communicate your thoughts privately, never in public; don't attack the person but rather comment on the behavior; tell them how to remedy the problem and what you want them to do instead of what they are doing.

We as parent-employers are sometimes in a tough spot, because this is not an ordinary working relationship. This employee may be in your home and may bathe your child, dress and feed him, entertain him. The employee gets to know your child, home and family in a close way. You may see your child as very vulnerable and you are trusting this person to care for him or her with love and respect. You may end up developing a strong relationship with the employee, even a real friendship. Yet you are also the employer. It's sometimes hard to point out to a friend when he or she is not doing what you require for a job. Somehow you have to maintain a balance between being positive, approachable, concerned, respectful, yet still able to discuss the job requirements objectively; you have to be able to talk about money, performance, or failures. It's a delicate balance and takes practice. You learn the skills as you go to be an effective employer. Putting the time and energy into being a good employer is worth it: you will get the help you need to provide quality care for your child or young adult. Learn to share with another person the joys and challenges of parenting a person with a disability!


Last Revision: June 5, 2008