How do I find the right caregiver for my child with autism?

Answer: Finding the right person to provide respite or in-home care can be a daunting task. The person needs to be a good fit with both the child and the family. How do you find the best person? What qualities to you look for?

Before you even start looking and interviewing, ask the following questions and write down your answers:

  • What are our family values?
  • Do you want someone who shares your family values or do you want to introduce your family to different ways of thinking?
  • What kind of pace does your family feel comfortable with?
  • What is your lifestyle – casual or formal?
  • Is your family structured with routine or are you spontaneous?
  • Do you value privacy or are you more open with personal issues?

How much time are you willing to devote to train someone or do you want someone with a lot of experience?

Once these questions are answered, you’ll have a better idea of your family profile and what qualities you are looking for in a caregiver who would support these values. Think about what you enjoy most as a family, what makes you unique, regular activities you do, and think about how someone who knows your family best would describe you.

Next, clarify the job responsibilities. Some possible things you may want to include in a job description could be:

  • Time commitment
  • Supporting children other than the one with ASD
  • Housework
  • Additional duties such as driving to extra-curricular activities, making dinner
  • Integration of the child into the community
  • Discipline
  • Will this job be a one person job or a job-share?
  • Preferred skills

Formulate your job description based on the family’s needs and answers to the above points. Now you’re ready to find someone, but where do you look?

Finding a good candidate can be done through:

  • Word of mouth (parent support groups, church, friends, neighbours, internet discussion groups)
  • Print advertising (local community newsletter, newspaper, autism society newsletter, weekly community paper)
  • Community Provider Registries – many communities have organizations that will give a list of potential workers. Ask your local Association for Community Living Foundation, for example.
  • On-line Ads – Kiji is a popular place for placing an ad. There are also job boards like Monster Jobs, Workopolis etc.
  • Job placement agencies

Other places to look are:

  • college/university departments in related fields such a disability studies, psychology, social work, special education, nursing.
  • early childhood centres
  • hospital social work and care management departments
  • websites for respite care
  • agencies that provide services for families with special needs

When someone answers your ad, do an initial phone screening. Ask if the have more questions about the ad you placed or job description. Listen to how the person responds to your expectations. Make sure they meet basic criteria requirements such as do they have a car, flexible schedule, salary requirements, and time commitments. Be wary of requests that don’t benefit your child. Be prepared to describe a typical day in your child’s life.

If you’re comfortable with the answers to your questions, arrange an in-person interview. Request things that you would like to see ahead of time such as a criminal record check, references, resume, proof of relevant training, or driver’s license.

For the personal interview, trust your gut instinct. If something isn’t sitting right with you, ask questions for clarification and assess the answers. Prepare your questions ahead of time. Provide a copy of the job description and encourage the applicant to ask questions. Review their resume and ask about gaps in their work experience or multiple job changes. If you see the applicant took a year off work, ask why. Explore the applicant’s emotional stability because caring for a child with special needs requires patience and a cool head.

When you think you have a preferred applicant in mind, follow up on their work and personal references. Do a criminal record check. If you are satisfied with the results of these, offer the job on a trial period of a week or two to see how things go. If all goes well, consider an employment agreement.

Hiring someone to care for your child with autism can be daunting. Allow time to find the right person and be honest with applicants about your family’s needs. It takes time to form a mutual trust relationship with someone new.

Recommended Reading: A “Stranger” Among Us: Hiring In-Home Support for a Child with Autism Spectrum Disorders or Other Neurological Differences by Lisa Ackerson Lieberman, MSW, LCSW

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