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The Gort Family Photo

In this tipsheet, you will find information on:

  • What is respite

  • Finding the perfect support worker

  • Interviewing and hiring a support worker

  • Training a support worker

Last updated April 2018 by a Family Support Specialist and a Family Mentor

What is respite?

Respite care provides a short planned break from the physical and emotional demands involved in caring for a family member who has a disability. Respite creates greater opportunities for all family members to live actively and participate in community activities and allows parents/guardians time for themselves. (

During this break, a respite/support worker can:  

  • Take your family member on a community outing
    e.g. park, zoo, mall, restaurant
  • Teach your family member to make a snack
  • ​​​​​​Play basketball or go for a walk with your family member
  • Play board games or watch TV with your family member
  • Take your family member to an arts program


Why are short breaks (respite) important?  

  • Short breaks give children with disabilities fun things to do with friends or other people.
  • Caring for someone else can sometimes be stressful. Short breaks help families re-energize themselves so they can maintain healthy and positive relationships.
  • Respite includes time that a child may spend with a respite/support worker and could also be a program that the child goes to, like a summer camp or overnight program.
  • The Grocery Foundation Family Resource Centre can provide you with information on a number of respite services. Two places to start are and
Finding the perfect support worker

A respite worker can support a child in activities and help them learn. This tip sheet provides information on what to think about when looking for a support worker.  

When starting your search, think about:

The qualities you want in a support worker. You can look for a worker who is:

  • Kind and gentle
  • Responsible
  • A “people person”
  • A good teacher
  • Careful and considerate

What activities your family member will be involved with, including:

  • Sports
  • Music
  • Playing games
  • Cooking
  • Learning to do things for themselves

When you need a support worker:

  • What time of day?
  • What day of the week?
  • How many hours?
  • What time of the year?
  • How often do you and your family want the support worker?

Choosing the right people to interview

Look for someone who has experience working with children, youth or teens:

  • Swim instructor
  • Camp counsellor
  • Retired teacher
  • College or university student or mature high school student

Consider someone who already knows and gets along with your family member

  • This might be a neighbour, a family friend, or a student who your family member knows from school

Look for workers for different activities for your family member. For example:

  • A worker who likes sports, so they can go to a stadium game
  • A worker who enjoys music, so they can go to a concert
  • A worker who does not mind getting dirty to do gardening
  • A worker who understands sign language
  • A worker who might be good with technology to help with a communication device

Think about how long this person might stay and work with your family:

  • Students may leave for summer break or if they get a job
  • Someone doing part-time work might leave if they get full-time

Think about what skills you want the worker to have:

  • First Aid/CPR
  • Driver’s license, vehicle and car insurance
  • Able to give medication
  • Able to help with toileting (e.g. changing diapers)
  • Any other skills you can think of

Where to look for a support worker

  • Contact about their respite worker list
  • Go to for more information about Holland Bloorview’s respite program
  • Ask for the ‘Community Respite Opportunities’ tipsheet
  • Talk to other families about where they find their support workers
  • Make a flyer or electronic posting for local high schools, colleges and universities (on their websites or in person)
Interviewing and hiring a support worker

People will call you to find out more about the job you are offering. Spend some time thinking about the questions you want to ask.

Telephone interview

  • Speak to more than one worker
  • As yourself if the person has the qualities you are looking for
  • Listen for attitudes, flexibility, sincerity and enthusiasm
  • Choose two or three applicants for a face-to-face meeting
  • Trust your feelings when choosing the final candidate
  • You can involve the person who is being cared for in the phone conversation

Personal interview

  • First meeting: You can invite potential respite workers to an in person meeting at a public place, such as a coffee shop. This will give you time to find out if this person will be a good match to work with your family member.
    • How do they react to your questions?
    • Do you feel that the person is sincere and flexible?
    • Does the person interact well with people?
    • You can involve the person who is being cared for in the meeting
  • Second meeting: You can meet potential workers at the location where respite will be taking place, and spend the time getting to know them better. (e.g. home, community centre, program, etc.)
    • Make a list of questions for the meeting
    • Ask them to bring a copy of their resume and references
    • Ask questions and watch how the person reacts
    • Involve the person who is being cared for in the meeting, and watch for their comfort level or reaction, and listen to their opinion
    • Trust your feelings too

Questions to ask the applicants

  • How did you hear about the job?
  • Why are you interested in this job?
  • Tell me about your previous work experience with children or people with disabilities.
  • How do you think this work fits your experiences and skills?
  • When are you available?
  • Do you drive? Do you have a car?  Do you have insurance coverage? If yes, what type of insurance coverage do you have?
  • Would you be willing to have a police check?
  • Can you commit to working with us for ____ months?
  • This is the pay range.  Would _____ dollars an hour be acceptable?
  • Can you provide me with two personal or work references?  
  • Do you have any questions for me or for my family member?
  • Things to talk to the worker about
  • Your family member’s life and activities
  • Information about your family, routines and schedules
  • Possible activities that you would like your family member and the worker to do together
  • Information about your community
  • How to handle “what if this happens?” situations
  • Training the worker on how to support a child or teen with a disability
  • Their pay and pay schedule
  • Contract that describes the worker’s role, start and finish times and pay
  • Coverage of costs: food while working with your family member, transportation costs when travelling with your family member
  • Choosing the right person to hire
  • It is good to have several people to choose from. Make your choice after you look at all the important information:
  • Is the worker the right fit for your family member?
  • What is the person like? Are they fun to be with, active and pleasant?
  • Do they have the skills to work with your family member?
  • Do they learn quickly?
  • As back-up options, ask other candidates if you can call them if you need them.
  • Are they understanding and accepting of differences?
  • Are they responsible, reliable, flexible and trust-worthy?
  • Can the person work when you need them?
Training a support worker

The child or teen being cared for may have a disability, like cerebral palsy, developmental disability, brain injury, or autism spectrum disorder. Each person with a disability communicates, learns and understands differently. They may also have different interests. A support worker may not know exactly how to support your family member in the best way yet, but you can teach them!

Sharing information

  • Create an ‘All About Me’ book, infographic, or slideshow to help the worker understand what is most important about your family member
  • Include and show the worker how to be involved in family activities and routines
  • Share information about your family member, including:
    • Likes, dislikes and routines
    • Health, safety, or medical information, therapy programs
    • Equipment or supports
  • Be a coach to the support worker and encourage questions
  • Share information about community connections and resources

Supporting your respite worker

  • Offer to pick your worker up or drive them home when you can
  • Make sure your worker is comfortable with how much you pay
  • Recognize the worker’s skills
  • Finish the shift with the support worker by talking about their day
  • Go over any problems and help find solutions
    • Let the worker ask questions
    • Ask about successes - did they teach your family member something new?
    • Give some feedback about something positive that you noticed
  • Offer to review the support worker’s experience every few months
    • Ask them if there is something they would like to learn
    • Ask if they need help with something and how you can help
    • Ask if they have ideas for new activities