If you’ve ever searched for a new sitter for your child, than you know how difficult of a task it can be — especially if you don’t have a family member who can stand in. Add in the variable of a special needs child or child with multiple disabilities where day care isn’t an option, and the task gets even harder. But with a little effort and planning, it’s easier to find a special needs caregiver with the right skills and experience to care for your special needs child.

Assess Your Needs

Before beginning the interview process it’s wise to take a few minutes and write down a description of the special needs caregiver position. Remember what you need and what you’re looking for in a caregiver:

  • Hours and days of work: Will they be set times or flexible?
  • Care setting: Will it be in your home, the caregiver’s home or in a community setting?
  • What will the basic responsibilities of the caregiver be: Personal care, transportation, assistance with learning, recreation, life skills training, etc.
  • Clearly-defined expectations: Will the caregiver need to also care for siblings or take care of household tasks?
  • Any special skills and interests: Previous experience caring for a special needs child, the ability to lift, first aid knowledge, CPR training, etc.
  • Other characteristics like whether or not the caregiver is a smoker, whether you prefer a male or female special needs caregiver, etc.
  • Know what range of pay you’ll offer and how long of a commitment you need.

Qualities to Look For in a Special Needs Caregiver

When it comes to choosing the right caregiver for your special needs child, it’s all about having the right skills and finding the right fit between the caregiver and your family.

It’s important for prospective caregivers to be able to handle everyday tasks like bathing, feeding and caring for your child, but that’s not all. The right caregiver should have experience caring for special needs children including special needs training, being properly versed in child safety and medical care. This is where knowing your child comes into play. Things like Red Cross certification and CPR training are important characteristics for special needs caregivers to have, as is experience working with adaptive equipment, but it all depends on the needs of your child.

Nearly half of special needs caregivers help children with at least one Activity of Daily Living (ADL), so it’s important that potential special needs caregivers are comfortable with and capable of performing ADLs for your child. The most common ADLs that are performed for special needs children under the age of 18 are basic grooming tasks like getting dressed, bathing or showering, and getting in and out of beds and chairs.

Aside from experience caring for special needs children, it’s important for the prospective caregiver’s personality to mesh well with your child’s and the rest of your family. That’s where the interview and screening process comes in.

The Interview: What to Ask Potential Special Needs Caregivers

When it comes to screening and interviewing potential special needs caregivers, honest dialogue and open communication is key. This is not the time to rush; this is your chance as a parent to fully assess potential caregivers and see how they respond to your questions.

To fully prepare for interviewing potential caregivers, we advise preparing a special needs caregiver interview checklist. This is where you should make note of the key questions you want to ask during the interview, as well as what documents and information you need from the interviewee like references or copies of special needs caregiving certifications.

Before setting up the special needs caregiver face-to-face, it’s important to hold a phone screening. This way, if the candidate’s personality or communication style doesn’t work for you, you won’t have to waste your time holding a face-to-face interview.

  • Briefly describe the position and inquire about the candidate’s interest. Why are they interested in caring for your special needs child?
  • Ask about other commitments the candidate may have to get an idea of their availability and commitment.
  • Keep the key issues in mind: suitability, reliability, motivation and commitment.
  • Take notes on each person! Don’t rely on your memory.
  • If the candidate passes your screening and you’re ready to meet face-to-face, ask them to provide up to three references and a recent criminal background check.
  • Don’t be afraid to end calls quickly with people who are obviously not going to work out.

If the potential special needs caregiver passes your phone screening, it’s time to schedule a face-to-face interview. Be sure to ask the interviewee open-ended questions that use real-life examples. For instance, ask the potential special needs caregiver what they would do if faced with certain real-life challenges like teasing, tantrums and medical emergencies. By asking open-ended questions you’ll glean insight on how the potential caregiver’s thought process works and where their intentions lie.  A few sample situations you can use as examples are:

  • “My child is crying and inconsolable. What do you do?”
  • “You and my child are out for a walk when he/she has a seizure right after leaving the house. What do you do?”
  • “You and my child are at the mall/in public somewhere when a group of young people begin to tease my child. What do you do?”

A parent’s work is not done when the interview is finished. After selecting several potential special needs caregivers for your child, it’s time to perform a background check. Most special needs caregivers will already have a background check on file, but for some you will need to ask. Sitter and caregiver agencies often offer the ability to request background checks, or you can go through your specific state’s Office of Children and Families to see what different background checks and caregiver programs are available.

How to Check References Without Being Awkward

Nobody looks forward to calling up strangers and checking work references, but that doesn’t mean the reference checking process has to be a painful one. It helps to have your notes out so you can follow-up on any questions you had about the applicant’s limitations and strengths.

Ask effective questions about the candidate’s experience as a special needs caregiver:

  • How do you and the applicant know each other?
  • How long have you and the applicant known each other?
  • What can you tell me about the applicant’s reliability?
  • How does the applicant handle emergencies? Can you give me an example?
  • What are the applicant’s strengths and limitations?
  • How would you feel if the applicant was caring for your special needs child?

If Your Child Will Be Cared For at the Caregiver’s Home

While caregivers of children with special needs are more likely to live with the child care recipient, your child may receive care at the your caregiver’s home from time to time. In the event that the special needs caregiver will be caring for your child in their own home, you should set up a home visit to assess the environment. In these cases it’s perfectly acceptable to schedule more than one home visit, as well as requesting to meet all the family members who live in the home.

When visiting the special needs caregiver’s home, be sure to look for:

  • Proper safety measures like fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, an escape plan, etc.
  • A clean, safe environment.
  • A private changing and dressing area.
  • An accessible, clean bathroom.
  • Comfortable, appropriate sleeping/nap time arrangements.
  • Safe play spaces for both indoor and outdoor activities.
  • Various learning materials and toys.

Questions to ask when visiting potential special needs caregivers’ homes:

  • Who else lives in the home with you?
  • Do you have any pets?
  • Is anyone else likely to be in the home when you’re caring for my child?
  • Are there any smokers in the home?

My Potential Special Needs Caregiver Checked Out. Now What?

Finally, and most importantly, it’s time to see how your child reacts to the potential new special needs caregiver and how the two of them interact. The right caregiver will respect your child, and treat your child as if they were a member of the caregiver’s own family. Sometimes even though things look perfect on paper, they won’t work in practice. Trust your intuition when it comes to assessing the personality and fit of a potential special needs caregiver. Look for people who:

  • Seem to enjoy children.
  • Are responsive and always positive.
  • Have a similar approach to discipline and problem solving.
  • Are respectful and considerate of differences.
  • Are open to learning, training and direction.
  • Believe in promoting typical family and friend experiences, as well as independence.
  • Can pursue activities your child is interested in.
  • Are open and clear communicators.

Once you’ve found the right special needs caregiver for your child it’s time to draft an employment agreement. Employment agreements may sound a little formal but take our word for it, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. Employment agreements for special needs caregivers are essential in helping families clarify roles, and to protect the interests of both the family and the special needs caregiver. Employment agreements must be written and should contain:

  • A detailed description of the services to be provided, as well as how often.
  • Date that the care begins.
  • How much and when the special needs caregiver will be compensated.
  • Signatures of all parties involved.
  • The date of the agreement

Finding the right special needs caregiver may not be an easy task, but with the tools we’ve provided here you can begin your search for a new special needs caregiver with confidence.

Additional Special Needs Caregiver Resources

If you’re looking for more information related to special needs caregivers for your child, or would like to find out what kind of government resources are available, here are several places you can check:

Child Care – USA.gov


United States Office of Personnel Management’s Child Care Resources Handbook

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