One of the least understood and most important parts of a functioning foster care system is having respite care for foster parents. Taking care of someone else's children can be exhausting, especially when you layer on the child's trauma history, government regulations, and dealing with caseworkers. Respite care is an important release valve for foster families. I know that I could not have been a foster parent without a trained home for my children to stay when I was in out-of-town hearings and trials.
Respite care also can be very important for foster children. Most states prohibit foster children from staying with unlicensed adults for any significant period of time. Thus, foster children can't do such normal activities as go on vacation with friends or stay a week with grandparents. Having family friends go through foster training can open a world of opportunity for foster children that helps make them feel more like their peers.
There is more information about the benefits and mechanics of respite care at the HHS Child Welfare website. The foster parent association in your state also can direct you to more information. For people interested in helping foster children, but unable to commit to full-time care, respite care can be a wonderful way to make a positive contribution.