Respite is where you take foster kids for a weekend or other short amount of time so that the foster parents can have a small break or if they need to travel and can't take the foster child with them for some reason. A respite care provider keeps the child for a short amount of time, then they return to their foster home.
Here's an article from the Dayton, Ohio Examiner about respite care:
Do you have an extra bedroom available and want to do something to help kids? Believe it or not, foster care and adoption aren't the only options available. If you would prefer short term stays and want to meet lots of different kids, respite care may be the way to go.
So what is respite care? Put simply, it's just giving parents or foster parents a break for a day or two (although some respite stays may go longer depending on the situation). Foster parents send their foster kids to respite when they have special plans that aren't child-friendly or when they go on vacation (especially if they go out-of-state since it can be hard to obtain permission to take foster kids with them). Sometimes regular parents are also allowed to use respite, particularly if they have special needs kids.
By becoming a respite caregiver you will be helping many children and their families. There are drawbacks of course, some of these children have major behavioral problems and may steal personal property or become destructive. You also may be asked to take in deaf, blind or handicapped kids, which can be a major adjustment if you have never dealt with situations like that.
However, many respite parents report that the handicapped kids were the ones who taught them the most and opened their eyes to new ways of communication. For instance, I know a foster parent here in Dayton who took in a deaf 7-year-old child for a two week respite stay. Although neither he nor his wife knew sign language, they still managed to communicate with the little boy and were amazed at how creative they could get when need be.