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The Des Moines Register

What happens to kids whose parents are jailed or evicted? New Des Moines program will help

By F. Amanda Tugade, Des Moines Register,


Ellipsis has launched a new program that provides central Iowa children a place to stay if their parents or guardians may be going through life changes such as an eviction or incarceration and are unable to look after them.

It's called a respite care program and is intended to give youth ages 6-17 a safe, temporary place to stay with food, clothes and other resources, said Ellipsis' Chief Clinical Officer Nikki Thomson. Ellipsis also works with their loved ones to bring the children back home.

Ellipsis is a nonprofit care provider for kids and families. It formed in 2021 with the merger of Youth Homes of Mid-America and Youth Emergency Services and Shelter.

What is a respite care program?

Thomson said many of Ellipsis' programs are required by the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services or Juvenile Court Services. According to its website, the Johnston-based organization sees more than 750 children and families "on any given day," and services range from counseling to behavioral intervention and transitional housing.

But Thomson said she and her staff have received a growing number of calls from parents, guardians and school personnel asking whether Ellipsis could help their child or student — without getting the courts or child services involved. They've often asked, Thomson said, whether the child or student could stay at Ellipsis "for a little bit."

Those inquiries inspired the respite care program. In some ways, Thomson said it serves as a preventive measure and allows youth to enter Ellipsis without going through the foster care system or being ordered there by the court.

And the program's name indicates exactly what it's meant to do: "It's truly a break. Everybody can take a breather. Everybody can regroup and figure out what needs to be done while the kid is safe," Thomson said.

Who can access this program?

Maybe a parent or guardian is hospitalized, leaving their child alone and without supervision. Or perhaps a parent or guardian is facing eviction and the shelters available can only accommodate adults. Or a parent or guardian is incarcerated and is unable to find other family or friends to care for their child.

How does the program work?

Thompson said Ellipsis staff will screen children's cases to determine whether they can receive respite care. Children who are eligible for the program can stay up to 72 hours at Ellipsis' shelter at 918 S.E. 11th St. in Des Moines.

The organization has a separate wing dedicated to the respite care program and its young participants. That wing, Thomson said, has seven to 10 beds, and trained staff is available. Thomson noted that during respite care, the children are assessed and referred to services and support systems that provide long-term help.

"When they're with us, they're hanging out. They're watching movies. They're playing video games. They're safe," Thomson said. "We can get them a shower. We can get them food. We can get them clothes if they need it."

"But really the kids stay safe with us at our respite location," she continued, "while our staff is working with (their) parent/family/guardian."

Ellipsis' respite program is available 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. Those interested can call 515-243-3459 and dial 1 for a "crisis call."

For more information, visit Ellipsis online at

F. Amanda Tugade covers social justice issues for the Des Moines Register. Email her at or follow her on Twitter @writefelissa.

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