Frontline Initiative

A Look at the Alliance
Feedback from an Arizona Agency


Donna Ohling is a manager at the Arizona Training and Evaluation Center (Aztec) in Peoria, Arizona, and a member of the editorial board

I was recently invited to assist as a member of the editorial board for the Frontline Initiative newsletter and, as a component of that role, to solicit and prepare a reaction from the Arizona Training and Evaluation Center (Aztec) about the proposed Alliance for Direct Support Workers. Having worked in the field of developmental disabilities for over twenty years, the first half in a direct contact capacity, I was excited by the concept of working collaboratively with others to identify opportunities to professionalize the people who are the backbone of the service delivery system – direct support workers. The Alliance is an avenue to provide this needed networking and collaboration.

I asked Aztec direct support workers to provide their reactions to the Alliance for Direct Support Workers. Discussions with these workers reflected an excitement about the goals proposed by the Alliance. These comments from two Aztec DSWs are illustrative of their concerns.

One DSW responded, “Of all the goals of the Alliance, I feel the greatest need is continuing education and training. Better education and possible certification of direct support workers would ensure proper care and training to all individuals. Enabling us to become professionals is so important. Sadly, many of my peers don’t see themselves as professionals, and they lose sight of their importance. What happens then is the quality of care to those we serve can diminish. Thinking about the future scares me. To be in need of direct care is something that could happen to any of us, and I wonder what type of person would care for me?”

Another DSW stated, “The idea of a publication for direct support workers will hopefully enhance our knowledge of what others are doing, and perhaps help us learn better ways to do our job. It’s going to take a lot of public education and people working together within each state to make sure direct support workers are aware of what this group is trying to do, and what it’s all about.”

Despite the positive aspects of the Alliance, a number of important questions remain. One of the major concerns centers around a national alliance setting standards for companies across the country. As Congress and many agencies have tried to lessen the burden of over-legislation and over-regulation, some view the Alliance as a well-meaning group, yet possibly on a mission to mandate national standards. This will become more of an issue when revenue is provided to states in block grants, and especially when a particular state may decide to provide a type of service in ways that may differ dramatically from delivery of the same service in another state. Knowing this, standardized requirements for people who provide these services may then pose a problem.

Hopefully, in the end, solutions can be provided which will enable direct support workers to be seen as professionals.