Frontline Initiative

Educating Today's DSPs
Training is Essential to Quality Services


Gary Blumenthal is the executive director of the President’s Committee on Mental Retardation in Washington, DC.

The President’s Committee on Mental Retardation (PCMR) is committed to the improvement of the lives and the stature of people with mental retardation across the country. There are many components that need attention for this to happen, but one of the most critical is the role of the direct service provider, because they stand as the culmination of our efforts. Ultimately, we must rely on their intentions and their abilities in order to see real, long-term advancement in the area of supports to people with mental retardation and other disabilities. 

We know that there are many competent, caring, and dynamic DSPs currently providing supports, but we also know there are problems: high turnover, burnout, a lack of qualified candidates to fill open positions, and all of these exacerbated by low status, lack of career paths, and low-wages. Perhaps one of the most discouraging prospects is the fact that there are people with good intentions and great potential who are simply lacking the skills and knowledge to help them succeed in this type of work. For this reason, educational and training opportunities for direct support professionals can’t be overlooked or minimized as an essential component in quality services.

This area will take on even greater importance as we continue to implement person-centered approaches to planning services. Providing person-centered supports requires a more sophisticated level of reasoning on the part of the DSP, and because of its highly individualized nature, it accelerates the decentralization of services. In short, the direct support professional of the future will have less direct supervision and a higher and more complex level of responsibility for services. Without the opportunity for advanced training, education and professional development, these direct support professionals will be ill-equipped to meet the challenges ahead.

Fortunately, there are many exciting things happening in the area of training and education for DSPs around the nation. These various initiatives have come from agencies, counties, and collaborative work groups or are part of states’ efforts to help keep DSPs knowledgeable and competent. Many are highlighted in this issue of Frontline Initiative. There’s no doubt that there is a great need to continue to focus on this area and disseminate the information we have. Since the initiation of the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals, I’ve seen a gratifying and surprisingly vigorous response from around the country to issues concerning the DSP. Not only are individual agencies clamoring for more information on how to improve conditions for the DSP but outside entities like community colleges are coming to us seeking materials and advice.

As we continue to offer and develop educational opportunities, it will be fundamental to work with those who can fund these options – from agencies all the way to the federal government – to help them recognize the importance of educational and training opportunities. And, we mustn’t forget that the heart of this kind of effort must be connected to the people who have the best knowledge in this area: the experienced and competent DSPs, and ultimately the consumers of these services and their families.