Frontline Initiative Code of Ethics

NADSP update:
Carrying forward JFK Jr.'s vision

Photo of a group with John F. Kennedy Jr. in the center.

As I was recently going through a box of historical information about the NADSP, one letter, dated May 22, 1996 really caught my attention. This letter was a call to action to launch a new initiative to establish a “National Alliance for Direct Service Workers”. As far as I could tell, this may have been the first time these ideas were taking shape and put into action. The author went on to explain that a committed group of professionals wanted to “help develop a comprehensive agenda, informed public policies and effective strategies to strengthen and redefine the emerging role of the direct support workforce”. The author of that letter was the late John F. Kennedy Jr. I am proud to say that we are carrying on John’s vision and we hope that you continue with us as we “Make a World of Difference in People’s Lives”. 

As I read and learned more about the beginnings of the NADSP, it became clear to me that we have already contributed a great deal to the field of intellectual and developmental disabilities and one of our earliest contributions is the Code of Ethics. In the late 1990s, Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) from around the country attended focus groups over a two year period to give their input on the values of the profession and they eventually identified nine broad areas. These areas were used to create the framework for the Code of Ethics. Subsequently, more DSPs and other disability advocates came together again to further develop and finalize the Code of Ethics in 2001. Now widely disseminated, this body of work offers DSPs, individuals with disabilities, service organizations and family members a standard of conduct and professionalism. As you’ll read in this issue of Frontline Initiative, the Code of Ethics is a powerful and dynamic body of work that contain the ideals of the profession. They are not something that one should be asked to simply read, sign and follow. 

I have had the great privilege of travelling around the country with my colleague, John Raffaele, where we’ve provided thousands of DSPs an opportunity to be immersed into the Code of Ethics. During these sessions, participants are asked to navigate through a maze of ethical dilemmas that confront them on a regular basis. After these “ethical encounters,” we provide the opportunity for them to share some of their own experiences with ethical dilemmas while working as a DSP. Sometimes these stories are heart wrenching and sometimes they are subtle - but all of them reflect the incredible responsibility of the NADSP update NADSP update Carrying forward JFK Jr.’s vision direct support role and how they are often asked to make critical decisions without notice. Often, the decisions that are made can be a matter of happiness, health, safety, life and death for the person who is receiving supports. As a facilitator, I can literally see the moment when a participant “gets it” – there’s a nod of understanding that their work has a roadmap and once that map is consulted, the guess work of being an ethical practitioner is removed.