Frontline Initiative Later Life Supports
Listening to DSPs
One of the most rewarding and important functions of the NADSP is spending time with Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) and really listening to them. Over the past year, we have had the honor of visiting with thousands of DSPs and hearing firsthand about the real rewards and challenges of this kind of work. While doing so, we share information on five elements that are common among all professions: 1) a body of knowledge, 2) standardized skill sets, 3) a license, certificate or credential to practice, 4) a code of conduct, and 5) affiliation with a professional membership organization. Direct support also shares these common elements and they embody the NADSP.
As I review our schedule for the past year, we have visited Texas, Maryland, Indiana, North Dakota, Illinois, California, New York, Tennessee, New Jersey, Ohio, North Carolina, Vermont, Kentucky and California. We try to take advantage of this valuable time that we spend with DSPs by asking the following three questions everywhere we go and documenting the responses: 1) What barriers do you face to become a more skilled and ethical DSP?, 2) What solutions do you suggest to overcome those barriers?, and 3) If you had the opportunity to speak with a policymaker about your work, what would tell him or her?
The depths of these discussions give us great hope. It doesn’t matter what state we are in, we always leave with three simple conclusions.
First, DSPs are always grateful for an opportunity to share and be heard, as well as learning more about the NADSP. Second, most DSPs seem to be isolated from the best practices of their profession—often hearing about universal competencies, ethics and credentialing for the first time, not realizing that they are among the fastest growing occupations in the country. Finally, and most importantly, they believe that all staff, from their fellow DSPs to frontline supervisors and from administrators to family members, should understand that true quality of services for people with disabilities who receive support is defined by the interaction with DSPs.
With the information that we get from meeting with our DSPs, we are tirelessly advocating for initiatives that are beginning to serve as practical vehicles for systems reform, such as offering better training opportunities that lead to career ladders and wage increases. By doing these things, we hope to stop the revolving door of workers coming in and out of the lives of people with disabilities, and start to focus on meaningful relationships and lives filled with opportunities.
These types of changes are not easy and the job of advocacy is never done, but we think that now is the time for real discussions about the future of DSPs. I hope you’ll join us for these discussions.