Frontline Initiative DSP Recognition

Why DSP recognition matters:
Organizational support, retention, and quality


Carol Britton Laws, Ph.D. is the President of NADSP. She is also the Coordinator of Interdisciplinary Pre-Service Educationat the Institute on Human Development and Disability at the University of Georgia.

In my twenties I worked as a Direct Support Professional (DSP) in a residen­tial program. I was challenged in good ways that made me better understand the kind of lives the people I supported wanted. But I was also challenged in very difficult ways that made me wonder why I was putting myself in uncomfortable situations at an unlivable wage. I understood why the people I supported didn’t always thank me for my efforts. There were times when I was an unwanted intrusion in their homes and lives in many ways. What was harder to understand was how unappreciated I felt by many of my co-workers and manage­ment. Fellow staff often became angry when I went ‘above and beyond’ for someone I supported. And the administration didn’t acknowledge the time and energy I consistently gave. Being a DSP sometimes felt like a thankless job. I don’t think my experience is unique.

At the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals (NADSP), we believe that the interaction between a DSP and a person receiving support is the most important measure of support quality. It is essential that provider organizations support DSPs to acquire the knowledge, skills and values necessary to have effective and ethical interactions. This means that organizations need to invest in their direct support workforce if they wish to be known for high quality supports. Organizations must also recognize DSPs’ work as critically important to the entire organization. Too often the quality of support is lowered by poor staff preparation and little recognition for staff who do their work well.

There is a lot of research on the impending crisis in community-based long-term services and supports. We know there is high demand for DSPs and short supply, but we aren’t sure how to address it. In my research on DSP retention I found that the most significant predictor of a low desire to quit was high job satisfaction. The factor that predicted job satisfaction was the amount of support DSPs felt they received from their organization. This means that when DSPs feel a high level of organizational support, they are more satisfied with their job and are less likely to leave. This is important because it shows that organizations can lower their staff attrition rates by providing DSPs with higher levels of support.

Provider organizations can increase the level of support provided to DSPs by recognizing their importance. This can come in many forms. One way to recognize DSPs is to promote a culture of competence. This means all DSPs are expected to demonstrate specific knowledge and skills on the job. This requires giving DSPs time on the clock to learn, practice and build confidence. Promoting a competent workforce helps close the performance gap between staff. It also encourages DSPs to have high quality interactions with the people they support. A second way to recognize DSPs is to increase hourly wages or provide a bonus to those who strive to improve. Additional compensation is important if DSPs are to view themselves as professionals who have valuable skills to offer. Finally it is essential for provider organizations to be outwardly grateful for good staff. Thanking DSPs both publicly and privately demonstrates to DSPs that their work is appreciated and their role in the organization is critical.

DSP Recognition Week begins September 8, 2013. Why not advocate for your organization to make September DSP recognition month? This is a great opportunity for organizations and communities to honor the DSP workforce. Even more, this is an opportunity for you to reflect on the important work you and your coworkers do every day. On behalf of the NADSP, thank you for all that you do. Go celebrate the immeasurable difference you are making on the lives of the people you support! You deserve it.

See Other Ways to Recognize Direct Support Professionals in this issue for additional recognition ideas you might share with your organization. Join us in honoring DSPs and people who receive supports.