Frontline Initiative Person-Centered Practices

National Goals in Research, Practice, and Policy 2015 and Person-Centered Supports


Colleen A. McLaughlin M.Ed is the Director of Policy at the Institute on Disabilities at the College of Education at Temple University.

Tony Anderson is Executive Director of The Valley Mountain Regional Center inStockton, CA.

National Goals 2015 was jointly organized by the RTC on Community Living/Institute on Community Integration, The Arc of the US, the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD), the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD), the RTC on Developmental Disabilities and Health/Institute on Disability and Human Development, and the RTC on Employment at the University of Massachusetts Boston with support from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR).

A National Goals meeting focused on research, practice, and policy in intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) was held in August 2015. National experts including people with disabilities, family members, and professionals gathered to discuss ten major topics of importance to the developmental disability community. The Direct Support Professional (DSP) Workforce was one focus area. The group of experts discussed what is known about the current DSP Workforce. Together they arrived at goals for the future of research and practice.

Many goals in the area of Workforce Development highlighted the need to build skills in the workforce. Increasing DSPs’ ability to provide person-centered supports is essential to achieving these goals:

  • There are enough DSPs who are qualified to support a diverse population of people with IDD to achieve healthy, active, engaged, and valued lives in their communities.
  • The workforce has the skills and competency needed to provide quality support.
  • People with disabilities and their families receive the support needed to maintain a stable home life and increase community inclusion across the lifespan.
  • DSPs help build capacity and skills of other DSPs to effectively support quality of life and full inclusion.

To achieve these goals, it is important that employers support DSPs to develop the Person-Centered Thinking skills needed to support people to live valued and active lives in their communities. Person-Centered Thinking are skills that requires ongoing development. It is a mindset and a way of life that the DSP must keep in the forefront of all that they do.

DSPs with limited training and experience often rely on quick fixes when posed with challenges. They may provide supports in a way that is easy and most comfortable to them. Often, this means taking charge, providing answers, and giving direction rather than working in partnership with the person and listening to his or her needs and preferences. This gives the person little opportunity to grow and live a self-determined life.

The DSP skilled in Person-Centered Thinking engages in a dynamic process of considering how a person wants to direct their life. The process is dynamic because DSPs need to always be listening to and learning more about the person. There are no shortcuts. This can sometimes be time consuming at first, but once one gets started it becomes second nature. It is well worth the effort as people with developmental disabilities start to flourish.

The National Goals meeting was purposeful in selecting the Workforce as a priority area. Person-centered supports is a core competency for DSPs, and Person-Centered Thinking is the foundation of the direct support profession.