Frontline Initiative: Making Direct Support a Career
Forging a Career as a DSP and Beyond
I started as a direct support professional (DSP) in 2007. At that time it was supposed to be nothing more than a part-time college job. Little did I know, I would spend the next 13 years forging it into a career. Probably within the first six months I decided that this part-time college job was more than that. I threw myself into being a DSP. For the first five-six years I did not know how to say, “no.” I typically worked 50 to 70 hours a week. I know this is something that a lot of DSPs can relate to. During that time, I would like to say I was a great DSP and employee. In retrospect I don’t think that’s true. I think I had the makings of a great DSP. I adhered to many of the core competencies even though I had no idea what they were at the time.
At some point during my sixth year as a DSP, I came to the realization that I was burned out. I addressed my burnout by doing three main things. First I started to learn to say “No.” I also started educating myself about direct support. Most importantly, I got involved. This is where my journey to becoming a professional truly began.
Learning to say “no” was a challenge. Quite frankly, I like working and I love being a DSP. I started by being more selective with the extra shifts I would work. I started only saying yes to the things that I enjoyed doing the most. In my case, that meant working with kids. How did I start educating myself? I started taking courses in the College of Direct Support. I also started taking advantage of every opportunity I had to attend conferences and webinars. I wanted to learn anything I could to become a better DSP. It is absolutely shocking the number of opportunities that are there for the DSPs that want to invest in themselves.
I wanted to learn anything I could to become a better DSP. It is absolutely shocking the number of opportunities that are there for the DSPs that want to invest in themselves.
It took me complaining to the right person about some of the things that were frustrating me to get me involved. This person happened to be part of the relatively new DSP Advocacy Group at my agency. He suggested that I join the group. I didn’t expect that attending would accomplish anything. But it changed everything for me. It gave me the opportunity to see the agency as a whole. It was much more than the little slice of pie I was seeing as a DSP. I had the opportunity to collaborate with people from all over the agency. Most importantly it showed me that our voices as DSPs were valued and listened to. You can learn more about our DSP Advocacy Group in The Alliance for Inclusion & Innovation’s quarterly bulletin Lifting the Workforce in August 2019.
Involvement in the DSP Advocacy Group opened a whole new world of opportunities that I didn't know were available for DSPs. I met with local legislators, presented at conferences, contributed to a webinar, and was selected to be part of my agency's mentorship program just to name a few. I can trace every opportunity I have had for advancement or professional growth back to the DSP Advocacy Group in one way or another.
Through the DSP Advocacy Group I was given the opportunity to get involved with Regional Centers for Workforce Transformation (RCWT). The goal of the RCWT is to support the professional growth of more than 100,000 direct support professionals in New York by providing educational opportunities and resources on NADSP ethical standards and the NYS DSP Core Competencies. Attending the RCWT helped change the trajectory of my career. Something said stuck with me, “As a DSP you can only really influence what you do, but as a frontline supervisor (FLS) you have the ability to affect many.” That really struck a chord with me. After over 10 years of being a DSP, I became a FLS. My transition to to becoming a FLS was relatively smooth due to the steps I took to become the best DSP I could be and my desire to learn as much as I could about the Core Competencies and Code of Ethics. This combined with my involvement in the DSP Advocacy Group set me up for success.
As of the writing of this article, I was promoted again. I am now a scheduler for services like respite, community habilitation and day habilitation. If you take anything away from my journey of working in direct support, I hope it is that there are so many opportunities available to DSPs. You just have to take advantage of them. I encourage you to get involved in your agency. Being able to collaborate with those outside of your immediate work area is so important. It gives you the opportunity to see your agency as a whole and how all the parts are connected.
Dylan has supported many people to learn skills to live and enjoy community living. See more in Invaluable: The Unrecognized Profession of Direct Support