Frontline Initiative: Making Direct Support a Career

How I set High Standards for the DSPs I Hire
A Self Advocate's Perspective


Letisia Comstock-Allcorn is a self-advocate and a consultant with the Regional Centers for Workforce Transformation in Oneida, New York. She can be reached at

My family – most important people in my life.

 The Regional Centers for Workforce Transformation (RCWT) are regional collaborations between service providers, Direct Support Professionals (DSPs), people who receive services and others in the field of intellectual and developmental disabilities.  As a Self-Advocate Lead for the RCWT, I spend a lot of my time teaching and discussing the DSP core competencies. These core competencies were developed for the workforce in our state. They include Putting People First, Positive Relationships, Being a Professional, Health, Safety, Home life, and Get into Community. They are similar to the NADSP Core Competencies. There is also an evaluation tool to give DSPs information about how their work aligns with the core competencies. The core competencies and the evaluation tool give me a voice as an advocate and as a person who receives services through Self-Direction. We individuals now have a standard to show us the difference between a good DSP and a poor DSP. As services are finally changing and we become more vocal, we needed something to hold our staff accountable. That is why the evaluation tool is essential.

Creating a job description for a DSP

I use the core competencies in my everyday life as I receive supports. In fact, I have them hanging up on my dining room wall. It only makes sense that while writing the ad for my DSPs’ job descriptions that I stressed the core competencies. At the top of my list is Professionalism. I should never be made to feel ashamed or embarrassed by a DSP’s behaviors or words. I laid out to candidates in my ad just what I expect. I expect them to be on time for work. I expect them to be ready to make a schedule with me and talk respectfully and positively. Safety is also at the top of my list because there will be times when my family will be with us. It’s my job to protect my son and husband, but if the DSP’s allegiance is to me and my first allegiance is to them, then they should be important to the DSP. I also wrote about the roles I expect the DSPs to do with me: budgeting, and helping me prepare for work-related things, and helping me engage in my community, such as going to church. We are a Christian family and we talk about the Bible. We pray, and listen to Christian music, and watch Christian films. I tell the candidates upfront so they don’t feel uninformed or blindsided while supporting me. I know they are to support me in all things, but DSPs are still people and I respect them and their position. I would never impose my religious beliefs on them. I also want to encourage open communication in a respectful, friendly atmosphere. After the ad is posted, I ask the people closest to me to help go through applicant(s) with me. I look for how long they stayed at previous jobs. If they changed jobs often then I don’t pick them. I want someone who sees this as a career and not a way to get money. I also take their name and see if I can find them on Facebook. Often you see the real person they are through their Facebook photos, likes and comments. It was during this process where I learned one of my applicants was practicing black magic and was into some shady things. I did not want this person near me or my son with reckless behavior.

Mike and I getting ready to do an interview.

Interviewing for my DSPs

The interviews are the next step. I write my own interview questions, so they relate specially to my circumstances. I make sure to ask questions like how your driving skills in snowy weather are, and how will you be able to help me and my son if I have a seizure.  This enables me to find out how candidates handle different situations. The core competencies helped me think of the questions I wanted to ask. I interview almost all the people who apply because I know from experience that what is in my paperwork can be different from who I am today. The same thing may apply to them. I have my husband Michael and a friend, Craig, sit in on interviews. This allows me to focus on the questions and they can focus on things like comfort level and body language of both me and the DSP candidate. After interviewing, we try to narrow it down to 1-2 candidates. And then I hire the candidate who I feel would uphold the standards that are clearly set by the core competencies that are most important to me like being a professional and helping me maintain a positive relationship with my son, and keeping us safe while driving.

Training and supporting the DSP as a professional

I receive services from an agency that handles all training for the DSPs I hire. The agency includes the ones I would like for the DSP to attend, like Informed Decision Making. After hiring the DSP, I keep a notebook about how they are doing. Do they use their phone while driving? Do they help me budget? Do they help me prepare to go shopping? Are they in tune with my family? I give them feedback as they are supporting me so they can improve. I encourage them to communicate with me about their feelings and situations. The notes also help me when I use the evaluation tool at least once a year. I can look back and remember where we struggled, what needs improving, and where they excelled. I sit down with the DSP and I discuss what I wrote on the evaluation tool, so they feel respected and I know nothing is lost in translation. Since I give them feedback on a regular basis, there are no surprises.

Every Monday, I sit down with the DSPs and make a schedule for the following week. I try to build in flexibility because things happen. I always try to keep our relationship positive and professional. At times, it is a struggle because when you let someone into your life, you want to make them your friend. I struggle with this because it is hard to hold a “friend” accountable. These are the steps I have taken to improve my life and the work my DSP and I do together, because it is a partnership.

Using self-directed services and the core competencies help me feel as if I have finally started to live and not just have a life. I’m not always easy to work with but I am grateful for all people who support me to live the very best life I can. This is a life I can be proud of!