Frontline Initiative: DSPs Using the NADSP Code of Ethics
Michael Spooner walking a dog from the shelter where he works.
Hannah Cashman, author and NADSP E-Badge earner.
My name is Hannah Cashman and I have been a direct support professional (DSP) for over six years. One of the people I support is Michael, who also goes by Mike. He is a young man who has lived in many different settings and houses over the years. He tried alternate group homes, shared living arrangements (SLAs), and moving to the same group home multiple times throughout the years. None of those situations quite fit his needs, which resulted in him returning to the group home where I am currently employed. I could tell that this bothered Mike. All he ever wanted was a place where he could be his authentic self, feel safe, and not worry about moving again. Mike would advocate for himself to staff, behavioral health clinicians, medical professionals, and members of management, saying that he wanted to leave the group home and challenge himself to live somewhere else.
All he ever wanted was a place where he could be his authentic self, feel safe, and not worry about moving again.
Then an email announced a new opportunity for apartment-style living. Apartment living would still have staff but would not have the same rules or structure as a traditional group home. My team and I agreed that this would be a perfect opportunity for Michael and one of his best friends.
Michael could move into his own apartment with one roommate. He was excited to move out of the group home and into a space he could call his own. Michael expressed that he becomes easily overwhelmed with too many roommates and staff around. We agreed with him and said we would support him in this new housing journey. Yet he was anxious about moving out of the group home because it was a structure he had lived with for many years, and he worried about the finances and new obstacles he would face in having his own place. I reassured him that he would still have his own staff during the day and would have total freedom over where he went, who he interacted with, and what meals he wanted to make. I told him that he and his friend were being given the opportunity to share the apartment for a reason and that it was time for him to spread his wings and fly.
One of the first steps for Michael and his new housemate was to talk about what qualities are important to them and what makes a DSP the right fit for their home. Michael and his roommate also discussed personal boundaries and values. Mike, his new housemate, their team members, and I all sat down and compiled a list of questions to ask the DSPs they were interviewing. Then the two of them made a list of staff members they wanted to interview. Sample questions were: “What are your hobbies?”, “How many years of experience do you have in the field?” and “If I was having a difficult time, how would you support me?”
This was a great opportunity because it was the first time they could talk to potential staff who were excited to work with them. After the interviews, I told them they did an excellent job advocating for their needs, that I was excited for them, and that I could not wait to check out their apartment once they moved in.
Michael Spooner listens to hip-hop as he gets ready for a hike in the woods.
Ultimately, moving into a two-bedroom apartment was one of the best things to happen to Mike in a really long time. As a DSP, I am elated to see someone who has come a long way and worked really hard to gain independence. Mike was excited to show his new place to all of the staff and management team. Mike fought hard to be where he is today due to self-determination and self-advocacy. Mike was determined to leave the group home and knew he was ready to face the challenges of more responsibility and more self-directed choices.
Mike’s story is about self-advocacy and resilience. He was persistent in talking with multiple people about moving out of the group home. He spoke up about how he did not feel a connection to group home living and thought an apartment would be the best choice for his needs. By leaving the traditional group home, Mike could work on new skills and become more independent. It is important for DSPs to be open to change and to listen. Sometimes, taking risks and changing our surroundings will open doors to a brighter future.