Frontline Initiative International

DSPs Help Define Quality in Denmark


Per Holm is managing director of Social Development Center (SUS)

Birger Perlt is senior consultant for SUS

The social pedagogue in Denmark is a Direct Support Professional who has completed a specific vocational training of three years. The training is a combination of theory and practice and includes training in psychology, pedagogy, social civics, health care, communication techniques, organizational management, sport activities and culture. This training qualifies the social pedagogues to work in many settings within the field of social welfare services. For example, some social pedagogues work with people with developmental and physical disabilities, some work as nursery school teachers, while still others may participate in drug rehabilitation programs, or provide family support to families with few other resources.

A predominant trend in social welfare services in Denmark has been the ongoing decentralization of services and deinstitutionalization. Much attention in social pedagogy has been focused on developing the role of professional support in the local community. The focus has shifted from dysfunction and disability to resources, possibilities and the personal development of persons with disabilities. Moving from institutions to community housing or assisted living, however, often causes a breaking up of a person’s existing social network. In Denmark and in many European countries, full social integration in the local community has been difficult to achieve for people with disabilities. Many experience loneliness and run the risk of being isolated.

The challenge for social pedagogues in Denmark is to support the building of new networks in a close dialogue with persons with disabilities. In this dialogue, the following concepts and questions are becoming increasingly important —

  • Independence and Autonomy: How do you structure your own life, balancing opportunities of independent choices and the need for support? How do you organize services (social, educational, health, etc.) in order to accomplish this balance?
  • Inclusion and Participation: How do we support people with disabilities in actively shaping their own lives? And how do we eliminate the social, psychological, physical and technical barriers that prevent full participation in all of life?

In Denmark, one way we have approached these issues is through the use of a new general evaluation model for evaluating home and care services in which the consumers are directly and actively involved as co-actors. The model incorporates consumer-defined standards as a basis for an evaluation guide. A team consisting of consumers, relatives, and social pedagogues actively participate in evaluating and submitting suggestions for development and change. All parties involved hold a stake in assuring the best possible quality of the support and services provided. It is thus important to bring together the parties and form a partnership where dialogue and exchange of points of view are the key issues.

The standards for the evaluation guide were developed by two groups of people with disabilities who were asked to share what they found important in their lives. For several days they developed many statements, some filled with experiences of suppression, some voicing hopes and dreams of a better future. The statements were then summarized in the following areas: housing and roommates, work and education, leisure time activities, autonomy and experience of the self, social network, support, and civil rights.

An evaluation team trained in observation, interviewing, evaluation and analysis techniques uses these standards to evaluate what services the consumer wants. The team compiles the data in 4–5 days by interviewing the consumers and their friends, relatives, support staff, and administrative staff. The data is then assessed and summed up in a report which includes a number of proposals for developing initiatives of action, which the agency and care services in question are obligated by contract to carry out within the following year.

The active participation this team approach generates has opened new perspectives for the participants. The dialogue between interviewers and those interviewed has in itself initiated a process of putting into words a person’s every day experiences, which opens new perspectives for possible changes in support services. This process leads to social pedagogues, management and other agency staff reflecting more about their own work. Thus, the evaluation model can become a kind of self-monitoring instrument for an agency and its staff. The consumer becomes the focus of services and his or her desires define the function of the provider agency and the role of the social pedagogue in Denmark.