Frontline Initiative John F. Kennedy Jr. Tribute

A Forum for Change:
John F. Kennedy, Jr. Looks at the Alliance

In 1989, several colleagues and I founded Reaching Up, Inc., a nonprofit organization devoted to improving educational and career opportunities for direct care workers. Since 1994, we have been meeting with leaders of national organizations who share a concern about the low wages, high turnover, minimal training, and lack of career opportunities for dedicated, hard-working staff. Recently, a number of national organizations including Reaching Up have joined together in convening a National Alliance for Direct Support Workers. The Alliance creates a national network for professional and provider organizations, consumer and advocacy groups, academic and research institutions, government agencies, and private foundations to develop effective strategies to strengthen the role of direct support workers within an evolving service delivery system.

Frontline Initiative is an Alliance-sponsored newsletter of the American Association on Mental Retardation Special Interest Group for Direct Support Professionals, Reaching Up, and the University of Minnesota-Institute on Community Integration Direct Service Training Initiative. An Alliance goal is to increase access to competency-based training, higher education, and career mentoring for all direct support staff. Improving services to people with disabilities by acknowledging and rewarding qualified staff is also an Alliance priority. To support these activities additional work force research is needed that focuses on the relationship between the quality of services and opportunities for career advancement for exemplary employees. The expectation is that this newsletter will promote an ongoing dialogue and an exchange of ideas in these related areas.

In recent years, all sectors of the disability field have increased their outreach to both workers and self-advocates. One result is that members of these constituencies attend more regional and national conferences. We need more forums like these, outside of the service environment, where workers and people with disabilities can talk directly to each other to discuss their common interests as well as their differences. As allies with a shared agenda, they can help each other achieve their goals. My hope is that this publication will also help to foster communication and networking among the millions of self-advocates and direct support workers from all around the country. 

The powerful economic, social, and political forces that are reshaping our systems of health care, special education, and social welfare will require concerted action by all members of the developmental disabilities community. It appears certain that in the future the role of direct support workers will be expanded. This publication is timely because it will anticipate future trends and present ideas and innovations that can transform chronic work force problems into creative possibilities that will improve the quality of life of both consumers and staff.