Frontline Initiative Credentialing

Alliance Update:
NADSP on National Credentialing for DSPs


 Jill Jackson is a credentialed DSP at Hilltoppers Inc. in Crossville, TN

The National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals (NADSP) is a coalition of organizations and individuals committed to strengthening supports to people who rely on human services. To do so, the role of the Direct Support Professional (DSP) must be enhanced and strengthened as well. The NADSP believes that establishing a voluntary, national credential for DSPs will move us closer to these parallel goals.

Why is a national credential important to human services? 

The NADSP asserts that a recognized body of skills, knowledge, and ethics is essential to a rigorous, voluntary credential. These skills, knowledge, and ethics must represent the spirit and essence of the direct support role in contemporary human services. It is critical to change the image of the direct support role from “just another job” to a role that is recognized and valued. Despite the importance of the DSP to the quality of support, our field is unable to find and retain workers. Further, direct support is often viewed as a temporary career stop. It is imperative that we transform the accidental job to a career destination of commitment and value.

Our field is driven by values; some values are easily identifiable, while others are mostly unspoken. In the past, opinions and decisions of the service system were valued more than those of the participant. Today, self-determination is the guiding principle for quality support. Our field must examine now how it can make a similar shift with DSPs. This exploration must include a search for new ways of working — ways where DSPs are empowered to assist participants toward self-direction. The most promising forms of support are characterized by partnerships with participants, community participation, self-determination, and meaningful and lasting outcomes. A national credential, regularly renewed and updated, offers the promise of a full and detailed vision of professional support. The NADSP believes that the following principles should guide the development and enactment of a national, voluntary credential —

Nature of the direct support role

  • The essence of the role is to support people in leading self-determined lives as full participants of the community. Any program of practitioner credentialing must fully value and honor this fundamental precept.
  • The DSP is a partner with the participant in the support process. This partnership is characterized by the ethical and respectful provision of relevant, individualized support, not the imposition of control.
  • The credential tells that the DSP is a fully empowered, expert professional who embraces direct support as their primary work. With a credential, consumers, organizations, and community members recognize and value the DSP as a competent and creative partner in the helping process.
  • The DSP recognizes that the consumer’s social and community networks are central to his or her well being and strives to strengthen these relationships.
  • Direct support work is a core activity of human services and the DSP must be well prepared through comprehensive education, experience, and values clarification.

Nature of the credential

  • The proposed NADSP credential, whether national, state or local, must be voluntary. The purpose of a credential is to encourage people to recognize and select direct support as a career, not to exclude people from the role.
  • A meaningful credential will be based upon mastery of competencies, acquisition of knowledge sets, supervised experience, and acceptance of an ethical code. The credential components must represent the consensus of stakeholders: individuals, families, DSPs, administrators, trainers, and educators.
  • The credential program should be designed to support and encourage portability across local, regional, and state boundaries. By building and recognizing competency among DSPs, a valued credential should enable them to move along career lattices — exploring, experiencing, and practicing the diversity of direct support and other human service work.
  • The national credential should mark the individual’s commitment to career development, best practices, and personal growth. It should not mark the endpoint of the practitioner’s training, education, or professional development.
  • Local or regional entities should administer preparation programs to ensure adherence to nationally established criteria.
  • The components of a national credential process must be developed according to well-accepted and valid methods. These components must be regularly reviewed and revised through national, collaborative means.
  • A national credential should be crafted to make more explicit the career and educational paths for students, and incumbent workers.
  • Establishing a national credential will facilitate the exposure of young people to human service careers through their secondary and post-secondary educational experiences.
  • The direct support credential must be accessible to both new and incumbent workers.
  • Given the low wages of DSPs, financial aid must be made available to these workers to ensure that the credential is truly accessible.

In the last few years, members of the NADSP have been supporting credentialing efforts across the country. As these initiatives continue to develop and mature, the Alliance will continue to be a resource on what is working and what is not, as well as be a general point of contact for resources and information about national voluntary credentialing for DSPs. If you have information about initiatives happening in your state, please contact one of the Alliance co-chairs.