Frontline Initiative Credentialing

Community Supports Program for People with Disabilities

The Community Supports Program (CSP) for People with Disabilities is a credit-bearing educational program offered through nine campuses that are part of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MNSCU) system. The courses offered in the CSP emphasize building on the strengths and capacities of people with disabilities to maximize community inclusion. The curriculum is designed to train DSPs to provide effective residential, vocational, educational, or in-home supports to people with disabilities in the their communities and meets the competencies identified in the national skill standards for the industry: the Community Support Skills Standards (CSSS) (see page 14 for an overview). The program offers several educational awards including a Certificate, a Specialized Diploma, and an A.A.S. or A.A. degree.

The Certificate award is aimed at preservice or orientation-level training, however, it is also effective for persons with experience in a broad human service area and who want to become more knowledgeable and skilled in community-based, person-centered work environments. Completion of the certificate program is required for participating in the specialized diploma program. It includes three technical courses: Facilitating Positive Behaviors I, Physical/Developmental Supports I, and Direct Service Professionalism. It also includes a general education course related to communication. The diploma program includes advanced coursework in facilitating positive behaviors, person-centered planning, human development and other important general education areas. In addition, students in the diploma program engage in a work site practicum and choose a specialization such as vocational support, supporting people with challenging behaviors, or an emphasis on health.

The CSP is voluntary and DSPs in Minnesota are not required to participate as a condition of their employment. Some students pay tuition out of pocket. Others use money offered by their employer for continued education. The colleges also offer financial aid for eligible students, and there have been some funds available that pay instructor fees and thus waive tuition for students who work in businesses who are participating in the grant.

The initial goals of the CSP were to provide high-quality, cost-effective, flexible, and accessible training and educational opportunities for people providing direct support to people with developmental disabilities or related conditions. The program was designed to be delivered in a variety of ways and over varying lengths of time to meet the needs of varied learners including traditional classroom training through academic courses at a local college, interactive television that connects people from across the state, or customized training developed on site at businesses. The program is offering for-credit or not-for-credit options.

One incentive for completion of the Diploma was created in 1997 when the Minnesota legislature passed a bill allowing people who had completed the CSP Diploma and had two years field experience to work in Designated Coordinator positions. This position was previously only allowed to be filled by people with four-year degrees. The newly created position allows for promotion of people who cannot or do not want to complete a four-year degree program. 

The CSP can meet the needs of different types of learners. It can offer experienced staff a chance to learn new skills and hone existing skills while working toward a credit-bearing degree. It can provide an introduction to the skills needed by DSPs to high school students or college freshmen. It can be a supplement to the academic career of students in other fields such as occupational therapy, physical therapy, psychology, social work, teaching, etc. who need to know more about community supports for people with disabilities.

Many students and agencies have shared their stories about the benefits and impact of the CSP. These experiences are about exchanging information on workplace culture and values, sharing new information and skills to be more effective at work, and finding good jobs or being promoted — just to mention a few of the personal and quality outcomes from participating in the program. One of Minnesota’s first CSP Diploma graduates says that the CSP has had an enormous influence on her personal and professional life. She proudly proclaimed that now she is equipped with the tools needed to provide the support that consumers want and need to reach their dreams.