Frontline Initiative Credentialing

Direct Support Certification:
A Community Effort


Sherrill Wayland is the Inclusion and Training Specialist at St. Charles County Community College in St. Peters, MO

As community agencies are faced with a critical shortage of frontline employees and budget constraints, can one community make a difference in addressing issues of quality service and empowerment of the direct support workforce? The answer is: Yes. The certification of Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) is one way to increase recognition of the value of this workforce. Currently, there is no state certification process in Missouri, although discussion has been going on for years. But as a community, we wanted to see an empowered direct support workforce, so we stopped thinking and did something about it.

In 1997, two major initiatives were undertaken in St. Charles County, Missouri, directed at issues surrounding the DSP workforce. The first was a Direct Support Task Force that focuses on retention and recruitment and is still going strong today. The second was a community partnership with St. Charles County Community College. With the vision of promoting an empowered direct support workforce dedicated to providing quality supports, concerned agencies in the community approached the college to develop training programs for DSPs supporting people with developmental disabilities.

As the primary location for a partnership on training, the college provides lifelong learning opportunities, and brings cost effectiveness and neutrality among agency providers. The college formed an advisory committee and sought input from DSPs, consumers and their families, and agencies. In a survey administered to about 150 DSPs in the community, 85% of the participants indicated a desire for a certification process. Consumers and their families expressed their concern about the high turnover in the direct support workforce and said they would favor agencies that take actions to increase staff dedication and retention. The committee concluded that providing training opportunities and certification to DSPs is a wise investment that will reap greater benefits in the long run.

The Direct Support Certification Program was finally initiated in January 2000 at the college. Designed for entry-level employees working in the field of disabilities, the program focuses on providing standardized competency based training for DSPs. The curriculum consists of four modules: Health and Safety, Supportive Interventions, Values and Vision, and Professional Development. Those who complete all four modules receive a certificate recognizing them as certified DSPs. Their agencies also receive documentation of this recognition. Successful completion of the program may articulate into two credit hours towards a degree in Human Services at the College. Direct Support Certification:

Now in the third year of our partnership, many lessons have been learned about creating and managing a certification program. Above all, cost-effectiveness is the basis for the viability of any training and credentialing effort. From our experience, a training program can survive and grow only if it is provided at an affordable price. Our program is partially funded by the Developmental Disabilities Resource Board of St. Charles County (DDRB), a county tax board which funds services for people with developmental disabilities. From the college view point, we did not secure enough funding in the beginning of the project to provide training that the agencies could afford. This has made the implementation of training very difficult. Brainstorm with your work group to secure other strong funding resources such as collaborating with agencies to share training resources or building coalitions statewide to seek funding.

Realizing that limited funding often hinders agencies in sending their DSPs to external training, the college has been seeking alternative ways to carry on the partnership. Our next step is to ask St. Charles County agencies to work together on a competency-based certification exam that tests DSPs on the true job skills. The Community Support Skill Standards developed by the Human Service Research Institute as part of the Federal National Skill Standard Initiative will provide a basis for design of the exam. Quality internal training has long existed, however with the exam in mind, agencies will be asked to ensure that their training addresses the expected competencies. Operated on a voluntary basis, the exam will result in a portable certificate amongst agencies, helping to standardize training and reduce possible retraining cost. This calls for strong collaboration and commitment on the part of all parties.

A process like this is never easy, but we are eager to meet the challenges. DSPs are the backbone of every agency. They deserve recognition of their contributions and opportunities for professional development. We invite you to join our efforts in taking the community initiative to develop a system to recognize competent DSPs. With collaboration and commitment from all parties involved, we believe that one community can make a difference.