Frontline Initiative Credentialing

Refreshing Changes at a Residential Agency


Kellie Miller is the Director of Human Resources of ELM Homes, a residential services agency based in Waseca, MN

Last spring, I was lucky enough to participate in a committee at my agency that revised the job structure and job descriptions for the direct support staff. Prior to this change, ELM Homes had the same job descriptions for almost 20 years — since we first started the business! Although the essence of ELM Homes’ expectations for its Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) hasn’t changed, the language, organization, and the need to acknowledge that the competence and skill mastery levels of our DSPs has changed. It was about time we “freshened up” our look and language, and began discussing how our old ways did not do much for the DSP role, status, and image in our organization!

The committee, which consisted of direct support staff, frontline supervisors, qualified mental retardation professionals (QMRPs*), and administrators, worked to align ELM Homes’ DSP job descriptions with the Community Support Skills Standards (CSSS). Our DSPs used to be called Coordinators, differentiated at four seniority levels. While this old structure was taken into consideration by the committee, some major changes were made. The new job descriptions included an agency-level value statement for each of the 12 identified competency areas and the corresponding skill standards that all DSPs at ELM Homes’ are expected to reach in their work. The skill standards were then divided into three building-block areas by achievement level: the base-level is the Residential Instructor (RI), the mid-level, Advanced Residential Instructor (ARI), and the mastery-level, Certified Residential Instructor (CRI). Accordingly, we adjusted our pay scales to honor job level, seniority, as well as performance. Work location is also factored into the pay system, since the funds that we negotiate with counties may vary.

Under the new structure, staff no longer move up through the job levels simply by staying with Elm Homes long enough. They must apply to their supervisors for promotion. The promotion decision is made based on an appraisal of job performance, in-service and staff meeting attendance, and personal initiative. The appraisals are conducted by the DSPs’ direct supervisors and Program Managers (QMRPs or Designated Coordinators**). There is a goal-setting process between the DSPs and their supervisors, where the areas in which DSPs need to improve their work, and eventually be assessed, are decided partly at the supervisor’s discretion. Additionally, promotion is not permanent and may even be revoked if performance in the new position is below expectation. However, there is no pressure to “move up.” Individuals may choose to stay as an RI for their entire employment with ELM Homes if they wish. 

Individuals promoted to be ARIs focus on assisting QMRPs or Designated Coordinators in preparing consumer programs and conducting reviews of these programs, with a few additional duties. The CRIs primarily assist our Residential Managers (RM). While a RM’s role centers around household maintenance, consumer finances, and staff supervision, a CRI helps with the day-to-day duties such as grocery shopping. Most importantly, CRIs must be able to take charge when RMs have their days off. This “on-call” duty requires knowledge of consumers and facilities and an ability to make autonomous decisions. Currently, the certification at the mastery level is an internal Elm Homes process. We are excited about the prospect of honoring high-level skill attainment of direct support staff through a national credentialing process in our industry.

 As we move towards completing the DSPs job descriptions, we find that the staff are excited and interested in career advancement and positions within ELM Homes. It really is refreshing.


* The designation Qualified Mental Retardation Professional (QMRP) is a federally defined position in the regulations for Intermediate Care Facilities for Persons with Mental Retardation (ICF/MR).

** Designated Coordinator is defined in the Minnesota Consolidated Rule. See page 9 for more information.