Frontline Initiative Teamwork

A Foundation for Quality Supports

Becky supports four women who share a house. The four women have known each other for many years, and chose to share a house when they moved from a large facility. All four women have mobility impairments, yet are very active in the community and in managing their household. According to Becky everything runs smoothly day–to-day because there is a sense of teamwork between the direct support workers, the supervisor and the women being supported. Regular meetings are held with the women being supported, the Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) and the supervisor, to come up with a schedule for ensuring that the women are able to accomplish their plans for the week, and to ensure that everybody’s voice is heard. Beyond that, the group is able to honestly communicate with each other about concerns that may arise. This combination of including everybody in the decision making and open communication among all involved creates a sense of being a team for all who live or work in the house, ultimately creating a good quality of life for the women living in the house.

As any DSP can affirm, there are significant changes in how human services are being delivered today versus ten or fifteen years ago. Most noticeably is that many of these services are now being delivered in the community. For example, people who receive services are now provided supports in their own homes or in smaller, alternative living arrangements, and working environments in their communities rather than in state institutions and large sheltered workshops. Another important change is that now people who receive services and their families are more often invited to participate with service agencies to help design the type and shape of services, to learn how to help manage their own services and, in general, to become empowered and advocate for themselves.

As a result of these and related changes, the roles and job responsibilities of DSPs in community support settings are dramatically changing. Workers are learning to plan with, and not for, persons needing services and they are teaching people who receive services how to care and plan for themselves. In addition, as supervision becomes more decentralized, DSPs tend to be more isolated. As a result they will need to rely more on individual knowledge and skills, work more closely with their colleagues, and help to create more partnerships with other professional groups in the broader community.

The following is a list of competencies identified by the Human Services Research Institute (Cambridge, MA) that relate to competencies needed by DSPs today —

  • Ability and commitment to identify strengths in people and groups.
  • Genuine respect for diverse perspectives and life styles.
  • A capacity to listen and reflect.
  • An ability to subordinate one’s own ego (to put one’s self aside in the interest of the group).
  • Skill and creativity in helping people become more aware and confident of their own abilities.
  • Appreciation of when to step back and the ability to help the individual or group assume decision-making and action (Taylor, Bradley & Warren, 1996).