Frontline Initiative Credentialing

Ad Astra Direct Support Professional Certificate Program in Kansas

With help from the Kansas Council on Developmental Disability, Kansans concerned with the longstanding problems in recruiting and retaining quality direct support professionals (DSPs) to support people in community human service programs formed a planning team to design and produce a skills certificate program, the NADSP-Kansas Program and Curriculum Framework, over a nine-month period (November 2002 – July 2003). This group included the views of families, people with disabilities, employers, policymakers, DSPs, advocates, and others with a stake in assuring that people with disabilities and other life challenges receive high-quality direct support to enable them to achieve their life goals.

Each planning meeting was arranged to give participants information about the way different skills certificate programs work in different places and even in different industries and to shape group consensus on what was right for Kansas. In this way, the members of the Credential Action Team gained sufficient background information and knowledge to make informed decisions about the framework for the state.

This framework is a map or blueprint for a relevant and practical skills certificate program in Kansas. It describes the features that are necessary to any robust and credible skills certificate program and customizes these to be useful as an employee/trainee development program for DSPs.

The planners have identified four levels that have become part of the Kansas-NADSP certificate framework. The first level is the “Registration” level, where a candidate begins to work on a skills certificate. At this level the candidate has completed basic orientation training and other requirements. The candidate is then eligible to work on the Initial Proficiency Certificate (IPC) in Direct Support. After completing these requirements, the candidate goes on to the Advanced Proficiency Certificate if she or he chooses. If the candidate achieves the Advanced Proficiency Certificate (APC), she or he will receive the Ad Astra APC and the U.S. Department of Labor Certificate for Direct Support Specialist.

Credential Program Structure

Here is a sketch of the nature and operational structure for the NADSP–Kansas (it isn’t an NADSP program) program that fits with the Ad Astra Direct Support Professional environment in community human services and in Kansas.

The Kansas Ad Astra Credentialing Program will be:

  1. A direct support skills certificate program for DSPs. Employees or training interns sponsored by employers to participate in the program enter the program voluntarily. This means that employees are not required by regulation or statute to enter the program. The purpose of the program is to offer a clear career path to people entering community human services that is both practical and welcoming to all who wish to develop their skills and careers in this field. The program is not intended to exclude people or make it difficult for people to become DSPs. People can work in direct support without pursuing the Certificate, but those who choose it are likely both to acquire skills their employer will value and to enhance their job satisfaction and effectiveness.
  2. A representative body of stakeholders steers the program. These stakeholders include DSPs, employers, people with disabilities, family members, educators, trainers, and policymakers. As a voluntary self-regulating Council, the program is not subject to regulation by state agencies. The Ad Astra State Council in Kansas functions to assure statewide fidelity to the Curriculum Framework across regional locations to assure the credibility of the skills certificate over time and to assure equitable treatment of candidates. The Council issues certificates and issues the Advanced Proficiency Certificate on Direct Support in collaboration with the U.S. and Kansas Departments of Labor. As the program grows within a specific region or location, a regional NADSP Council will form to provide local support and a connection point to the State Council. Each local council will be represented on the state council.
  3. An employer based training (EBT) program. This means that employers provide training consistent with the Ad Astra principles and requirements in agency (employer) classrooms and/or learning stations (such as computer terminals), using instructors they have selected and trained, and curricula and materials selected or designed to align with the Ad Astra outcomes. Human service organizations, either alone or, ideally, in collaboration with other employers where possible, provide training to their employees or training interns. Employees are paid for their time in training. Employers and others are guided in program execution and fidelity by the statewide and regional council(s) who will use the Ad Astra Framework to assure local program fidelity to the mission and requirements of Ad Astra.
  4. A nonprofit organization. A nonprofit organization where the statewide council will begin as a committee associated with a credible nonprofit organization such as InterHab, the Kansas Developmental Disability Council, the University of Kansas, or some similar entity. Eventually, the Ad Astra credentialing program will grow into a separate nonprofit organization upholding the mission and principles defined in this document. Regional Councils will be represented at the statewide council and will collaborate with the statewide council in the administration of the program.

Curriculum Design and Training Model

Here is an outline of the types of awards that will be offered by the Ad Astra program and the educational methods and approaches that will be used.

Kansas Ad Astra Credentialing Program is a program that builds in quality by using up-to-date adult learning approaches and focuses on expert practice in community support through the following characteristics:

  1. Creates a scaffold for direct support career advancement in community based human services by offering multiple skill certificates spanning a range of levels of mastery in direct support.
  2. Uses effective adult learning strategies – 75% interactivity; no more than 25% lecture (interactive activities can occur in a computer-based modality).
  3. When convened in classrooms (other than computer learning stations), class sizes should be sufficient to support small group activity but not so large as to present learning challenges (ideally 10-30).
  4. Is competency based (see NADSP Learner Outcomes) using the following validated practice guidelines as core content: The Community Support Skill Standards, the NADSP Code of Ethics, and the Minnesota Frontline Supervisor competencies.
  5. Is aligned with national standards for DSPs (see U.S. Department of Labor Direct Support Specialist Standards)
  6. Provides each learner with a “skills mentor” who has mastered NADSP competencies to assist them in applying knowledge and theory to real work situations.
  7. Offers local flexibility in selection of curricula and learning arrangements (e.g., class hours, instructors, location, and curricula materials) as long as the local training entity provides adequate preparation for candidate mastery of NADSP Program and Curriculum Framework.
  8. Incorporates regular evaluation to examine quality and promote continual improvement.
  9. Uses effective instructors who have recent experience working in a community human service agency or equivalent environment.
  10. Provides a method for candidates to receive program credit for relevant past experience.
  11. Promotes professional identity and professional growth through supporting self-directed learning with synchronous learning and through opportunities for reflection and discussion of work experience. Ideally, candidate cohorts will meet every 2-3 weeks and no less than once per quarter.
  12. Seeks articulation agreements with postsecondary schools and facilitates award of college credit for EBT for those who want it.
  13. Designs the Direct Support Initial Proficiency Certificate program to take from 8-12 months (including registration level) to complete. The Direct Support Advanced Proficiency Certificate program will take from 6-8 months to complete (this assures that candidates meet the national standards within the 18-month period required to be awarded the Department of Labor certificate as a Direct Support Specialist).

Adapted with permission from the Kansas Skill Certificate Framework document developed by the Kansas Credential Action Team and Human Services Research Institute.