Program Profile

Impact Feature Issue on Direct Support Workforce Development

Kansans Mobilizing for Change: Award-Winning Systems Change


Kathy Olson is Associate Research Professor with the Kansas University Center on Developmental Disabilities, Parsons.

Kathy Stiffler is Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer with Individual Support Systems, Inc., Topeka.

People with developmental disabilities often rely on Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) to assist them with daily activities ranging from self-care and homemaking to employment and community participation. DSPs influence the quality of life for the people they support. Nationwide, low wages, limited opportunities for training and career advancement, as well as a lack of recognition for the essential work they do have resulted in high turnover among DSPs. In Kansas, these aspects of the DSP workforce crisis are being addressed by the award-winning systems change effort, Kansans Mobilizing for Direct Support Workforce Change (KMFC).

KMFC Overview

Kansans Mobilizing for Direct Support Workforce Change focuses on enhancing educational opportunities for and the status of DSPs. Its overall goal is improving recruitment and retention rates, leading to improved quality of services. Two years of initial funding (2002-2004) from the Kansas Council on Developmental Disabilities united stakeholders in the project, which still continues today with other funding. The participants in KMFC are service providers, self-advocates, families, state policymakers (representatives from the Kansas Departments of Commerce, Health and Environment, and Social and Rehabilitation Services), representatives from the U.S. Department of Labor, and other Kansas DSP workforce development stakeholders along with researchers from the University of Kansas (additional researchers from the University of Minnesota participated in the initial project). Among the key areas on which project partners have focused are education of Frontline Supervisors and DSPs, as well as development of a recognized direct service career path.

Enhancing Educational Opportunities and Career Status

Educational opportunities addressing the essential functions of the direct service profession are critical to providing quality services and to DSP career development. Online training through the College of Direct Support (CDS) and the College of Frontline Supervision and Management, a nationally available competency-based training curriculum developed at the University of Minnesota, was introduced during the initial KMFC project. The online curriculum was customized with Kansas-specific content and used to transition from face-to-face training to computer-based training with personal follow-up. CDS provided increased flexibility and availability of high-quality training, and when grant funding ended KMFC members continued to meet and explore ways to fund this training option. Purchase of the CDS by a pool of employers was much more affordable than individual purchase, so KMFC pursued this option. Member advocacy resulted in CDS being identified as an immediate priority in the State’s Social and Rehabilitation Services Strategic Plan 2005-2010. When CDS was not included in the final budget request, KMFC was successful in getting the legislature to add funding for FY 2007. Ongoing advocacy resulted in funding being included in base Social and Rehabilitation Services current budget request.

CDS is now available statewide, and in the first 10 months of this expansion over 90 service providers have taken advantage of this training opportunity. KMFC members are sharing their CDS implementation strategies and success stories with others across the state. DSPs who work for individuals who self-direct services, for small providers who support only a few individuals or for larger service providers are now all accessing the same training. Several employers are also linking wage increases to training. To help build a career ladder KMFC developed a credentialing and apprenticeship program for Kansas DSPs. The Ad Astra Direct Support Registered Apprenticeship Program promotes a fundamental shift from direct support as “just another job” to a conscious career choice. It provides coherent, step-by-step, multi-level staff training built on nationally recognized Community Support Skills Standards (HSRI, 1997) that define the skills a DSP needs to know to provide high quality support for people with developmental disabilities. Ad Astra provides employers with a coaching protocol involving both mentors/journeyworkers (highly skilled current employees) and Ad Astra apprentices (candidates). The Kansas Apprenticeship Council has registered this voluntary credentialing program leading to journeyworker status.


Outcomes of the initial two-year project show that the strategies used hold promise for addressing the need for enhanced educational opportunities and status for DSPs, as well as reducing turnover. Outcomes include the following:

  • Overall in the 12 organizations that completed the project interventions, there was a 15% reduction in DSP turnover from their baseline assessments in 2002 through project completion in 2004. Turnover for frontline supervisors declined 29% from the baseline level, suggesting that the project’s activities had the greatest impact initially on supervisors, but by the end of the second year a healthy decline in DSP turnover was also evident.
  • At the start of the project 40% of agency participants reported that they limited provision of services to new individuals with disabilities due to their workforce crisis. In the final year of the project only 15.4% reported their workforce challenges forced them to limit new services.

As mentioned earlier, over 90 Kansas service providers are now making CDS training available to their staff. In addition, two agencies are participating in the apprenticeship program. KMFC participants have also created a number of workforce initiatives to continue the efforts of KMFC beyond the initial grant, including establishing a Kansas Chapter of the National Alliance of Direct Support Professionals, and advocating at the state level for increased wages and benefits for DSPs.

In 2005, KMFC received the Moving Mountains Award (see sidebar) for its work in direct support workforce systems change. Despite the promising success of the initial two-year project, additional work must be done to address DSP challenges in Kansas. Toward that end KMFC members continue to meet face-to-face quarterly and collaborate with others in their local communities and across the state to build on the earlier work – especially in the areas of training through the CDS and credentialing – bringing about continued systems change to resolve the direct support workforce crisis in Kansas.


  • Human Services Research Institute (HSRI) . (1997). Analysis of the content of the community support skill standards and the national standards for human services educational programs. Cambridge, MA: Author.