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Anne Carlsen Promotes DSP Growth With Certification Program 

Submitted By: Sadie Lindbo, Director of Health Information, Anne Carlsen

The Anne Carlsen Direct Support Professional (DSP) Certification program supports DSPs in pursuit of the DSP-I, DSP-II, or DSP-III Certification – a nationally-recognized certification from The National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals (NADSP). The program aligns their skills to the NADSP Competency Areas. The initial pilot was so successful that Anne Carlsen is moving it into a permanent program for DSP growth and development in the organization.

The Impact Of The Certification Program

The DSP Certification program at Anne Carlsen has offered a career ladder for DSPs with the opportunity for growth and development in their role within the organization. This program aligns the importance of this group of employees with the ability for them to learn and grow their skills in their role. It has also increased visibility for the DSPs in their workforce, which is especially important since DSPs are the largest percentage of the workforce within the organization. 

The Anne Carlsen DSP turnover rate for the pilot group of 10 employees has stayed at 0% since the first certification was issued in August 2022, through August 1, 2023.  In comparison, the total DSP turnover rate for FY2023 is 15%. Additionally, aligning with national standards elevates the organization, as well as the quality of services that Anne Carlsen provides to people that we support. 

Doing the DSP-I and DSP-II has helped me be a better DSP and has helped me reflect on what I have done and things that I can improve on. I loved the training and writing the testimonials.

Angela E., DSP, Anne Carlsen

This DSP Certification Program offers a way for DSPs to continue to grow and develop in the field, whereas previously, there was not an active internal conversation about “growing employees” in their DSP role. 

Steps To Implement A DSP Certification Program

Organizations can begin by reviewing the certification requirements for employees, building a budget, and obtaining approval and support from leadership. Agencies can also ascertain interest from DSP employees to pursue the program for DSP Certification. 

To ensure that the program remains successful, organizations should provide appropriate support for individual DSPs pursuing the DSP Certification, which could include incentives, recognition, and celebration of their completion of the DSP Certification program. 

Here are the specific steps Anne Carlsen Center took in rolling out its DSP Certification program: 

  1. A presentation was given to the Anne Carlsen Executive team and Senior Leaders about DSP Certification. 
  2. The pilot project took place over the course of 6 months to work out implementation, as well as gather support from this key stakeholder group. 
  3. When support was secured, the Organizational Development (OD) team asked the supervisory group to identify employees to participate in the pilot process. Those candidates were selected from a list of staff who had already completed their Developmental Disability (DD) Certification through Minot State University. 
  4. The selected employees were invited to an informational session to learn more about the process of obtaining the DSP Certification. Interested employees followed up with a member of the OD team to get started. 
  5. The employee, supervisor, and a member of OD reviewed the steps to obtain the DSP Certification and begin the process of earning their remaining educational hours to meet the DSP Certification requirements. 
  6. The employee then met with their supervisor and a member of OD to begin the next phase of demonstrating competency. 
  7. OD was made available to support employees throughout this process. This portion created some challenges as employees learned how to write about the demonstration of their competencies for the reviewers. 
  8. Once the employee successfully completed the DSP Certification, a completion bonus of $500 was awarded to them. 
  9. The supervisor also planned a “surprise celebration” for the employee including a cake, balloons/flowers, and a small “ceremony,” with available senior leaders to honor, award, and capture pictures of the celebration. 
  10. Employees were awarded a framed certificate of completion and issued a new employee badge, with their certification included under their name. 
  11. This celebration is then posted to “Yammer” – Anne Carlsen’s internal social media application – sharing the pictures and honoring the employee for their achievement. 

Challenges Involving The DSP Certification Program

Due to the nationwide workforce shortage, organizations may face the difficulty of time management as a barrier for their already challenged workforce. However, with a thoughtful and intentional implementation process – utilizing expected breaks in work schedules, while supporting employees that have an intrinsic interest – there is an opportunity to accomplish this program. 

With proper support from the organization, including incentives and recognition, the program will be sustainable and successful. Obtaining support from executive and senior leadership is also crucial to build excitement and ensure programming resources are in place. 

“Completing the DSP Certification has validated the work that I do. It has reminded me of all of the good work that I’ve done to support people throughout the years.”

Chelsy W., DSP, Anne Carlsen

About Anne Carlsen

Anne Carlsen is a non-profit organization providing individuals with developmental disabilities or delays with services and supports for over 80 years. Anne Carlsen has positioned itself on the cutting edge of innovation with unique programs, creative therapies, and advanced assistive technologies that provide life-changing programming to those we serve. 

You can learn more about Anne Carlsen by visiting the organization’s website: 

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Since 1969, CQL | The Council on Quality and Leadership has been a leader in working with human service organizations and systems to continuously define, measure, and improve quality of life and quality of services for youth, adults, and older adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and psychiatric disabilities. CQL offers accreditation, training, certification, research, and consultation services to agencies that share our vision of dignity, opportunity, and community for all people.