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FREE Invests In Professional Development To Support DSPs

Submitted By:

  • Patrice Radowitz, Public Relations Director, FREE
  • John Best, Senior Vice President of Human Resources, FREE
  • JoAnne Turano, Director of Talent Acquisition and Development, FREE

Family Residences and Essential Enterprises, Inc. (FREE) created the Center for Learning and Professional Development (CLPD) to fulfill its commitment to realigning the agency as a learning organization. CLPD is at its core a bundling of state-mandated training, training that advances the agency’s own philosophy and vision, and learning opportunities that staff self-select.

The CLPD was created primarily to support the training and career growth of our DSPs and the professionalization of the direct support role. DSPs are provided with many career development offerings to continue their education. Since the CLPD began, DSPs have completed 4,445 online classes and attended 786 new hire orientations per year.

FREE believes that making the investment in well-trained DSPs and affording them the ability to advance within the organization and in the field, yields benefits for everyone. This has been demonstrated through our organization’s retention/turnover rates, as well as results from satisfaction surveys.

The Impact Of The CLPD Program

CLPD’s emphasis on new staff orientation and training has contributed to a significant increase in DSP retention in the first 6 months of their employment, going from 36.78% in 2015 to 57.02% in 2019. Turnover rates have also steadily improved. In 2017, our turnover rate was 52%, whereas in 2018 it dropped to 48%, and in 2019 it dropped again to 37%.

Satisfaction surveys show that people receiving services are also happier due to the work of our DSPs. All 2019 survey results from people receiving services had at least a 90% approval rating.

Family satisfaction surveys showed that 93% of families were extremely satisfied. In addition, more than 90% feel that their family member’s DSPs are helping people realize their personal goals, are responsive to their needs and wants, can be dependent upon to fulfill their responsibilities, are knowledgeable of their family member’s needs, and encourage family involvement in their family member’s life.

Chris’ Experiences With The CLPD Program

Chris (pictured above) is a direct support professional who works at FREE. He feels that he has benefited both professionally and personally from training provided by FREE through CLPD. Chris provides supports for some people who require their food to be chopped because they are at risk of choking. Due to our first aid training, Chris knows he could respond and handle the situation. He feels the learning opportunities offered shows that FREE really does care. As a result, he also feels more job satisfaction.

Benefits To The DSP Workforce

FREE links increased compensation to learning, by providing monetary incentives to DSPs for achieving training and education goals. This includes hourly wage incentives for completing and sustaining mandatory certifications or obtaining a college degree.

In addition, DSPs who complete the Alliance Program – a college DSP Certificate Program – are eligible for a one-time bonus.

CLPD also provides tuition reimbursement for DSPs to enhance their knowledge and competencies when they pursue external training, certification, college and graduate study. CLPD collaborates with Nassau and Suffolk Community Colleges, Empire State College, and Stony Brook University (SBU) to provide DSPs with easy access to advanced learning opportunities. We also offer a Master’s program at FREE’s headquarters, allowing for maximum program participation and employee convenience.

Two DSPs participate in the FREE CLPD Program

Tips To Implement A Similar DSP Program

  • Create a learning hub where all activities are centered on providing DSPs with knowledge, training, and incentives for professional development and career advancement.
  • Implement a learning management system to help you deliver and oversee interactive courses.
  • Recognize that DSPs are working in geographically disparate locations. Offer online educational options whenever possible and in-person trainings closer to their workplace.
  • Be responsive to the fact that DSPs rely heavily on their smart phones. The CLPD uses text messaging to communicate learning opportunities and training reminders. FREE is currently exploring the use of smart phone based learning apps.
  • Introduce a mechanism for collecting meaningful feedback from DSPs.
  • Develop consistent internal promotion of existing educational opportunities.
  • Build excitement and enthusiasm for learning, especially given the competing priorities and pressures that DSPs face

About Family Residences and Essential Enterprises, Inc. (FREE)

Family Residences and Essential Enterprises, Inc. (FREE), founded in 1977, benefits and proudly supports more than 4,000 individuals with intellectual / developmental disabilities, mental illness and traumatic brain injury. It is the mission of FREE to help individuals of all abilities realize their full potential. FREE provides a diverse array of supports and services including: housing; recovery services; transition to work; employment; day, community and family services; respite; crisis services; education and after school support; specialty health services; and advocacy.

2020 National DSP Recognition Week

For 2020 National DSP Recognition Week, NADSP and CQL are sharing specific organization-wide initiatives that lift up and bolster direct support professionals (DSPs) throughout the entire year. These include significant, long-lasting, and meaningful actions that have far-reaching effects on DSPs. By sharing these initiatives, other human service providers can both learn about and replicate these efforts to build up the DSP workforce. This is also an opportunity to highlight the programs your organization has developed to strengthen DSPs.

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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.