Share This Post

Success In Recruiting DSPs: The ‘Human Services Internship’ Program

Submitted By: Terry Swierzowski, The Arc Lexington

In 2019, The Arc Lexington created its ‘Human Services Internship’ program to help introduce high school students to the work of supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The high school interns are part of a team that supports people with disabilities in The Arc Lexington programs in Fulton, Albany, and Schoharie Counties of New York State.

The internship is paid and the students (16-17 years old) learn about Lexington while working in a supportive and closely-supervised environment. When the intern turns 18, they are eligible to complete pre-screening and training to be hired at The Arc Lexington as a Direct Support Staff Aide or Direct Support Professional (DSP).

Impact Of The Program

The ‘Human Services Internship’ program has benefitted the agency with the supportive, impactful work that the interns provide. In addition, it has helped transition those high school students into DSP positions, which has helped immensely with DSP staffing challenges. The interns move into DSP positions already well-trained, and ready to provide excellent supports to people at the agency.

“The internship program also helped me to be better prepared for my role as a direct support professional and it has given me a deeper level of understanding of what it takes to be successful in this position.”

Adrianna C., Lexington human services intern

Through the program, the interns help the DSP in a variety of ways:

  • Assist DSPs with supporting people at the agency under the direction of the Residence Manager and/or the Direct Support Coordinator
  • Assist with household errands and tasks such as cleaning, laundry, gardening, and special projects as identified
  • Accompany fully-qualified staff and people we support to appointments and community settings and activities

The interns are really helpful to anyone and everyone they come in contact with at the agency – and because of their job responsibilities – they are especially valuable to DSPs.

Steps To Implement A Similar DSP Program

Other organizations could use Lexington’s program materials, such as the high school recruitment presentation or our recruitment flyer, to start their own program as a pipeline for high school students to become well-qualified, trained DSPs. They can follow the steps we used to implement the program, improve it, and apply the results to their own agencies:

  1. The Human Resources Director and Senior Residential Director met and determined the course of action and put together a work plan
  2. The Human Resources Director met with our legal team and reviewed Department of Justice standards to ensure we were following needed guidance and appropriate state and federal labor laws
  3. The Residential Director wrote job descriptions and put together a list of training needs based on regulations and what would best support people in our programs
  4. Marketed the internship program using email and flyers to current employees
  5. Marketed the internship program in our community and on social media (Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram)
  6. There was initial contact with school districts’ administration and Superintendents for support. The Residential Director went to all high schools in the county and spoke with students about our internship opportunities
  7. The Residential Director, Human Resources Director, and a team of Residential Managers conducted a day of interviews and got them excited about Lexington
  8. We received about 55 applicants and hired 33 students that May, to become our first interns
  9. The Residential Director, Human Resources Director, and our Training department developed a 3-day training that we completed on Saturdays in June when students had availability
  10. The Human Resources team held prescreening meetings and completed all required paperwork with the intern candidates
  11. A team met with interns after training to discuss expectations and provide assignments
  12. A team held weekly check-ins with interns while they received on-the-job training and mentoring from supervisors and staff
  13. By the end of the summer – the program was originally intended only for first summer – the program had value attached to it. The interns became important team members many interns wished to continue to work throughout the school year and on breaks
  14. Because of success of program, many interns now work year-round and in 2020, 29 interns took permanent DSP positions at Lexington

To ensure your internship program is successful, communication with staff, prospective interns, school districts and the community is essential. You need to get the word out to high schools, which takes a lot of work with well-versed people to speak with high school students about what direct support jobs entail, the internship program, and the impact these interns can have on the lives of people with disabilities. Your program should also be well researched to make sure all specific guidelines are met for these young adult students in high school.

About The Arc Lexington

The Arc Lexington provides services and supports in Fulton, Albany and Schoharie Counties to approximately 1,300 children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including autism, mental illness, cerebral palsy, physical disabilities, epilepsy and traumatic brain injuries. Lexington’s person-first approach puts the emphasis on each person’s needs, wants and desires rather than their disability. The mission of The Arc Lexington is to empower people with autism and disabilities to live their best lives, every day, by partnering with their families, our employees and our community.

2021 National DSP Recognition Week

For 2021 National DSP Recognition Week, CQL and NADSP 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.

# # #

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.