By Mary Kay Rizzolo, President & CEO, CQL
Earlier this month during National Direct Support Professional (DSP) Recognition Week, it was great seeing all of the fun and creative ways that organizations were recognizing DSPs – from swag giveaways, to shout-outs on social media, raffle prizes, parties, and more! It’s a nice time to set aside seven days, and devote the week to celebrating this absolutely essential workforce.
But what about the other 51 weeks? How can we go beyond National DSP Recognition Week and ensure that we’re carrying on our appreciation of DSPs throughout the year? And what are solutions to confronting the critical issues tied to the DSP workforce, like recruitment, retention, wages, career development, training, and more?
This is exactly why CQL and the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals (NADSP) have been partnering on an important campaign over the last few years. Through this undertaking, we collect and share programs that have a meaningful, long-lasting impact on DSPs. Organizations give us all insight into their initiatives that we can then pass along to other agencies, spreading best practices for the benefit of DSPs.
In this Capstone, we’re giving an overview of the various programs that were shared by CQL on social media, during 2023 National DSP Recognition Week. Then we turned to our partners at NADSP to give updates on the policy front. Joseph Macbeth, President and CEO of NADSP, shares the latest on advocacy efforts to establish a Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) specifically for DSPs.
Impactful Programs That Benefit DSPs
Before we hear from NADSP, let’s learn about internship programs, recognition efforts, culture-building initiatives, and more. These programs come to us from organizations all over the country, spanning New York to North Dakota, Iowa to Wyoming, and Tennessee to Maryland.
Recruiting Employees And Supporting New Staff
We all know that recruitment is a common challenge for providers. One solution is to set up an internship program, like The Arc of Delaware County (Delarc) implemented with their FwdBound Internship Program. It helps prepare interested high school students for becoming a DSP, with some of their interns looking to work for the organization beyond the internship and promoting the program to their peers.
When a new staff member is hired, organizations then need to ensure the DSP is equipped for success. You could look at something like the New Hire Coaching Program from Koinonia Homes Inc. to make that happen. This program entails coordinated training, mentorship, resources, and more, with follow-up and tracking of goals along the way.
Providence of Maryland, Inc. also supports new staff through the Touch Points program. By having a system for checking in with new hires throughout their first six months, the organization is able to gain insight into the DSP experience and adjust accordingly, all to try and improve employee satisfaction and retention.
Professional Development For DSPs
After a new hire starts to get comfortable in their new role, how can you help them to gain new knowledge and build new skills? To confront this issue, The Guild created its Leadership in Direct Support (LiDS) program. Along with a mentorship component, LiDS offers curriculum for a wide range of topics such as public speaking, communication, conflict resolution, teamwork, and more.
Another example of promoting professional development involves a DSP Certification Program introduced by Anne Carlsen, a human services organization located in North Dakota. The agency has integrated NADSP Certification to establish a career ladder for DSPs, with the turnover rate of the 10-person pilot group remaining at 0%.
To build up the skills of DSPs and improve the services that they provide, AHRC New York City offers Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Coaching Sessions. It provides DSPs with AAC best practices, so they can better support people who communicate using technology.
Getting DSPs Invested In A Positive Agency Culture
Communicating the ‘why’ behind a DSP’s work is an obstacle organizations often face. This involves DSPs not feeling like they are an integral part of an agency’s mission, vision, and values.
Jubilee Association of Maryland has rolled out its Core Values Seminar Series to help DSPs become more connected to the organization’s core values. After staff complete 12 seminars, they receive a certificate and a raise. Due to the series, 99% of staff can now identify and relate to their values, compared to roughly 80% of staff who were surveyed before the program was put in place.
Another initiative to help you strengthen your culture is the Culture Plans program from Imagine the Possibilities. The organization’s leaders develop customized Culture Plans for their region, with specific tactics to promote staff appreciation, team building, a positive environment, and more.
A Responsive Approach To DSP Needs
Along with rolling out new programs, organizations also need to be responsive to the changing needs and feedback of DSPs. One such program is the Direct Support Workforce Advisory Group from the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD). It helps lift up the voice of DSPs across the state and provides DIDD with clear action steps to promote change.
The Longevity Action Plan developed by Constant Companion, LLC is another good example of an initiative that solicits feedback from DSPs. The program involves gathering insight from DSPs, annual check-ins with staff, as well as deploying a training series offered by the State of Wyoming. The DSP responses help direct leadership decisions, inform adjustments to teams, and affect programmatic and operational changes across the agency.
Being responsive to the needs and challenges of DSPs is the foundation for the creation of Help Over Hurdles. The organization provides financial assistance to DSPs in time of need, involving everything from buying groceries to paying rent.
Recognizing And Appreciating DSPs Year-Round
And of course beyond focusing on important issues such as recruitment, career advancement, professional development, etc., it’s essential that DSPs feel recognized and appreciated year-round – beyond just National DSP Recognition Week.
One effective program is from People of Potential, Inc. (POP), which has experienced success with its POP Bucks recognition initiative. Through the program, management staff give out artificial money to DSPs as gestures of gratitude or rewards for their effective work, which then can be used to purchase different items and perks at an annual auction.
Finally, another way that DSPs can be acknowledged is to set up an initiative like Community Living Services’ (CLS) Best of CLS Recognition Program. Following a nomination and review process, 5-8 DSPs are selected and celebrated as the ‘Best of CLS.’ They are then highlighted on social media and an office bulletin board, while also receiving a certificate and a gift.
DSP Advocacy in Action!
By Joseph Macbeth, President & CEO, National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals (NADSP)
First, I’d like to thank our nation’s direct support professionals for their commitment and dedication to people with disabilities. To be an effective direct support professional, one forges strong relationships with whom they work, while demonstrating complex skills and a commitment to professional ethics. Direct support is one of the most challenging yet rewarding professions in the country. It’s my wish that every direct support professional receives the due recognition they deserve and that we all take a moment to reflect on the incredible impact that direct support professionals have on the lives and personal outcomes of the people they support, especially over the past three years during the COVID pandemic.
The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding that has been flowing into states to address the pandemic rebuilding was designed to provide short-term solutions, but let’s be clear, there are no short-term solutions that will adequately address the long-term systemic failure to invest in our workforce. We need long-term solutions to fulfill the promises made to people with disabilities and their families. To that end, I strongly believe that empowering direct support professionals to lead their own advocacy issues, on state and federal levels, is a major step to take toward long-term systemic change.
National Advocacy Symposium
This past spring, the NADSP brought together nearly 300 advocates to participate in our second, virtual National Advocacy Symposium where we trained and prepared direct support professionals and others, on how to hold meetings with their Members of Congress, how to share their stories and how to advocate for meaningful legislation that directly impacts their livelihood.
For the second year in a row, our advocates identified a bipartisan bill that had recently been introduced in the Senate that would require the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to revise the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system to establish a separate code for direct support professional (DSP). The bill, “Recognizing the Role of Direct Support Professionals Act”, was introduced by Senator Susan Collins (ME) and Senator Maggie Hassan (NH).
Why do DSPs need an occupational classification?
The Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system is a federal statistical standard used by federal agencies to classify workers into occupational categories for the purpose of collecting, calculating, or disseminating data. Currently, all workers are classified into one of 867 detailed occupations according to their occupational definition. Direct Support Professional is NOT one of the 867 occupations. They are grouped within other “caregiver” titles that do not adequately describe the true nature of their work.
The NADSP believes there are three positive outcomes for this important piece of legislation:
- Improving Data for Identifying Workforce Shortages – Without a SOC, there is no real measure for identifying staffing needs, gaps in services, and risks for the interruption of services. Data provided through the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) will lead to a better understanding of our workforce shortages and begin to develop long-lasting approaches to fixing them.
- Values the Unique Contributions of this Workforce – Despite the fact that a direct support professionals work requires complex skills, high-level independent decision making, providing person-centered supports, and deep ethical reasoning, there is a failure to identify this occupation on the scale it deserves. A SOC would create a concrete understanding of both the contributions and the true skills required of the workforce. Often grouping them with other caregiving titles like home health aide, personal care attendant or certified nursing assistant. Now certainly, all of these occupations share some core competencies, but when you study the skill requirements, you will find that these jobs differ significantly. To be sure, all of them are important and essential, but they are different occupations.
- Implications for Service Reimbursement Rates – When states do not have a SOC for classifying the roles of direct support professionals, they use an amalgam (or a combination) of other classifications and struggle to appropriately set reimbursement rates for services which compensate direct support professionals. What’s most alarming about this process is that all states use job classifications and different percentages of them.
Strong, clear, and persistent advocacy works and good things happen when 300 direct support professionals come together to advocate on their own behalf. I’m pleased to share that the Recognizing the Role of Direct Support Professionals Act (S.1332), unanimously passed through the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
On behalf of all of us at NADSP, we thank all of you who have helped us share this important message and we can’t stop now! Our next step is to contact the Senate Leadership offices of Senator Schumer (NY) and Senator McConnell (KY) to make sure the Bill is introduced to the full Senate for a vote.
To me, advocacy is the true essence of Direct Support Professional Recognition Week. Please join me in celebrating your direct support professionals – this week and every week – and let’s support them find their voices to advocate.
The DSP Workforce Crisis
2023 Direct Support Professional Recognition Week Campaign
During 2023 DSP Recognition Week, which occurred from September 10th through September 16th, 2023, CQL and NADSP collected and shared organizational programs that make a long-lasting impact on direct support professionals.Learn More