We all have the same inborn need for a sense of self-fulfillment, pride, accomplishment, and well-being. Those of us experiencing the effects of aging or disability, often referred to as “service participants,” desire to lead self-directed lives, to contribute to our communities, and to encourage attitudes and behaviors that promote inclusion in those communities. Some of us just need a little assistance now and then to reach these goals. We receive the support of personal care assistants (PCAs), home health aides (HHAs), nursing assistants (NAs), homemakers, and specialized transportation drivers. These front line supporters, fairly recently termed “Direct Support Professionals” (DSPs), strive for excellence. Until recently, DSPs have not had a strong collective and unified voice regarding issues impacting their industry. Experiencing high staff turnover; burnout; low social status; limited educational, training and career opportunities; and poor wages and benefits, the life of a DSP was void of organized opportunity for change
Now, a relatively new national organization has developed roots, and a local associated chapter, here in Minnesota. The National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals (NADSP) and the Direct Support Professional Association of Minnesota (DSPAM) are making headway in forming a network of DSPs. They are quick to point out that they are not a union and have no intentions of forming one. Instead, they are an organization of professionals charged with a mission to increase public image and knowledge for their industry by striving for mutual understanding of the expected Code of Ethics, training, and credentialing. Much like the doctors’ American Medical Association, they are seeking a consensus among providers, advocates, families, and legislators as to what the excepted norm is to be, with hopes of growing into a respected professional association.
Besides Minnesota’s own DSPAM group, the NADSP has approximately 24 affiliates in 16 other states such as Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, and Tennessee, just to name a few. These national and state networks are a diverse coalition of organizations and individuals —a gathering of representatives from fields including mental health, developmental disabilities, physical disabilities, child welfare, education, plus many others in the human services community.
The core belief of the NADSP and DSPAM is that service participants and direct support professionals are partners in the move towards a self-determined life and in complimenting and facilitating growth of natural supports. They recognize that people needing support are more likely to fulfill their life dreams if they have well-trained, experienced, and motivated people at their side in long-term, stable, compatible support relationships. They also point out that well-planned workforce development strategies are needed to strengthen our workforce. That is just what they intend to do: promote the development of a highly competent and professional human services workforce which supports individuals in achieving their life goals.
The national organization and local chapters have developed national and statewide agendas to address various industry issues. Many of these issues, some of which have been chronicled for 25 years, concern conditions harmful to service participants. Furthermore, these issues undermine the commitment of direct service professionals to provide quality services, and make it very difficult for those in the human services industry to recruit and train qualified and committed individuals in direct support roles.
Some particular initiatives include enhancing the social status of Direct Support Professionals; providing access to high quality educational experiences and lifelong learning; strengthening relationships and partnerships between Direct Support Professionals, self-advocates, and other consumer groups and families; supporting the development of a credentialing program; as well as promoting systems reform that will provide incentives for educational experiences, increased compensation, and access to career opportunities.
Since their inception, members have created a Direct Support Professionals Code of Ethics; developed Community Support Skill Standards for direct support professionals and frontline supervisors; and compiled Apprenticeship Guidelines for Direct Support Professionals, which has been incorporated by the Department of Labor. In addition, they have published Frontline Initiative, the official newsletter of NADSP, which contains articles and stories of interest to people concerned with the quality of support provided to individuals experiencing effects of disabilities or aging. The newsletter is especially geared toward sharing ideas and successes about what it takes to be a DSP in today’s community-focused human service environment.
For more information about direct service professionals, the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals, the Direct Support Professional Association of Minnesota, their products and services, including membership opportunities for professionals, supervisors, and others (self-advocates, families, friends, or other professionals), please contact Mark Olson with Arc Hennepin/Carver by calling 952-920-0855 or e-mailing [email protected]