Ask any individual, parent, family member or service provider how hard it is to recruit and retain a direct support professional and they will likely tell you it is one of their greatest challenges. It is easy to look at the national data and see why it is such a challenge – low wages, high turnover rate, limited (if any) career growth opportunities, non-traditional hours – are just a few of the reasons given for the lack of interest in being a DSP. In looking at the reasons it just can’t go unstated that for the most part the lack of interest has nothing to do with the actual job itself. I loved being a DSP, it was one of my favorite jobs. Many DSPs that I talk to LOVE their job and the people they support. It is a hard job, but it is a GREAT job! The truth is until we see DSPs as a valued profession all it will ever be is “just a job”, just like fast-food or retail… easy in…easy out (which explains the why the average national turnover rate is greater than 50%)!

If we know what the problem is then why can’t we fix it? Obviously, there is no one, or easy, answer to that question but there are certainly some great ideas and strategies out there that would be meaningful steps forward for the profession. We can define, in law, what a DSP is because unfortunately there is no standard or recognized definition federally or in the state.
In California we can take lessons from other states and start by taking a deeper look at our DSP workforce and really assessing what the current and projected needs are. In addition to defining the profession and assessing it we can begin to develop a career ladder by working with the community colleges to develop a certificate program or an Associates of Arts degree that specializes in community supports for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and ensuring that reimbursement rates, thus wages, reflect the skill level.

The DSP workforce shortage is such a glaring issue that it was even built into the recent rate study (conducted by Burns and Associates and submitted to the legislature by the Department of Developmental Services) in which they proposed a DSP I, II, III tiered model that included rates accordingly. As we engage in policy conversations and moving forward with implementation of the rate study I am hopeful that workforce issues will be at the center of the conversation.

What Do You Need? What Do You Want?

A basic definition search of the difference between needs and wants turned up the following “The difference between needs and wants is really quite simple; need is something you have to have and want is something you would like to have.” The explanation that followed went on to say that “In actuality, a person only NEEDS four things to survive which include; a roof over your head, enough food and water to maintain health, basic health care and hygiene and enough clothing to remain comfortable.” Perhaps that is true for most people but what about a person with an intellectual or developmental disability who NEEDS their direct support professional (DSP)? For thousands of people with I/DD basic needs are more far-reaching than a roof over their head, enough food and water, basic health care and clothing, yet many of the services provided by DSPs are often treated as wants rather than needs.

For some people, the ability to meet their most basic needs depends entirely on having a quality DSP who knows what their actual needs are. What happens to meeting a person’s most basic needs when the person they need just can’t afford to do it? Do you tell them “I would love to support your efforts to get out of bed today, to get dressed today, to go to the bathroom today, to eat today, to get to work today… and on and on… BUT I just can’t afford to do that.” The services and supports provided by DSPs are not luxuries they are necessities. If DSPs really are the “BACKBONE” of our system, as we have heard so many people say, then let’s treat them like it. Let’s RALLY and make some noise and keep making noise until we are so loud that we can’t be ignored. This is a CALL TO ACTION for everyone who is, knows, needs and values DSPs to join us in advocacy efforts to address the DSP Workforce Crisis because LIVES DEPEND ON IT! There are so many ways to get involved and make a difference in advocating for a strong DSP Workforce. The ANCOR FOUNDATION and UNITED CEREBRAL PALSY have published the 2019 Report The Case for Inclusion in which they highlight the magnitude of the DSP Workforce Crisis. Read it, become knowledgeable about the problem and advocate!

Upcoming Advocacy Opportunities:

April 2, 2019, 6:00 PM, Sacramento

Red Carpet Film Premiere Event INVALUABLE – The Unrecognized Profession of Direct Support

Free and Open to the Public Crest Theater 1013 K Street Sacramento, CA 95814

*Please RSVP to Mark Melanson by March 29th at

April 3, 2019, 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM, Sacramento

Keep the Promise Rally

10:00 – 10:30 AM: Arrive at the Crest Theatre 1013 K street, Sacramento, CA

10:30 – 11:15 AM: Speakers

11:15 – 12:00 PM: March around the State Capitol Building

12:00 – 1:00: Rally at the State Capitol Building

April 5, 2019, 11:30 AM – 1:00 PM, San Diego

Keep the Promise Rally

11:30 AM: Arrive at State Building, 1350 Front St. San Diego, CA

12:00 – 12:30 PM: Speakers

1:00 PM: Conclusion

April 5, 2019, 12:00 – 1:30 PM, Los Angeles

Keep the Promise Rally

12:00 1:30 PM: Events at Van Nuys State Office Building, 6150 Van Nuys Blvd. Van Nuys, CA


1. The Rally:

Join us in Sacramento on April 3, 2019, for the #KeepThePromise Capitol rally to save Lanterman Act services & fund the direct support workforce for Californian’s with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).

More than 330,000 Californians with I/DD live in our state – they are our neighbors, classmates, coworkers, family, and friends – however, their support structure has been grossly underfunded and is failing. Direct support staff are quitting the field or working multiple jobs due to low wages, essential programs are closing throughout the state, and individuals are forced to live with inadequate supports or with no support at all.

California’s lawmakers must fund the services and supports people with I/DD rely on to access their civil rights. An 8% increase will provide emergency stabilization which our community desperately needs.

For the full schedule of rally events, visit or download our shareable flyer.

2. Engage Your Legislators:

3. Share:

Visit’s social media tool kit and share any of our premade social media posts to let your network know that California’s lawmakers must #KeepThePromise to the I/DD community.

4. Stay Involved – #KeepThePromise on Twitter:

Twitter is a social media tool which allows us to communicate directly with each other and our lawmakers.

  • If you aren’t already on Twitter visit our social media toolkit to learn how to sign up, and how to use your account for online advocacy
  • Follow The Lanterman Coalition’s Twitter account
  • when you tweet about the budget remember to use #KeepThePromise so that other budget advocates can find you and share your tweet