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.