The State of Colorado recently issued a proclamation recognizing the week of Sept. 8-14 as National Direct Service Professional Recognition week. Yet many people wonder, who are these Direct Service Professionals (DSPs), and why do they get an entire week?
DSPs have been called many things during my dozen-year tenure in the developmental-disabilities field: counselors, support staff, companions. Regardless of the title, the reality is that these workers are the foundation of our support to some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
In a typical day, a DSP may help an person in services with bathing and toileting, prepare meals, clean a person’s house, provide chauffeur services, provide employment counseling, mentor someone through a difficult life decision, counsel on relationship woes, and help a person make friends and network in the community. It is a hard, rewarding job. Without DSPs, people with disabilities would still be living in a large institutional setting, isolated from the rest of society and unable to give back and participate in their communities.
With all this in mind, it is tragic to realize that a vast majority of full-time DSPs are living beneath the poverty level and often accessing the same federal and state public-support programs as the people with disabilities they serve. There are many instances when a DSP provides job-coaching services to an person with disabilities who is being paid a higher hourly rate than the DSP.
By recognizing DSPs during the second week of September, we not only acknowledge the sacrifices these people make in order to do this work, we also must understand that the demand for DSPs is increasing at a far greater rate than the supply. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services projects that between 2003 and 2020, we should expect to see a 37 percent increase in the demand for DSPs to serve people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. This does not begin to reflect the need for similarly trained caregivers to support the increased aging population.
Also not reflected, but never to be forgotten, are the millions of family caregivers – those paid or unpaid family members who are providing direct care to a loved one. Many provide this support at home by choice, yet many others provide the support because long waiting lists for long-term support services prevent them from accessing programs that would provide the necessary care.
To help address the impending shortage and the current low wages, organizations such as the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals are working with DSPs in the field to encourage a better trained, more respected and more involved workforce. Entities such as the Department of Health and Human Services and the Governors’ Planning Councils for Developmental Disabilities in each state are looking at the funding issues that must be solved to better support these everyday heroes who are our DSPs.
For more information about how you can honor and support DSPs in your community, contact Community Connections Inc. at 385-3445 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tara Kiene is director of case management with Community Connections Inc.