After 12 Years, CDS is a Proven Success in Pennsylvania


For over a dozen years, Pennsylvania’s Department of Public Welfare Office of Developmental Programs (ODP) has been providing self-advocates, families and direct support staff with access to the DirectCourse/College of Direct Support (CDS) curriculum. Eager to implement a tool that would train DSPs across the state, ODP found CDS’s flexibility, affordability, and content the perfect fit. In fact, Pennsylvania was the first state in the nation to adopt the CDS online curriculum as a method for uniform education across the entire state.

SPIN is a Philadelphia non-profit human service organization that began in 1971, providing lifetime services for children and adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities and autism. SPIN is just one of the many agencies utilizing CDS through ODP.

“SPIN was the first organization in Pennsylvania to begin implementing the College of Direct Support curriculum,” says Judy Dotzman, SPIN’s Executive Director. SPIN supports over 3,500 individuals a year, and has about 1,100 employees, over 900 of which are DSPs. However, every one of SPIN’s employees complete courses on CDS. “We began in late 2003. Today, we use CDS for all employees and managers, as well as our volunteers and interns. But we’ve found that it is a great tool for families and individuals as well.” Since 2007, SPIN has seen almost 1,500 people enrolled with over 33,000 lessons assigned. “Of course today those numbers are much greater,” Dotzman adds.

“Because of the ‘anytime and anywhere’ opportunity that CDS affords, we don’t have to worry about bringing in staff for an assigned schedule approach, which is extremely costly and challenging because of the work we do,” Dotzman observes. “We used to do a three day retreat for our staff to have training, which meant that we had to then replace staff for three days. When CDS was introduced we reduced that to two days, and then just a single day.” Dotzman states that the costs occurring over time dramatically decreased and were replaced with training that was more effective and meaningful.

“There is no doubt in my mind that CDS has been an excellent tool for training,” Dotzman says. “CDS has so many options that we find meaningful. We are able to annotate and customize lessons. So if we have specific documentation we need to use, specific policies, we can customize.” For instance, SPIN took lessons from the Safety course and made them specific to the agency simply by annotating it. “This is a very effective approach. Almost everything we do needs some information specific to SPIN or Philadelphia or the individual we support.”

Most importantly, Dotzman notes, the College of Direct Support training helps to make SPIN’s employees feel like an important part of the organization. “The direct support professional is shown to be important so that they feel important,” she says. “Individual and families feel like this is a great tool. Varied stakeholders are asked to participate in CDS, to show them what their staff are learning from, which gives them a sense of security and confidence as they see the training of the staff that works with their loved ones.”

SPIN is but one of dozens of organizations, employing thousands of individual learners, taking advantage of the College of Direct Support curriculum. The DirectCourse curriculum, developed by experts both national and international, is truly reaching Pennsylvania’s goal of helping direct support professionals increase their skills, enhance their careers, and better support the people they serve.

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