New Jersey Career Path for DSPs Showing Signs of Success


In 2009, the New Jersey Direct Support Professional Workforce Development Coalition created the New Jersey Career Path for DSP’s, in order to help increase the skills of direct support professionals (DSPs) and provide opportunities for them to earn more money. The Career Path is a voluntary training program for DSPs, utilizing various educational and professional opportunities to help further their careers. As a way to further the goals of the professional development program, the NJ Division of Developmental Disabilities purchased the College of Direct Support (CDS) curriculum, which then became available to all DSPs who work with people and agencies who receive HCBS waiver funding.

According to a recent study, the projected need for direct support professionals between 2010 and 2020 will exceed the number of women entering the workforce by almost a factor of three to one. Specifically, the increase in direct care workers will increase by 48%, while the number of women entering the workforce in the same time will see an increase of only 2%. These numbers, coupled with high turnover rates speak directly to the need for the Career Path, in the hopes of brightening the future of DSPs and making the work appealing to the general workforce.

DSPs who choose to follow the Career Path receive evidence based training provided by DirectCourse/The College of Direct Support, mentoring, as well as assistance creating a portfolio which will assess their competency. These components of the Career Path address many of the challenges DSPs face in terms of gaining respect for their profession, wage increases, and the high turnover rate.

“Six years ago, we piloted the use of CDS for purposes of implementing a career path for DSPs,” says Colleen McLaughlin, Community Training & TA Coordinator at the Boggs Center on Developmental Disabilities at Rutgers, Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center. The Boggs Center is New Jersey’s federally designated University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD), and serves as the state’s CDS central administrator providing technical support and training on using the CDS to enrich training opportunities.

“The CDS curriculum is phenomenal. Those who’ve gone through CDS comment on how real it is, focusing on the DSPs role in helping people. That’s critical.” McLaughlin notes that although the courses are geared toward DSPs, the Boggs Center has also been able to work with the state to help create ways for the curriculum be used for other professionals working with people with developmental disabilities, such as supports coordinators or administrative level staff. “The courses also provide them with the basics.”

McLaughlin also points out that the educational component of CDS addresses the variety of needs of DSPs. “When it was first implemented to offer the Career Path, we realized that CDS has the ability to reach DSPs regardless of their desire to expand their education, or if they just need a bit of information here or there.”

But there is still a great deal of work to be done to address the growing need for DSPs in the future—in New Jersey, and across the country. “The career path right now is only being implemented in pockets across the state,” McLaughlin says. “We’re going through a lot of systems change. The majority of use of CDS is the assignment of various courses here and there. We’re pushing for expansion of the Career Path, but we’re not there yet.”

According to a 2008 case study in The NJ DSP Career Path Quarterly, CDS has improved the skills of DSP’s, and has helped improve self-confidence. “The CDS courses taught me how to think about myself as a professional—what I am doing and why I am doing it,” an anonymous DSP was quoted in the study.

This is possibly the most important aspect of the Career Path—empowerment. McLaughlin notes that the Career Path is an important part of enhancing the professional development of DSPs, thus heightening their role as professionals, which will hopefully lead to higher retention rate. Improving DSPs perception of themselves professionally will also give them the ability to make informed decisions that impact their work, as well as the lives of the people they support.

To read the entire case study, please visit our resources page and click on “New Jersey”:

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