Passing the Torch


Dr. K. Charlie Lakin, for 22 years the Director of the Institute on Community Integration’s Research and Training Center (RTC) on Community Living at the University of Minnesota and a driving force in the creation and development of the College of Direct Support (CDS) curriculum, is the new Director of the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) in the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.

Lakin, who accepts his new appointment August 29, and his staff at the University of Minnesota develop and author the CDS curriculum and are partners with Elsevier/College of Direct Support.

Stepping into Lakin’s job as Director of the RTC will be Dr. Amy Hewitt, who assumes the position on August 15th. Hewitt has worked at the RTC for the past 20 years and in her role has assisted Lakin along the way in every aspect of the CDS’s development.

In 1999 Lakin answered the phone in his office and Bill Tapp was on the other end of the line. Bill wanted to talk with Charlie about his idea of developing an online curriculum to train the Direct Support Professional (DSP) workforce. That call led to a series of meetings between Bill, Charlie and his staff along with MC Strategies, now a part of Elsevier. As they say, the rest is history. Tapp is the founder and Vice President of Elsevier/College of Direct Support.

“Charlie Lakin, what can I say…an advocate for those who deserve our best efforts, a leader with fresh ideas and a true leader,” Tapp says of his good friend. “Charlie has empowered people to share the vision of life in community for all. His leadership in the development of the College of Direct Support is evidenced in every course, in our development and our messaging. His day-to-day guidance and counsel will be missed. Everyone at CDS wishes him much success at NIDDR.”

Lakin leaves an amazing legacy of service and research to people with disabilities. The opportunity to contribute to research on a national level was something Lakin couldn’t pass up. “I’ve worked 35 years on the same floor, so any change is a huge change for me,” he said.

The appointment by President Barak Obama comes as Lakin turns 65. “So it’s a milestone for me in more ways than one,” he said, adding that he’ll miss his work in Minnesota and friends. “But there are great young people here at the institute and they have a great ability to carry on.”

We asked Lakin about CDS from its inception and its role today. Here’s his answer. “One of our first commitments as we started to plan the CDS was that this would not be a curriculum developed solely by the Research and Training Center, but that to the maximum extent possible it would engage and share the knowledge and experience of those most knowledgeable about the topics of the various courses. I feel very good about the extent to which leaders in national research, advocacy, and training have participated actively in outlining, reviewing and editing each CDS course. I think we have sustained their participation because we have demonstrated that we have used it faithfully to improve instruction for DSPs. So for me personally, the quality and continued participation of our National Advisory Board and our national Board of Editors is very gratifying. I think all of us at the University of Minnesota feel considerable pride and sense of accomplishment in having taken the College of Direct Support from a fairly vague idea to a widely used and respected tool for preparing DSPs for the important and challenging work they do. We really started pretty much from scratch and it has given us all an opportunity to work not only on developing the instructional program for CDS, but also in marketing, user supports and other areas. I think we all feel pleased if not proud that the CDS model is being expanded to offer new curricula by other research and training centers in areas such as employment supports and personal assistance services.”

Lakin thought back to the early days before CDS had even one customer in 2002 and how far it has come. “Nancy Thaler is now Executive Director of the National Association of Sate Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services, but in 2002 she was the director of Developmental Disability Services in Pennsylvania. In that role she invited Bill Tapp and me to come to Pennsylvania to ‘sell’ a large group of stakeholders on the CDS,” he remembered. “Her promise was that if state and agency leaders liked what they saw she would find a way to make it available to all DSPs in Pennsylvania. I remember Nancy saying that one of her goals in offering to do so was to create a common culture of direct support in Pennsylvania. She wanted people who supported persons with disabilities to be exposed to a common set of values and practices that was more universal than what they might be exposed to by their specific employer. The ability of CDS to do that has seemed to me to be both a modest and important contribution to the quality of support received by persons with developmental disabilities. CDS did not create the important concepts and practices that have made such a difference in the lives of people with disabilities, but CDS has been successful in teaching those concepts and practices across agency boundaries to more than 250,000 direct support professionals.”

Pennsylvania was the first CDS customer and the first state to adopt CDS statewide. Nine years later, CDS is still being used in Pennsylvania and in 12 other states on a statewide basis and in a total of 32 states nationally – and in Canada and Guam.

Considering the sustained growth of CDS, we asked Lakin about the state of the market and what he thinks about the future.

“In 1977 we did a national survey of residential services for persons with developmental disabilities. We identified 11,000 settings in which people with developmental disabilities were receiving residential services outside of their family’s homes,” he recalled. “Fast forward 32 years to 2009 and there were an estimated 173,000 settings. Let me put that another way — in 1977 there was an average of 22.5 people per residential setting; in 2009 there was an average of 2.5. The net effect of these changes on people who provide direct support to people with developmental disabilities is huge. They are much more often working independently without supervisors on-site and they rarely have direct on-site access to persons with specialized training. The levels of knowledge and skill demanded of direct support providers have increased commensurately. But the dispersal of the rapidly growing number of settings in which people are with developmental disabilities has added a great deal of complexity to their training. These trends will continue. The challenge is how to provide people with the training they need when they work in so many different places, work so many different schedules within the 24-7-365 world of residential support, and where the risk of poor performance is so potentially dangerous. We have believed that high quality training delivered anywhere, at any time, with validated and consistent content can be an important tool in this environment. I guess the rate of uptake of CDS users would suggest that many others seem to agree.”

Today, CDS users have completed 4.28 million lessons and the total number of learners is 276,655.

About Hewitt, Tapp said: “Amy has worked daily with Charlie and the University of Minnesota team in the development of the College of Direct Support. Her leadership and industry knowledge will continue to ‘set the bar’ for best practice in supporting life in community. The entire CDS team appreciates Amy and her team. We look forward to all of our next steps together.”

Hewitt has an extensive background of research, publishing and training in the areas of services, supports, and policies impacting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She has served as coordinator of the College of Education and Human Development’s Certificate in Disability Policy and Services, jointly offered through ICI and the Department of Educational Policy and Administration, and is also co-Director of the Minnesota LEND (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Other Disabilities), a joint program of the Department of Pediatrics and ICI.

“I feel privileged to have the opportunity to build off the foundation Charlie built at the RTC and confident that together with the RTC staff we’ll move our work forward and continue to make significant contributions to research, outreach and training in the field of services and supports to people with disabilities.” Hewitt said.

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