Five Things Families Can Do to Find and Keep Great Direct Support Professionals

By Nancy McCulloh, Minneapolis, MN

Editor’s note: A direct support professional provides support or personal assistance to help someone live at home or in the community.

Families caring for a loved one with a disability know first-hand that finding and keeping good direct support pro­fessionals (DSPs) is not always easy. Many families struggle with the coming and going of DSPs. Some DSPs leave af­ter only a few days and others leave after a few months. These constant changes affect the family’s quality of life as well as that of their family member. Families want good workers to show up, be on time and stay on the job for longer than a few months. They need and want DSPs who are qualified, caring, creative, and competent.

There are a number of things that families can do to increase their chances of finding and keeping good DSPs. The remainder of this article describes strat­egies for families in five key areas: find­ing a good match, using insiders, creat­ing and using a realistic job preview, interviewing that works, and keeping new staff.

Finding a Good Match

The overall hiring goal is to find some­one who is a good match for your needs and wants. There are a number of strat­egies that help you match the person’s skills and interests to your wants and needs. For instance, make a list of your wants and needs. Talk with DSPs who work for you to find out what skills are needed to do the job. Then figure out what is most important by ranking each item starting with the item that is most important and ending with the least im­portant item. This will help you define clearly who you are looking for and what your expectations are. A better match means the needs and wants of your fam­ily member are more likely to be met by the person you hire.

Using Insiders

Second, you must look in the right places to find the right DSP. Some families use agencies to help them find DSPs while others advertise in local newspapers or use Internet ads, fliers, and job postings. These outside recruitment sources are less effective, cost more, and can lead to ap­plicants who do not match well with your needs and wants. Outside sources often don’t work because people who respond to these approaches usually do not fully understand what you expect.

A better strategy is to ask DSPs who already work for you or other people who know you well to help you find new DSPs. This is called inside recruitment sources. Someone who knows you and your family member knows what it takes to do the job and can explain expectations to possible applicants. When DSPs understand what is expected on the job they have fewer unmet expectations and are less likely to leave soon after they start.

Encourage “insiders” to recruit for you by offering recruitment bonuses such as money and other gifts. Recruitment bonuses can be set up so the insider gets part of the bonus when the new DSP completes orientation and part after they have been on the job for six months. Help insiders recruit for you by providing call­ing cards; these are business cards that help insiders tell others about the job. Insiders can give these cards out to the people they know who are interested in coming to work for you. Include a mini ­job description (one or two statements about what you are looking for) and the name and number of the person they can talk to about the job.

Creating and Using a Realistic Job Preview

Tell applicants about the job by doing a realistic job preview. A realistic job preview is a recruitment strategy used to give appli­cants detailed and balanced information about what is expected of them on the job, what a typical day is like, your fam­ily as the employer, and the work set­ting. Realistic job previews can be short videos, scrap­books or photo albums, slide show presentations, or other formats that describe and illustrate the daily work of the DSPs you employ. Realistic job previews tell appli­cants about both the fun parts of the job and the challenging parts of the job. Be sure to include what other DSPs who work for you say about the job, along with favorite moments and important duties. Share the realistic job preview with an applicant before you offer them a job to help them make a good decision about accepting or not accepting a job offer. Applicants who are not a good match often decide they are not interested in the job after they’ve experienced a realistic job preview.

Interviewing that Works

Interview applicants based on whether they can meet your needs. Review resumes and applications to make sure applicants meet minimum require­ments. If they don’t, then don’t inter­view them. You do not have to interview every applicant.

Before an interview, prepare a list of questions based on what you need and want DSPs to do on the job. Decide what type of questions will help you find the information you need to make a good decision about who to hire. Asking questions about past work behaviors (struc­tured behavioral questions) will provide information about what the applicant will do on the job if you hire them. Ask about real situations and how the person has handled them in the past. Situational questions ask what a person might do in a make-believe situation or what they would do if given two equally desirable/undesirable outcomes. Asking fact-find­ing questions will give you a clear picture about the person’s work history, educa­tion, knowledge and values. Avoid asking illegal questions (such as age, religion, marital status) by sticking to questions based on what the person needs to be able to do on the job.

Make the process of deciding who to hire easy by setting up a scorecard and rating each person you interview. A scorecard has a list of important things you want and need in someone who works for you and your family member. Rate each applicant by how they an­swered the questions and decide who you will hire based on their score.

Keeping Them Once You Hire Them

If you want new staff to stay on the job for a long time, make sure they feel welcomed and are trained to do what you need to have them do. Welcoming new DSPs helps them feel at ease on the job. Welcome them by showing them around and explaining any “house rules” on their first day. Introduce the whole family and other DSPs who work for you and your family member. Train them to do the job the way you would like it done. Learning a new job is not always easy. Your role is to teach the new DSP. This can be diffi­cult because different people learn in dif­ferent ways. Find out the best way to teach someone something by asking the person how they learn best. When train­ing DSPs remember the following steps: (1) Tell them what they are expected to do, (2) show them what they are expected to do, (3) have them do the job, (4) check to make sure they are doing the job, and (5) give them feedback about their work.

Conclusion

Finding and keeping great DSPs can be challenging. Using these simple strate­gies can help to make the task easier. Another resource that families and indi­viduals with disabilities may find useful is Find, Choose, and Keep Great DSPs, two toolkits designed for individuals with disabilities and families that provide easy-to-use tips and strategies to help people to find, choose and keep high quality DSPs. Anyone can download a free copy at www.ildspinitiative.com/.

Editor’s note: Reprinted with permission from Impact, published by the Institute on Community Integration and the Research and Training Center on Community Living, College of Education and Human Development, University of Minnesota. McCulloh is a family member of a person with a disability and a program coordinator with the Research and Training Center on Community Living, Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. She may be reached at mccul037@umn.edu or 612-626-7765. This article came from the Feature Issue on Direct Support Workforce Development (Vol. 20, No. 2, Fall/Winter 2007/08), which is available online at http://ici.umn.edu/products/impact/202/default.html