Adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities historically have been sent to institutions following public education (if they were lucky enough to get a public education in the first place). Institutions have seen a decline in numbers in the last several years in favor for group homes, day programs and other living arrangements. While this is a step in the right direction, many adults are still treated as children who need babysitters. Staff in these programs are called “direct support professionals,” yet they are paid minimum wage and receive very little on the job training. Today, I offer my thoughts on how to increase the quality of service for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in these adult service programs and living arrangements.
Direct Support Professionals need better training from curriculum and managers. Curriculum exists from many different organizations, but isn’t widely purchased by companies. It can be argued that companies that do purchase curriculum lack the managers and directors who can adequately teach the curriculum to direct support professionals.
Hire Educated Managers/Directors
Some companies may hire managers and directors that either are licensed social workers or who have years of experience as a direct support professional. What is lacking is the educational and practical experience of special education teaching. Social workers may know how to obtain certain resources or provide mental health support, but many of them know very little to nothing about evidence-based practices and/or assistive technology for intellectual and developmental disabilities. Hiring individuals with these backgrounds can elevate the level of training for direct support professionals. Companies can offer tuition reimbursement or some type of compensation for managers and directors to earn certificates from accredited universities in assistive technology, autism and/or intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Strict State/Federal Regulations
State and federal regulations exist but are rarely followed. The bare minimum is often the standard service. Individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are interviewed as well as a random staff member or two. Individuals with disabilities at times do not understand the questions, or say what the inspector wants to hear because they like their staff. Employees are encouraged to lie about the quality of training they have received, but penalties are light for companies when an employee messes up and tells the truth. Special education teachers around the country are to be “highly qualified” in order to teach children with disabilities. The same needs to be said about direct support professionals, managers, directors and owners of adult service agencies and programs. Stricter and higher standards coming from state and/or federal departments can ignite change in this service area.
The issue of quality of service for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities is no new. Many states have been discussing how to increase the level of service for quite sometime. The argument always turns to funding. Companies need more funding to hire better people and implement better curriculum and protocols. However, many companies are concerned about making money and expanding. They may have the funding needed to improve quality of services, but not if they are to expand their market at the same time. Yes, funding is an issue that needs to be addressed, but it is not the only answer. Companies can still increase training to an acceptable–yet, still not perfect or ideal–degree with current funding if higher standards are required of them.