Finding ways to retain direct support professionals (DSPs) is a priority for pretty much every organization providing services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).
According to surveys, the reasons DSPs say they leave the job include inadequate guidance, poor supervision, and lack of appreciation from their supervisors. For IDD service providers, improving the supervisory skills of their qualified intellectual disability professionals (QIDPs) is an essential part of any DSP retention strategy.
The job of a DSP is often difficult. Inexperienced DSPs are likely to struggle without support and guidance. Too often, DSPs feel like the QIDPs they report to are only there to point out their mistakes or nag them about paperwork.
A QIDP who is just out of college or was previously a DSP may not have had any training in supervision. They are likely to fall into one of two pitfalls – being overly tough, so their subordinates don’t come to them with problems or concerns, or being overly friendly, so their subordinates don’t think of them as someone who will hold them accountable.
Good supervision falls between those two extremes. DSPs should see their QIDP as a source of support and guidance, and they should have confidence that the QIDP will advocate for them to have what they need to do their jobs well. But they should also know that if they do not show up for shifts on time, properly fill out documentation, or give their best effort to support and empower the people they serve, the QIDP will hold them accountable.
Here are some suggestions for QIDPs who need to establish credibility in their new role.
If the QIDP was once a DSP and is now supervising former co-workers, they need to acknowledge the change and establish new boundaries. It can be difficult to transition to supervising people you once socialized with.
A QIDP needs to demonstrate they will not play favorites and will expect the same quality of work from everyone they supervise. They must not favor their friends or be especially hard on co-workers they clashed with in the past.
But concerns may still arise. It’s best for the QIDP to give the employee a chance to express their concerns, in private, without reprisals. The QIDP should listen objectively, try to put themselves in the DSP’s place, and let the DSP know that they have been heard. Maintaining composure when listening to criticism can be difficult for anyone. This is where having had some training in supervision can make all the difference.
One way to establish a positive relationship with a new team is to set goals the team is likely to accomplish. For a QIDP, goals could involve everyone getting their paperwork in on time, or a team of DSPs at a group home or day program working together to help an individual you serve reach a goal. The win should be attainable but meaningful.
With this first positive experience of meeting expectations, employees will be more likely to strive to meet future goals. The QIDP should set clear and appropriate expectations, including expectations for a successful working relationship between the QIDP and the DSPs.
Be an Advocate for Your People
A QIDP plays an integral role in coordinating service delivery and depends on valuable information from DSPs providing direct services. QIDPs need to listen to their DSPs when they say they need something to do their jobs better. Often, what DSPs ask for is not actually for them; it’s for the people they serve. Maybe they need help solving a problem or see a need for additional services, medical care, or technology.
Sometimes, a QIDP does not have the authority to implement such changes. But they should listen to what their DSPs say they need, and then they should discuss those needs with the interdisciplinary team or advocate with management if appropriate. Even if, in the end, and answer is no, it is important for DSPs to know that their voices were heard.
Supervisory skills rarely come naturally. A friendly QIDP may need training in how to hold their subordinates accountable, while a tougher QIDP may need training in how to appropriately give feedback. Establishing boundaries, resolving conflicts, handling challenging people and situations with tact – all of these are important and trainable skills.