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Supervision in IDD: Using Checklists To Evaluate DSPs

It came up over and over again in our national survey of direct support professionals—ineffective supervision results in frustrations among experienced DSPs and dissatisfaction with their job. Certainly, supervision in intellectual and developmental disability (IDD) services is challenging.

Providing IDD services is often a personal and intimate experience, and it can be difficult to quantify the characteristics so important to person-centered care — respect for the individual, kindness, empathy, patience.

But when organizations do not have clear, quantitative benchmarks to assess job performance and evaluate DSPs, staff accountability will vary across new and experienced DSPs. This can lead to supervisor and organizational frustrations, which may lead to turnover. Consistency from supervisors regarding job performance and accountability is critical to creating positive, safe environments for DSPs and IDD staff.

DSPs want supervisor consistency and Aacountability

In our 2023 Relias DSP Survey, we asked DSPs across the country about their supervision preferences, including supervisor traits and characteristics.

The most important trait DSPs reported (52%) was for their supervisor to show respect for each staff member as an individual. In a close second, 50% of respondents told us they enjoy working with supervisors who are open and transparent in their communication style.

Other important traits that DSPs reported were the ability to show appreciation for a job well done, holding all staff accountable in an equal manner, and having a positive attitude.

We also asked what supervisor traits discourage DSPs. A majority (59%) of DSPs said that a lack of communication among supervisor and staff is a discouraging factor, while 53% also reported condescension or speaking down to staff as an issue. Other large pain points were making staff feel unappreciated and unimportant (52%) and not holding all staff equally accountable (39%).

Clearly, a supervisor’s ability to effectively communicate and hold staff members accountable is key to DSP job satisfaction. Interestingly, the longer a DSP has worked in the field, the more important accountability becomes to them. This is a major reason why supervisors play an important role in creating engaged, loyal, and experienced DSPs.

How can you improve supervision efforts at your IDD agency?

Establishing performance benchmarks to evaluate DSPs

A critical part of supervision is making sure performance expectations are clear to staff members. Employees can’t be expected to do a good job if they do not know exactly what their day-to-day responsibilities are. In turn, supervisors can’t be effective or hold staff accountable if they are not clear on precisely what staff members should be doing.

You might say, isn’t it obvious what a DSP is supposed to do? Depending on their position and the setting, they may have to help people work on their support plan goals, provide personal care, set up for group activities, provide safe transportation, and many other tasks.

Think about all the steps involved in these tasks. Qualified intellectual disability professionals (QIDPs) spend a lot of time working with individuals and families to create support goals, and achieving each goal may require multiple steps. A DSP must follow those steps, adjusting as necessary, and then document what happened and the progress achieved.

Even a task like setting up and assisting with a group activity has many steps — getting everything ready, encouraging participation, providing appropriate prompts and support, cleaning up, and maybe informing the supervisor that it’s time to restock some materials. Imagine how frustrated a DSP would be if they got in trouble for not getting materials restocked but weren’t even aware that was one of their responsibilities.

Clarity on performance expectations is important for both new and experienced DSPs. Without clearly articulated duties, how are new DSPs supposed to know what they have to do, and how will their supervisors hold them accountable?

Using performance checklists to evaluate DSPs

One way to avoid these frustrations is to create performance checklists for tasks. Checklists are a great way to communicate job responsibilities and evaluate DSP job performance.

Performance checklists work well for:

  • Complex tasks, such as implementing the steps of a behavior plan
  • Tasks that the supervisor needs to observe from beginning to end, like a teaching interaction that involves prompts, reinforcement, and error correction
  • Tasks where it is important that staff do them the same way every time, such as documentation of crisis incidents

It may seem like a simple thing, but creating checklists and sharing them with staff can lead to better supervision, better job performance, and better employee morale. Everyone will know what they are required to do and that they will be held accountable to the same standards.

Of course, supervision isn’t just about holding people accountable. It’s also about improving performance through feedback and training. Having a checklist makes it easier for supervisors to provide real-time feedback and work with staff to improve performance.

In addition, such structured performance expectations create an atmosphere of professionalism and encourage attention to detail among staff. That can impact those intangible qualities often prioritized in human services, such as teamwork, compassion, and a positive attitude.

Be willing to get, not just give, feedback

While having tools in place to guide your DSPs is fantastic, you must also create processes that allow DSPs to provide feedback on their supervisors. This is an important element of a happy and effective work environment according to 81% of DSPs. Additionally, DSPs who were satisfied with their supervisors felt more comfortable talking with their supervisor about challenges they face, both personal and professional. This type of relationship allows for two-way communication where DSPs can truly feel that everyone is cared for and respected.

By giving your DSPs avenues for supervisor feedback, your organization is ensuring a cycle of constant learning and growth for both DSPs and their supervisors. These processes can, in turn, help increase supervisor satisfaction, staff happiness, and retention, thereby positively impacting the level of care your clients receive.


The 2023 DSP Survey Report 

Download the 2023 DSP Survey Report to get even more data and insights on job satisfaction, supervision, recognition and appreciation, and career growth to improve DSP engagement and retention at your organization. 

Download Report →

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