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 poor work performance from new DSPs.

Certainly, supervision in intellectual and developmental disability 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 there are not clear, quantitative benchmarks for assessing job performance, criticism from a supervisor can seem arbitrary and cause discontent among staff. While you can’t quantify things like respect, evaluating staff based on what you can quantify increases professionalism and improves service quality.

Establishing Performance Benchmarks for DSPs

A critical part of supervision is making sure performance expectations are clear to staff members. No employee can 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 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 of the steps involved in these tasks. Your qualified intellectual disability professionals (QIDPs) spend a lot of time working with individuals and families to create support goals, and there may be multiple steps for achieving each goal. A DSP has to 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 they weren’t even aware that was one of their responsibilities.

Clarity on performance expectations is important for both new and experienced DSPs. In our survey, DSPs who had been on the job for more than five years were especially frustrated by new DSPs who didn’t do their jobs well. 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 for Supervision

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

It may seem like a simple thing but creating such 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.

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 catch problems 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.

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Diane Morris

Marketing Manager for IDD and ABA, Relias

Diane has been researching, writing and advocating on issues facing people with IDD and autism for 15 years -- from the time her two sons were diagnosed with autism. She has more than twenty years of communications experience and previously worked at a disability rights non-profit.

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