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This DSP Crisis is Occurring In Supported Living

Adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (ID/DD) have individual and unique needs and abilities just like everyone else.  Supported Living is a comprehensive offering of community based residential services that assist a person to live in their own home, make decisions about their own lives, increase and acquire skills and abilities, and pursue interests within their community.  The services provided depend on the needs of the individual; some people need assistance 24/7 with all aspects of their lives, while some may need a couple hours of support per week.  

Serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in their home, in the community of their choice, is a long-standing top priority for Washington State.  Supported Living providers, also known as Certified Community Residential Services, are the primary provider of these services in our state.  In Supported Living in Washington State over 21 million service hours are delivered each year to approximately 4,600 individuals with ID/DD, by over 11,000 Direct Support Professionals.

What is a Direct Support Professional (DSP)?

A DSP is a staff  person who provides direct care and support services to an individual with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Throughout Washington State, and the United States, DSPs have many different job titles depending on the organization they work for, but are universally referred to as Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) or direct care staff.

The Crisis

Under-funding of Supported Living = low wages, high turnover, instability for individuals with ID/DD, and diminished capacity to serve those individuals and their families.

DSPs do not earn a living wage, this creates a 50% turnover rate.  Nearly half of all DSPs in Washington leave Supported Living annually, and many more are unable to continue providing this invaluable and critical support for a long period of time because of the low wages. Many DSPs want to continue working in this important and fulfilling career, they want to continue to support the individuals they care for and have relationships with, but it is not sustainable financially and they are forced to leave for higher paying positions. DSPs can earn a better living doing jobs that require less work and  a vastly lower level of responsibility. In some areas DSPs can leave Supported Living and take positions fast food restaurants, retail stores, and gas stations that can offer better wages than Supported Living.

The 50% turnover and sustained DSP vacancies across the State of Washington is taking its toll on every DSP, clients, and clients' families. Every time a DSP is forced to leave their job, they take with them their knowledge, skill,ability, and deep understanding of the needs and supports of the client they have served.

  • Coworkers are left to piece services together and struggle to figure supports out, work extra shifts, and train the new staff. 
  • Clients are left wondering why their staff have left, if the next staff can adequately support them, and if they will relate to the new staff.
  • Families are left wondering how long the next staff will stay, if the new staff will care for their family member as diligently, and with a sense of uncertainty about the stability of the future. 

This is a crisis.  Many people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who want to experience empowered lives in the community can't, or they cannot receive consistent services that meet their needs.  People who want to provide care and support cannot afford to do it. DSPs. clients, and their families deserve better.