Direct Support Professional (DSP) Toolkit

The TN Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities’ East Regional Planning and Policy Council (EPPC), in partnership with the Statewide Planning and Policy Council (SPPC), compiled many resources to share as a toolkit designed for Direct Support Professionals (DSPs). The toolkit serves as a reference for DSPs when considering a career supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It also encompasses several resources for current DSPs and leadership.

The DSP Toolkit is comprised of the following categories:

The recruitment/interview/hiring category provides realistic presentations of job duties, good and bad, examines the skills needed to be successful as a DSP, and reviews potential career opportunities for candidates.

The training/mentoring category provides training related resources for DSPs that can help support them throughout their career. It discusses advancing knowledge, skills and value, and how to avoid burnout through self-care.

The leadership/supervision category of the toolkit was designed for managers, supervisors, and other members of leadership who are committed to improving engagement and retention of DSPs. Retention of staff is very important and provides stability for persons supported and overall operations.

Upcoming Events for DSPs

The Center for START Services Professional Development Series now has a course designed specifically for Direct Support Professionals. This 6-session course, held live via Zoom, gives Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) the knowledge, skills, and resources needed to provide individuals with IDD and mental health service needs (IDD-MH) positive, person-centered, strengths and wellness-based supports and services. The course will demonstrate how the information reviewed can be applied in the day-to-day support of people with IDD-MH.

Who Should Participate?

  • Direct Support Professionals (both MH and IDD)
  • Functional Support Specialists (both MH and IDD)
  • Residential/AFL/home care providers & staff
  • Day habilitation & residential supervisors

Why Participate?

This course is designed to improve the supports provided to individuals who experience IDD-MH by….

  • Enhancing DSPs’ understanding of important aspects related to wellness and positive supports for people with IDD-MH
  • Equipping DSPs with practical approaches to use in their daily work
  • Increasing job satisfaction and preventing burnout
  • Providing assurance to supervisors that DSPs are adequately trained and equipped to provide quality, strengths-based supports

Registration fee is $149 per person (Group Discounts available upon request). See the attached flyer or visit  to register.

DSP MHIDD Course Flyer Feb 2021

DSP Anthony Anderson
TN Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Summary: Whether he's helping people get dinner on the table after they get home from work or heading out with them into the community, SRVS DSP Anthony Anderson is passionate about assisting Tennesseans with disabilities to identify their strengths and ultimately gain independence.

DSP Dameon Hughes
TN Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Summary: Dameon Hughes works as a Direct Support Professional as a job coach. Dameon knew when he began working with as a DSP, he would support Tennesseans with disabilities to gain new skills and independence. What he didn’t expect was that he would also be growing and learning along the way.

Tennessee Community Organizations (TNCO)

Summary: Being a DSP is not just a job, it’s a calling.  It’s being a hero.  This video from TNCO explains the critical role a DSP can play in the lives of Tennesseans with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

A Career as a Direct Support Professional
NYS DSP Office for people with developmental disabilities

Summary: In this video, the NYS DSP office provides a realistic look at the rewards and challenges of being a Direct Support Professional (DSP). There are real life accounts of DSPs including how someone can make a difference and have a lasting impact on people with disabilities.

Direct Support Professional Recruitment Video
North Dakota Department of Human Services

Summary: Go on-the-job to learn about being a Direct Support Professional for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities at the North Dakota Department of Human Services. This video shows DSPs serving people with developmental disabilities in a variety of settings, offering you a chance to learn about the work involved in the direct support profession.


What Makes an Ideal Direct Support Professional?
Living Innovations

Summary: Learn about the qualities and skills needed to be successful as a DSP in this video. Hear directly from DSPs at Living Innovations on why they chose the direct support profession and what skills help them to be successful.

A Day in the Life of a DSP
Emmaus Homes

Summary: What is it like to be a Direct Support Professional (DSP)? This video shows a day in the life of a DSP and discusses some of the challenges someone might face when supporting people with disabilities. It also highlights some of the reasons they chose to work in direct support.

A Day in the Life of a Job Coach
Opportunity Partners

Summary: Gloria Kim works in direct support as a job coach/service coordinator. Learn about what her day looks like as a Direct Support Professional.

A Day in the Life of an Independent Living Case Manager
Opportunity Partners

Summary: Step inside a day in the life of Elizabeth, an Independent Living Skills Case Manager. Learn about her daily responsibilities and how she supports people with disabilities to live independently.

A Day in the Life of a Supported Employment Instructor
Opportunity Partners

Summary: Learn about Alyssa’s day to day responsibilities as she works in direct support as a Supported Employment Team Instructor.

More day in the life videos
Opportunity Partners

Summary: Learn about the many aspects of being a Direct Support Professional such as job coaching, case management, brain injury instructor, site instructor for employment within the community, and service coordinators.

To see more day in the life of a Direct Support Professional videos, please visit the following link:

Relias Training

Summary: It is our vision to support all Tennesseans with intellectual and developmental disabilities to live fulfilling and rewarding lives. The following link provides information regarding training requirements:

General Topics that DIDD addresses through our training plan:

Health and Safety including Standard Precautions training
Abuse Prevention
Protection from Harm and Documentation
Risk Management and Fire Safety
Building Relationships and Community Inclusion
Choice Making
Supporting Quality of Life for Individuals with IDD
Person-Centered Planning
Principles and Practices of Effective Direct Supports
Positive Behavior Supports
Systemic Instruction Strategies
Employment Exploration and Job Readiness
As well as – Individual Specific Training, CPR, First Aid, Title VI and HIPAA

National Association of Direct Support Professionals

Summary: The National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals (NADSP) works to elevate the status of direct support professionals by improving practice standards; promoting system reform; and advancing their knowledge, skills and values. Their website provides a variety of training and technical assistance, a Code of Ethics and 15 competency areas for Direct Support Professionals, certification, and many other reports, guides, and articles for professional development.

Talks for when you feel totally burned out

Summary: Worn out? Exhausted? Bleary-eyed? If you need a little something to ease your frustration and provide self-care, so that you can getback to enjoying your job and performing at your best levels, this collection of talks should help.

Staff self-care matters

Summary: Self-care is a practice that helps people limit the stresses and strains that they encounter in their professional career. Self-care activities and practices can enhance one’s overall well-being. Visit the following link to learn more about self-care and how to develop your own plan.

Provider Resilience

Summary: Healthcare providers face special kinds of emotional hazards associated with their occupation, including compassion fatigue and burnout. This app (available for both Apple and Android devices is designed to help anyone who deals with people who have experienced trauma.

To find the app, search Provider Resilience in your phone's app store.


Summary: Through this app, learn how to build resiliency through mindfulness, reduce stress, sleep better, enhance focus and creativity, and relax body & mind. 

Brain Links Toolkit

Summary: The website provides a toolkit for families and providers including resources, videos, trainings, and publications related to supporting people with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), as well as concussion protocols for varying age groups.

The Arc DSP Toolkit

The products in the toolkit are based on more than three decades of research conducted by the RTC at the University of Minnesota to develop evidenced-based tools that assist providers and families in finding, choosing, and retaining committed and talented DSPs. The toolkit includes the following customized products: a Realistic Job Preview Video, Public Service Announcements, a Structured Interview Questionnaire, DSP Targeted Marketing Flyers and Job Announcements, a Turnover Calculator, Retention, Wage and Benefit Electronic Survey, and DSP and Frontline Supervisor Competency Sets.

Public Service Announcements

Part-Time Workers

High School Graduates

Valued Lives


Structured Interview Questionnaire

DSP Targeted Marketing Flyers & Announcements

Turnover Calculator, Retention and Wage Benefit Survey

Frontline & DSP Competency Set and Brochure

DSP Learning Management System

Status of the DSP Workforce

Recent data indicates that the direct service workforce is made up of over 4.5 million workers in the United States (PHI, 2017). The demand for direct service workers is expected to increase by 35% from 2008 to 2018 (PHI, 2012). Snapshot of the current direct service workforce by the numbers:

Turnover rate: 44.8%


  • 17.5% fewer than 6 months
  • 14.6% 6-12 months
  • 56.9% 12 months or longer

Health Insurance Benefits:  offered to 10% of all DSPs

Starting & Average Wages:

  • Starting hourly wage for DSPs:  10.23 average starting (8.66 to 13.67)
  • Average hourly wage for DSPs:  11.11 (9.10 to 13.97)

Source:  National Core Indicators, 2017

Individuals who receive supports and their families are the most affected by the consequences of high turnover. It takes time for a Direct Support Professional to build strong, trusting and supportive relationships with individuals and families who receive support.

Relationships with Direct Support Professionals directly affects both the quality of services a person receives and their quality of life.

Every chapter of The Arc, and individuals with disabilities and their family members served by chapters are affected in some way by the challenges of the direct support workforce. Many organizational members of The Arc recruit, select, train and support hundreds of thousands of Direct Support Professionals each year. Individuals receive support from these workers in their own homes, in family homes, or in more structured services such as group homes and employment services. Increasingly individuals and their families are expected to find, choose, train and retain their own workers.

Arc members and chapters are looking for tools and resources to help them address these ever-growing direct support workforce challenges.

How to Improve the Engagement and Retention of Young Hourly Workers

Summary: “Employee disengagement results in higher absenteeism, more accidents, lower business profitability, worse customer service, and a lower share price.” Learn the five key insights to improve employee retention and engagement.

Employee Recruitment and Retention Strategies

Summary: Tips on how to enhance your hiring process and your employee retention levels.

Fix the DSP Crisis
State of Pennsylvania

Summary: Information on the Direct Support Professional (DSP) crisis and what Pennsylvania is doing to improve recruitment and retention.

Relias DSP Survey Results

Summary: This survey was created with the goal of understanding how agencies can boost DSP retention and was distributed to direct support professionals.