The direct support workforce in community supports to individuals with developmental disabilities: issues, implications, and promising practices

Ment Retard Dev Disabil Res Rev. 2007;13(2):178-87. doi: 10.1002/mrdd.20151.


Difficulties in finding, keeping, and ensuring the competence of the direct support workforce in community developmental disability services has long been a challenge for individuals, families, providers, and policy makers. Direct support staff recruitment, retention, and competence are widely reported as one of the most significant barriers to the sustainability, growth, and quality of community services for people with developmental disabilities (ANCOR [2001] State of the states report. Alexandria, VA: ANCOR; Colorado Department of Human Services, [2000] Response to Footnote 106 of the FY 2001 appropriations long bill: Capacity of the community services systems for persons with developmental disabilities in Colorado; Hewitt [2000] Dynamics of the workforce crisis. Presentation at the NASDDDS Fall meeting. Alexandria, VA). While long in existence, these challenges are ones of growing concern because the number of people demanding community services is increasing and the population of people from which to recruit workers is declining (Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation [2006] The supply of direct support professionals serving individuals with intellectual disabilities and other developmental disabilities: Report to Congress. Washington, DC: Office of Disability, Aging and Long-Term Care Policy, ASPE, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). As the service system moves towards consumer direction, managed care, and more noncategorical service delivery systems, the difficulties of providing for an adequate and well-prepared workforce to support people with developmental disabilities becomes more complex and multifaceted. The solutions to those challenges are also more complex. This article reviews the literature regarding the complexity of the direct support workforce crisis, the effects of this crisis on various stakeholder groups, promising practices designed to address the challenges, and the related practice and policy implications.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Burnout, Professional
  • Career Mobility
  • Child
  • Community Mental Health Services*
  • Developmental Disabilities*
  • Employment*
  • Humans
  • Public Policy*
  • Social Support*
  • United States