Moving Mountains Best Practices
2007 Award Winner Two

Alaska Alliance for Direct Service Careers (AADSC)

Anchorage, Alaska

The Alaska Workforce Development Initiative began in 2000. The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, a public trust established by the state of Alaska to ensure an integrated, comprehensive mental health program, provided seed money to staff and provide resources for the Initiative. Beneficiaries of the Trust are individuals with developmental disabilities, Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders, mental illness, and chronic alcoholism. The Governor’s Council on Disabilities and Special Education was the lead agency. The University of Alaska’s Center for Human Development (UCEDD) obtained additional resources to support Initiative activities.

The Initiative was implemented by a steering committee composed of 34 representatives from community agencies (rural and urban), state agencies, and advocacy organizations. During the first year the Steering Committee focused on data gathering (wage and benefits study, focus groups, and surveys), obtaining technical assistance and information from other states, and developing a strategic plan. The initiative was named the Alaska Alliance for Direct Service Careers (AADSC) and developed the following mission: “to promote the development of a highly competent direct support workforce that supports people with disabilities in achieving their life goals”.

The strategic plan included the following goals: 1) improve the status and public image of direct support staff, 2) expand the DSP recruitment pool, 3) develop effective retention strategies, and 4) achieve a living wage and benefits. Subcommittees were formed to develop and implement activities for each strategic area. Direct support personnel and family members were recruited for each subcommittee. Some of the key accomplishments achieved by the AADSC since its inception included:

Goal 1 – A statewide media campaign (TV, radio, newspapers) to improve the status and image of direct support professionals (DSPs), showed individuals needing supports working collaboratively together in a variety of situations. In addition, posters and brochures describing the work of, competencies needed by, and benefits for DSPs were distributed widely and in diverse targeted sites throughout Alaska.

Goal 2 – To expand the recruitment pool of DSPs for organizations, a website was developed including job postings, events calendar, education links, a bulletin board and numerous recruitment and marketing tools. In addition, outreach efforts (conference presentations and display booths, talk radio programs, and organizational staff meeting presentations), joint participation with other health care and human service professional associations in a statewide career fair, and the creation and dissemination of job description fact sheets to clarify misconceptions about what the direct support profession is and what DSPs do.

Goal 3 – As strategies to develop effective retention practices, AADSC developed and implemented the following initiatives:

  • A statewide conference for direct service professionals (the Full Lives Conference) has been held each year since 2002. Approximately 70% (250) of the conference participants have been DSPs with the remaining 30% have been persons experiencing disabilities and family members. The planning committee for this annual event includes direct support personnel, agency supervisors and managers, state agency representatives, trade association personnel and family members.
  • The Direct Support Professional of the Year Award is a special feature of the Full Lives Conference. Four awards are granted each year, one from each of the four Trust beneficiary groups. Winners receive a certificate and a paid trip to a conference of their choice anywhere in the United States. DSPs are included in the nomination and award review committees.
  • The AADSC created a Frontline Supervisor Leadership Institute in 2003 and it has been held annually ever since. The Leadership Institute uses a multi-faceted training approach that includes a skill-training workshop, mentoring, guided practice, distance-delivered discussion opportunities, and a competency evaluation.
  • The Initiative created an electronic source book that is located on the their web site and includes about 50 links to related web sites with numerous retention strategies, tools, and resources.

Goal 4 – The three main activities in this area have been: a presentation by AADSC to the Alaska Legislature to educate lawmakers about the important work of and the poor wages received by DSPs, a statewide information initiative to make DSPs aware of some public benefits for which they may be eligible, especially the Earned Income Tax Credit, and a campaign to request DSPs to support and sign the ANCOR petition that urges states to contact their governors and legislators to address the issues of recruitment and retention of direct support personnel.

The AADSC, while always reflecting on and learning from the past, is also looking forward. In April 2005 the Alaska Alliance for Direct Service Careers (AASDSC) hosted a Summit to develop a revised strategic plan to address the issues of recruitment, retention, and career development of direct service personnel working in Alaska. The more than 100 attendees included representatives from provider agencies across the state. Funding has been obtained beginning July 2008 to implement aspects of the new plan. In addition, funding was obtained that began July 2006 to provide resources for provider agencies to obtain training and technical assistance to develop agency-specific plans to increase recruitment and retention of direct support personnel.