Understanding and Practicing Competencies for Direct Support Professionals

by | Feb 7, 2024 | Guides, News

Do you remember the last time you visited a dentistWhen you sat in that dentist’s chair did you ask yourself, “Is this dentist competent?   Do you remember observing the specific skills and activities that the dentist practiced as they worked on your teethPossibly. It is more likely that you took for granted the dentist is certified/licensed and would do what needed to be done to address the dental issues for which you visited that dentist. In reality, the dentist was practicing their profession with extensive skill and intention. The dentist has been through school, training, and observation to practice dentistry.  Permission to perform a professional function is typically granted by some type of authority or licensing/certifying body.   

What does this have to do with direct support professionals?  The National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals (NADSP) is devoted to elevating the status of the profession of direct support. NADSP does this through providing knowledge and education focused on a specific set of competencies and skills recognized by the profession. Ultimately, the NADSP aims to certify as many direct support professionals as possible through NADSP Certification.   In the profession of dentistry, dentists are guided by universally devised and accepted standards of practice which result in good dental health. Direct support professionals must also be guided by a universal set of competency areas that will ensure positive outcomes for the people supported by the direct support professional.  These competency areas also serve as the basis of nationally recognized direct support certification through the NADSP E-Badge Academy.


Below are the 12 Competency Areas that have been developed by the primary funder in our service delivery system, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS); 

  • Area 1: Communication​ 
  • Area 2: Person-Centered Practices​ 
  • Area 3: Evaluation and Observation​ 
  • Area 4: Crisis Prevention and Intervention​ 
  • Area 5: Safety ​ 
  • Area 6: Professionalism and Ethics​ 
  • Area 7: Empowerment and Advocacy​ 
  • Area 8: Health and Wellness​ 
  • Area 9:  Community Living Skills and Supports​ 
  • Area 10: Community Inclusion and Networking​ 
  • Area 11: Cultural Competency​ 
  • Area 12: Education, Training and Self-Development​ 


Each of these areas have corresponding definitions and a set of skill statements. The CMS Competencies are used to measure the level of skill and ability of direct support professionals in our national certification process (The NADSP E Badge Academy). In our certification process, direct support professionals share their experiences and interactions with the people they support as guided by the particular electronic competency badge for which they are applying.  NADSP encourages provider organizations, state funders and other stakeholders to encourage competency-based training, evaluation and certification.  

Competency is so important. NADSP will be sharing blog articles describing each of these specific competency areas.  We will describe the competency and offer examples of how direct support professionals can enact each of the areas in their daily practice.  The profession of direct support is complex. It is as important as any other profession where competencies and skills serve as the base of practice like dentistry, or the myriad of other professions rooted in measurable skill.   

When any professional works with intention and uses competencies as a measure of their practice, positive outcomes will happen. Next time you visit the dentist we hope you will experience the appointment with a new set of lenses and observe the dentist as they provide your dental care with skill, competency, and conceivably good dental outcomes.  We hope as direct support professionals you see your daily work, and eventual certification, based on the competencies listed earlier and featured in articles to be published in the upcoming months.

The Competency Series

Learn more about the CMS Competencies on February 27 at 2PM during a 30 minute webinar. Click the button below to register.

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