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Direct support training: toward a national standard

From eNews, December 18, 2003

What does it take to properly care for someone with developmental disabilities? You can find out, or at least get a sense, through the College of Direct Support. This online program, developed by the U's Research and Training Center on Community Living (RTC), is the first national course for preparing those who support people with developmental disabilities. The program is highly interactive--combining multimedia and text on the computer screen--and offers 55 hours of instruction. Lesson plans delve into such topics as maltreatment of vulnerable adults and children, community inclusion, and direct support professionalism. For Minnesotans who must care for a developmentally disabled family member, or who have an interest in the field, a mere $25 will buy you those 55 hours. RTC director Charlie Lakin says the program is innovative in its attempt to standardize the way all direct support professionals are trained. "The role of direct support professionals does not have standard academic training," explains Lakin. "Typically, those who care for people with developmental disabilities are trained by the agencies they work for." Lakin, who was involved in developing the program, adds that the College of Direct Support is unique because "it's built on scientific analysis, on content of jobs that people in direct support have, and on established code of ethics." Another plus is that it's online, allowing the program to better reach its target audience "[Direct support professionals] are a very hard group to train because they work odd hours and could be full-time or part-time," says Lakin. "This program was designed with that in mind. Lessons are 40 to 50 minutes each, and people can move through them at their own pace over several days if they wish [because of a bookmark feature]." Since this program made its debut in May, state agencies have been jumping on the bandwagon and providing the program to their direct support staff. The program is recognized by five states and the District of Columbia, with contracts pending in four additional states and ten other states expressing strong interest. To learn more about the College of Direct Support or the Research and Training Center on Community Living, which is housed in the Institute on Community Integration on the Twin Cities campus in Minneapolis, see http://rtc.umn.edu.

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