Support Staff for Individuals with Disabilities, a Crisis: Part II

 December 24, 2015
Posted by M&LAdmin4

Thursday, December 24th, 2015

Hello everyone, and welcome back to our blog this week! We hope that you are all prepared for the holidays, and are surrounded by family and friends during this festive season. Thank you so much for taking the time from your busy schedule to join us this afternoon.

As you may know, today’s blog is part II in a series focusing on a very serious issue facing families with special needs in the United States: the critical shortage of support and services workers for individuals with disabilities. Last week, we published part I of this series, titled Support Staff for Individuals with Disabilities: A Crisis, in which we examined an article published by Gail Frizzell recounting the experiences that her family has had trying to secure support workers for her daughter with disabilities, Lauren. We also briefly examined some alarming statistics that highlighted exactly how concerning this shortage of workers currently is, especially considering that the need for these type of workers is already growing and is expected to continue to increase drastically in the coming decades. Today, we will focus on the reasons behind this shortage is occurring, and why families are having so much trouble finding support workers for their family members with disabilities.

Please join us!

Support Worker Shortage: Why?

Before we begin, we would like to encourage all of you to take a moment to read the article that inspired last week’s blog, The Direct Support Workforce Crisis: A Parent’s Perspective.  Aside from anything else, reading Gail’s story – specifically being a witness to her frustration as she watches her daughter’s hard won independence threatened – is inspiring enough to motivate anyone to take action. And, in our opinion, action is what is needed right now in order to stop this crisis in its tracks.

Now that you have read this article in full, let’s return to the original intention of today’s post – let’s examine the “whys” of the issue. Why is there a shortage of direct support workers? What are the reasons behind this shortage? After considerable research (it should be noted that there is a surprising lack of readily available source material on this topic), we found a report released by the New Jersey Council on Disabilities, titled Recommendations on the Direct Support Professional Workforce, a book titled The Politics of Disability, and a report released by the National Council on Disability (NCD), titled Workforce Infrastructure in Support of People with Disabilities: Matching Human Resources to Service Needs which we have used to identify the most common causes of this support worker shortage this shortage. We have categorized these factors into three different groups:  wages/benefits, support/training, and changing population demographics.


As we noticed throughout our research, one of the most common reasons cited for the worker shortage in this field was the low wages that employees received. As written in the NJ Council on Disabilities’ report, “Nationally, nearly half of all households that include a person who works as a DSP rely on public assistance such as: Medicaid, food assistance, cash welfare, or assistance with housing, energy, or transportation costs. 8 In 2009, 16% of individuals employed in home health care services lived in families with incomes under the federal poverty level.”

These low wages (many support workers in New Jersey often earn less than state poverty levels) are compounded by work schedules that are often part-time, erratic, and dependent on factors outside of the employee control. There are also little to no benefits offer to employees in this field, with a lack of vacation time, sick time, and in most cases no access to health or employment insurance and benefits.


The low wages and lack of benefits available to support workers are only exacerbated by the lack of support and adequate training available, especially considering that the wide variety differing support needs that individuals with disabilities present. As Frizzel writes (in the article that inspired this post – see above), direct support workers are also facing challenges from the decentralization of community support services in regards to this training and support; due to budgetary and time constraints – most likely cause by high turnover (a cycle that seems to have no end) – these training needs and challenges are not being acknowledged, and not being met.

Quoting from a paper by Larson, Lakin & Hewit (2002), Frizell writes, “This decentralization of community support services has greatly increased the challenges faced by direct support workers in fulfilling their roles. Increasing use of in-home services, supporting living arrangements, and small group homes require much great skill, judgement, and personal accountability on the part of the worker. The support worker must practice these skills with far less direct supervision and access to on-site consultation from professionals with advanced training in health services, psychology or other related disciplines than when these workers worker predominately in congregate care settings.


Many experts and professionals in the disability agree that one of the major factors contributing to the shortage in support workers is the rapidly change population demographic that is ongoing in the US right now. As is written in the NCD’s report:

“The massive baby boom generation is beginning to leave the workforce. Nearly 7 million people in key managerial, professional, and technical jobs will likely retire in the next 10 years. At the same time, owing to declining birthrates, the U.S. economy is about to experience a shortage of young workers. As the baby boomers retire, the “brain drain” of skilled and experienced workers is creating another problem: The new workforce entrants are replacing experience with inexperience. The combination of these trends will create unprecedented competition for talent across all industries, which will further reduce available talent needed to support people with disabilities”

Would You Like More Information?

Thank you all for taking the time to visit our blog during this busy holiday season. We hope that you have provided you with some useful information as to the support worker shortage in the US. As you can see, the complex, interconnected nature of the factors contributing to this crisis demands immediate attention; it is of the utmost importance that this shortage in support workers be addressed immediately, and that the focus remain on filling the worker gap with qualified, skilled, quality individuals and candidates that will do their utmost to ensure the safety and quality of life of the individuals with whom they work.  We hope that  have inspired you to take direct action to help advocate and combat this crisis – we owe it to all individuals with disability to ensure that they have the supports and services available to help them live independent, community based inclusive lives.

If you are interested in learning about how you can plan now for the future of your family member with a disability, please contact us!  We offer a number of different services aimed at helping families with special needs plan for milestones, both personal and financial, and we love meeting new clients and helping them secure happy, successful and stable futures. If you would like to learn more, please browse our Services page, and check out our Workshops page.

Please visit us next week for our 2015: Year in Review post. We have had an amazing year, and we would love nothing more than to tell you all about it. Until then!

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