Support Staff for Individuals with Disabilities: A Crisis

 December 17, 2015
Posted by M&LAdmin4

Thursday, December 17th, 2015

As special needs planning professionals and parents of children with special needs, the staff at M&L receives and reads many articles, studies and reports related to special needs parenting/planning issues. We make it our priority to read everything we can get our hands on – we do this so that we are always able to pass on relevant, reliable, and current information to our clients, family members and friends with disabilities.

Recently, an interesting – and concerning – article published in EP Magazine came across our desk; the article, titled The Direct Support Workforce Crisis: A Parent’s Perspective, discussed a very important issue facing many parents of individuals with special needs: the increasing shortage of qualified supports and services workers. This is something that the author of the article, Gail Frizzell takes very seriously: as a parent that is currently struggling to find a support worker for her adult daughter with disabilities, she uses the article to lament this worker shortage and also to highlight the severity of the crisis and how it affects all individuals with disabilities.

Frizzell has inspired us here at M&L to join in the effort to raise awareness about this crisis; we have decided to write and post a two part series on the support worker shortage. Today, we will take a closer look at this crisis itself and the concerns that are put forth in the article. Next week, we will examine the possible reasons – and possible solutions – for this crisis.  If you are a parent of an individual with special needs, a professional in the special needs industry, or an advocate – we strongly encourage you to join us as we explore this very important topic.

The Direct Support Workforce Crisis: A Parent’s Perspective

If the support worker shortage crisis wasn’t on your radar before reading this article, Frizzell firmly places it there with two simple paragraphs. In the opening paragraph, she introduces you to her daughter Lauren, an adult with special needs that lives independently, with supports, in a home that has been adapted to fit all of Lauren’s “wants and needs.” Frizzell then uses the second paragraph to remind us of the tenuous nature of the supports that make this living situation possible:

“The system of government-funded supports and services that is designed to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities is facing many challenges. Individuals are presenting with a far wider variety of intellectual, physical, and behavioral challenges that ever before. They are living longer. And, they are claiming their right to make choices about where and how they will live their lives. But the greatest challenge to be overcome at this time, before any of the others can be addressed, is the increasing lack of a worker pool, adequate in capacity and skill, to provide the direct support that enable individuals to survive each day.”

This one paragraph is enough to raise concern in the heart of all parents of individuals with special needs; most parents will, at some point during the life of their child with special needs, need to secure some sort of support/services workers. What happens if there aren’t any workers to be had? As Frizzell points out, this shortage – which is worsening with time – means that her adult daughter may have to give up on her hard-won independence: “Lauren may be forced to leave her comfortable little home. Life as she knows it will end. Lauren has severe, multiple disabilities and she can no longer find staff to provide the support that she depends on to live her life.”

Near the end of the article, Frizzell also provides us with these scary statistics, gleaned from numbers government studies and reports on this worker shortage:

– The need for direct support workers is expected to increase 37% by the year 2020. This increase in demand will be occurring at a time when the labor supply of adults age 18-39 years that have traditionally filled these roles will only increase by 7%.

-Turnover rates for personal care assistants have been reported to range from 44-65 %; one survey found that 56,000 workers intended to quit their jobs within the next year.

-More than 75% of families report they can’t find afterschool care, non-institutional community services, trained reliable home care providers, summer care, residential, respite and other services.

In the face of these scary statistics, it is not surprising that this shortage is being considered a crisis by Frizzell and other special needs advocates. And, the story of Lauren’s impending loss of independence should scare us – as parents of children that will eventually become adults with special needs – into taking action to stop it in its tracks.

Would You Like More Information?

First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to visit our blog today. We hope that we have opened your eyes to the worker shortage crisis that is facing many Americans with disabilities; we encourage you to spread this blog post, and the article itself, far and wide in the hopes of raising awareness and inciting discussion.

If you would like more information on this topic, we suggest that you visit and read this article in full (note: a subscription may be required), or contact us. We offer many services designed to help your family with special needs plan for and achieve a successful, happy and financially secure future. Please take a moment to browse through our website, including our resources page and our blog archive – every week we publish a blog on a topic that is of interest to the special needs community. Take a minute to sign up for blog notifications (found on the right hand side of the home page) if you would like to receive weekly emails containing our most current blog posts.

Again, thank you. And be sure to visit us next week for part two of this series, in which we will look at what is causing this worker shortage, and examine some possible solutions.




Share and Enjoy:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Add to favorites
  • Print
  • email


Leave a Comment

Error! This email is not valid.