Going from Paper to Practice: Teaching Ethics to DSPs. (Ethics)

Article excerpt

Translating the Code of Ethics to the daily routine of caring for people with special needs is a combination of creative training skills and a receptive workforce. Both are required to morph the Code into a living document, which indeed was the original intention of the National Alliance of Direct Support Professionals (NADSP) collaborators. I found that before "ethics" could be presented to them, DSPs needed a firm grasp of the meaning of "values," "morals," "law," and just plain "doing good." Trainers should never assume that these words are understood and part of the consciousness of workers, even in the field of human service. I have found that the analogy of ethics as the axle that connects the wheels of rules and laws to the adjoining wheels of intentions and expectations seems to evoke head nods and expressions of agreement.

In order for members of the workforce to embrace ethics, they must appreciate the three tiers of endorsement, the foundations: cognition, emotion, and application (of skills). A clear understanding of each ethical domain and its place in service provision is vital. An appreciation for how each ethical statement is related to desired outcomes is emphasized to the class. I think it is imperative that each DSP see that the ethics code is nothing more than her own personal code of conduct and behavior. Indeed, we teach that ethics is merely the translation of a DSP's own values and beliefs into action.

The success of our training program is anchored in our use of case studies, role playing, and presenting both hypothetical and real-life scenarios. DSPs' responses are not judged but evaluated; we follow a proposed line of reasoning and see where it leads. Alternative actions are presented and the DSPs draw their own conclusions on which ethical pathways were preferred. We also incorporate the obstacles to "pie in the sky" ethics, including limited resources, staff turnover, unpredictable behavior, state regulations, unrealistic expectations, and the occasional encounter with Murphy's Law. By including these dynamics the DSPs are able to see that the Code of Ethics is applicable to a variety of settings and situations.

My experience as a leader in staff training has taught me that teaching "ethics" as an add-on or as a separate entity is a formula for disaster. Ethics must be integrated into every phase of DSP training. When we teach positioning, adaptive communications, life skills, recreation, socialization, and vocational preparedness, we try to include the notion of ethics in every course. Ethics is not something you teach as a separate curriculum--it must be woven into the fabric of knowledge and skills. The adoption of a code of ethics is a cultural change and that must be appreciated at every level.

We try to teach the difference between mandatory and aspirational ethics. To that end, we conclude the session by asking our staff for their ethical commitment. Signing the Code of Ethics is left up to the individual in keeping with our policy that ethics cannot be mandated, it must be applied. Of the nearly 200 DSPs that have experienced our evolving ethics training, no one has refused to sign the Code. We are proud to have been the first agency in the country to endorse the NADSP's Code of Ethics and we will continue to value its impact.

Tennessee Leads Nation in Adopting DSPs Code of Ethics

In November 2000, the Community Rehabilitation Agencies of Tennessee (CMRA) Board of Directors adopted a Code of Ethics for DSPs that had been drafted by NADSP. The CMRA Board adopted the Code as another means by which to raise the professionalism of the DSP and to increase positive public awareness across the state of Tennessee of these frontline staff and the people they serve.

DSPs are the linchpin in Tennessee's as well as all states' healthcare delivery systems for people with disabilities. There are an estimated 6,000 DSPs in Tennessee and approximately two million nationwide. …