Penn-Mar Direct Support Professionals Receive National Certification - Penn-Mar

Penn-Mar Direct Support Professionals Receive National Certification

Posted on February 2, 2018

First five of 18 DSPs to receive certification following rigorous Penn-Mar Career Ladders credentialing program launched in 2016

FREELAND, Md. – Feb. 1, 2018 – Nonprofit Penn-Mar Human Services, in partnership with the National Alliance of Direct Support Professionals (NADSP), is proud to announce the certification of the first wave of five Direct Support Professionals (DSPs), out of a class of 18, who enrolled in Penn-Mar’s inaugural Career Ladders program – a career development and credentialing program launched in the fall of 2016. The remaining 13 DSPs will receive certification in the coming months.

Penn-Mar, a recognized leader in providing innovative, quality supports and services to hundreds of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) in Maryland and Pennsylvania, established its Career Ladders program with NADSP in an effort to recognize the vital work of DSPs, address the challenges within a care system plagued with low wages and high turnover, and improve its employee recruitment and retention efforts.

All five of Penn-Mar’s nationally certified DSPs met NADSP’s credentialing requirements, which included a minimum of 100 hours of training and practicums, and the preparation of a final portfolio. The five women are Rita ArnettBrenda McClureLydia HurstMaricel Border, and Rebecca Driver.

“Penn-Mar Human Services is extremely proud of all of their hard work and paving the way for other DSPs in our organization,” said Laura Tieman, Penn-Mar’s Maryland COO. “It was a very hard and difficult process, but they have demonstrated that it is a worthwhile endeavor and encouraged and motivated others to continue on the same journey.”

Four of the first five graduates will be going on to become cohort leaders, helping coach the current class of 27 through the process. Rita Arnett will be mentoring one of the applicants for the Career Ladders program, and will be going on to get her DSP II certification.

The standard to be accepted into the program is high and all applicants accepted must be registered by NADSP in order to participate. Performance metrics, along with input from colleagues, individuals and families are taken into consideration when choosing candidates. Candidates need to apply for each of three levels of advancement and meet certain performance standards to be eligible to move on to the next level of the program.

Penn-Mar employs a staff of 350 DSPs. Across the country, there are fewer than 250 DSPs who have received training to achieve credentialing – out of a national workforce of two million serving people with I/DD. Penn-Mar is poised to significantly raise that number and become the country’s largest employer of certified DSPs.

Penn-Mar’s mission is to empower adults with I/DD to live meaningful, productive lives in their communities. Fostering and supporting inclusion depends on the commitment and professionalism of DSPs. But the skills needed to provide exceptional support require far more than basic federal and state mandated training. Penn-Mar’s Career Ladders is giving the nonprofit’s DSPs enhanced critical thinking, problem solving, and advocacy skills, as well as an opportunity for increased compensation.

By establishing Career Ladders and developing these career standards that lead to professional credentialing and commensurate compensation, Penn-Mar is leading the national efforts to reform the discrepancy between their unique skill sets and insufficient wages. Despite the critical role they play, the average wage of a DSP falls behind that of department store, gas station and fast food workers because of a lack of funding at the federal and state levels; these insufficient wages affect workforce retention and the quality of support provided.

While DSP compensation can vary from state-to-state, the constant is that their income is at 25-50% below a living wage qualifying them for means-tested benefits such as food stamps and other public programs. Most DSPs struggle from paycheck-to-paycheck and hold down multiple jobs to support themselves and their families.

DSP Data

  • The average wage of a direct support professional in the United States is $10.29 per hour, according to the salary comparison website PayScale, and the pay for this job does not change.
  • According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the number of Americans needing long-term services and supports could more than double by the year 2050.
  • Demand for DSPs will increase by 48 percent in just the next decade alone, and growth in the field will likely accelerate for many years as the baby boomer generation ages.
  • A study conducted by the American Network of Community Options and Resources (ANCOR) estimated a turnover rate ranging between 38.2% and 45.9% in 2009.
  • Penn-Mar’s annual turnover rate in 2016 was 35%. Penn-Mar has a goal of reducing the turnover rate to 30% by June 30, 2018 with a vision of ultimately reducing turnover to 15% or below annually in the years to come.

For more information about Penn-Mar’s DSP Career Ladder Initiative, contact Penn-Mar’s Chief Development Officer Kathy Rogers, at 410-343-1069 x227, or by e-mail at

To view Penn-Mar’s newly published 2017 Annual Report – “A Mission of Transformation,” click the link here:


About the National Alliance of Direct Support Professionals (NADSP)

In 1996, NADSP’s ideological founder, John F. Kennedy Jr. wrote “Quality is defined at the point of interaction between the staff member and the individual with a disability”. Given this, NADSP’s mission is to enhance the quality of support provided to people with disabilities through the provision of products, services, and certifications which elevate the status of direct support workers, improve practice standards, promote systems reform and, most importantly, advance the knowledge, skills, and values of direct support workers. For more information, please visit


About Penn-Mar Human Services

Penn-Mar Human Services, founded in 1981, serves more than 400 adults with intellectual disabilities through its residential, respite, educational, vocational and supported employment programs in northern Baltimore, Carroll and Harford Counties in Maryland, and in southern York County in Pennsylvania.

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