Today I am advocating for a cause near and dear to my heart. There is currently a campaign in Illinois called The Care Campaign, a grassroots effort designed to persuade Governor Quinn to include more funding in the FY15 budget for the DSPs (Direct Support Persons) who provide support for people with developmental disabilities.
In the state of Illinois, DSPs are currently paid an average of $9.35 per hour. The Campaign is asking for funding in the FY15 budget to raise the hourly wage by one dollar.
Governor Quinn, if you will please indulge me, I would like to make a case as to why DSPs are worth (at least) a dollar more.
- For many, DSPs fill a void that was created when they were abandoned by family.
There are many families still involved in the lives of their loved ones who are currently "in the system," be it in a group home or a medical care facility. But in a heartbreaking number of cases, the family is no longer a part of the clients' lives. The reasons for their absence are as plentiful as the orphans in their wake. The DSPs are the closest thing to family that these people will ever know.
- The rate hasn’t seen an increase on the state level for six years.
From the information sheet on the Care Campaign website: “The General Assembly has not awarded a Cost of Doing Business Increase to community developmental disability agencies since 2007. Over the last 10 fiscal years, increases in state funding to these agencies have averaged less than 1% per year, for a total of 9.5%. By contrast, the CPI (consumer price index) increased 23% over the same period. Community agencies were forced to cover increases in health insurance, fuel, and other costs from the small rate increases, while wages fell further behind.”
This doesn’t seem fair, Governor? Why is this okay?
- Because the people being cared for are the brothers, sisters, and the children of concerned, loving families.
The value of the work provided by the DSPs can not be given a number. What is the price of a parent’s peace of mind? And yet, as a state, we have for whatever reason decided that an hour of work provided by a DSP is worth less than a an hour of work performed by a Starbucks Barista.
What kind of a society do we want to be? I believe an accurate measure of a man’s characters is the way in which he treats his more vulnerable brothers and sisters. The message of this rate is that their care is near negligible in value. That the work isn’t “worth” more.
Come on, Illinois. Let’s be better than that.
- DSPs dispense meds.
They are like nurses. Kind of. Well…nurses who are paid less than $10 an hour, but still have all the responsibility of dispensing the correct medications/doses/dietary restrictions/blood sugar readings/blood pressure measurements.
- Such a low wage translates into an extremely high turnover rate.
According to a 2007 study, the national turnover rate averages 50% (Hewitt and Larson, 2007) And a high turnover rate boils down to even more issues around abandonment for those being cared for.
- No snow days allowed.
Snow in ten foot drifts? Roads unmanageable? Car snowed in? Get there anyway, DSPs! The well-being of those people's lives is your responsibility. And in times of crises: all the more so.
- They sometimes work with people with violent tendencies.
No, it’s not the norm. But those who have stuck around have most likely been punched, slapped, or in the most extreme cases, have had a knife pulled on them at one time or another. These incidents are the results of med changes, seasonal depression, mental illness…meh. All part of the gig.
- Many people who would love to stay in the field end up leaving.
For many, working in this field with such amazing, pure, honest souls of the DD community, well, it feels like a “calling.” It was certainly the case in my life.
“I don’t know how you do that”
“Really? Because it feel like the most natural things in the world. I don’t really know how you teach seventh graders.”
It is a privilege to be a part of those lives. How heartbreaking it is to see good people leave; people who would have stayed if they could have somehow made ends meet on their DSP paycheck.
**WARNING** The next paragraph is not for the squeamish.
- The DSPs help these people maintain dignity in ways that some of us might have trouble even imagining as the reality of someone's job.
It is almost too difficult to get real about dealing with the feces, and the pubic hair, and the bad reactions to foods, and the lack of control of one’s bowels, and the cognitive inability to attempt the most basic habits of hygiene. It is the job of the DSPs to pull on some gloves, grab some wipes and a trash can, and get to work.
And then, in some cases, it happens again ten minutes later. In a restaurant. Or on the train.
DSPs are responsible for maintaining the personal hygiene of grown men and women incapable of taking care of themselves. Get courageous, and let yourself imagine this part of the job. The odor. The stains. The occasional horror of an unspeakable humiliation in a public place.
Oh, and here ya go. $400 a week, before taxes.
- It’s one of the hardest jobs in the world.
I have worked in the field as a DSP. The patience needed in that job is, at times, skull-crushing. There are days when you simply can not bear to be asked the same question 100 times a day as the one gentleman in your house does every single day. You can not be blamed for wishing that lady would decide NOT to stay in her bed and defecate on herself, a ghastly side-effect of her unpredictable bouts with mental illness. (She’s so nice, too, when she is in balance with herself. All the more frustrating)
One of the games I played in my head when I was a DSP was called “Could the President of the United States do my job?” And there were days when I thought that answer might actually be, “No. He probably could not.”
If you are from Illinois, and the spirit moves you, I urge you to sign the petition on the website. You need not be employed in the field for your voice to count. It just has to matter to you.
So, that’s my case, Governor Quinn. (The short version, anyway.)
Thanks to all for taking the time to read my silly words. It means the world to me. Carry on..
Old Single Mom
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