Nova Scotia's Department of Community Services does not have a set of staff standards for people who work in facilities housing people with intellectual disabilities.
Instead, it requires seven “core competencies” to be covered in training. They include: fire and life safety; basic principles and practices of personal care; medication; individual program planning; positive principles and practices of non-aversive behaviour change; crisis intervention, and standard first aid.
For the most part, each of these is taught over a half day.
Carol Ann Brennan, head of the Regional Residential Services Society, doesn’t think Community Services demands enough training. Her organization offers additional courses in areas such as autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy and Alzheimer’s to cover the gaps in required training.
So does Quest Regional Rehabilitation Centre, but it will also hire staff who have not completed the core competencies as long as they do so within three months of beginning work. That means that some staff are working with people with disabilities without even the most basic of training.
When Community Services introduced the seven core competencies, the plan was for Nova Scotia’s community colleges to offer them as part of a course. But the programs had low enrolment and were soon removed from the Halifax region, then Cape Breton and Western Nova Scotia. A pilot program sprung up anew in two towns last year.
The core competency and additional training ends up falling on the shoulders of service providers, eating up precious resources, time and funding. It’s manageable, says Quest director Laura Arthurs, but only when the centre receives a few new recruits at a time.
With high turnover rates, though, organizations may be strapped when it comes to training.
A human resource strategy to improve “recruitment, retention, education and training” of residential option staff was recommended in the 2008 SPD Residential Services Report but has not yet been examined, says Services for Persons with Disabilities head Lorna MacPherson.