DES Celebrates Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month

March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month (DDAM), and the theme chosen by the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (NACDD) is A World of Opportunities. Through the 2024 theme, NACDD is “celebrating people and working together to remove obstacles. Our goal is to build a community that’s committed to creating a world where everyone can do well and succeed.”

There is much work underway in Arizona to do just this–remove the obstacles individuals with developmental disabilities and their families face, so all individuals have the chance to thrive. The DES Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) and its partners at the Governor’s Office and the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) are working hard to bolster the supportive network of professionals upon which DDD members and their families rely, including supporting the parents of members themselves who have taken on paid caregiving responsibilities.

Arizona Continues Program that Supports Parents as Paid Caregivers

As Governor Katie Hobbs and AHCCCS recently announced, the Parents as Paid Caregivers program will now be permanent. During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, the federal government permitted AHCCCS to reimburse parents as paid caregivers of their Arizona Long Term Care System-enrolled minor children with disabilities. This move was critical in ensuring children could receive timely care in their own homes and communities when direct care professionals were difficult to access. It also supported parents financially, empowering them to dedicate more of their time to their children.

With the provision’s popularity, AHCCCS, DDD and Governor Hobbs are working to develop a sustainable program to the benefit of families across the state. Nationwide, we continue to see a shortage of direct care providers–particularly in rural areas–and this program will give families more options to ensure their children receive the care they need, when they need it.

Strengthening Behavioral Health Care for DDD Members Through Innovative Training

Dual Diagnosis Training

Collaborating with its health plans, DDD is enhancing training available to behavioral health agency clinical staff. This includes expanding the availability of an extensive library of more than 100 Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities-focused training courses to all AHCCCS-registered behavioral health agencies. The training focuses on best practices for working with individuals who have both a developmental disability and a behavioral health diagnosis. More than just making these courses available, DDD is offering incentives to the agencies to encourage more eligible staff members to take advantage of these resources and better equip themselves for serving individuals with dual diagnoses.

Since this training became available in August 2023, more than 2,000 professionals have completed one or more courses. As of January 31, 2024, more than 13,100 courses have been completed. To further this effort, our team is planning two “Bridging the Gap” conferences in different parts of the state for behavioral health providers to learn more about supporting individuals with developmental disabilities. The first will be held in Tucson in May; the other in Phoenix in September.

Through these efforts, we are working together to bridge the knowledge gap and develop a highly skilled workforce to better meet the needs of our DDD members in a comprehensive manner. I’m grateful for the partnership of DDD’s health plans, the behavioral health agencies, and the dedicated professionals who are taking the steps to improve their abilities to serve members with developmental disabilities.

Positive Behavior Support Training

DDD is also making available a new Positive Behavior Support (PBS) training for direct support professionals who work with our provider network, as well as families and caregivers. PBS is an evidence-based and empathetic approach to person-centered care. Instead of a “treatment,” PBS teaches new ways to respond to problem behaviors by introducing new skills, improving an individual’s environment, and strengthening the relationship between an individual with a developmental disability and the people caring for them. DES has already delivered training to more than 230 trainers from our service providers, who will then deliver that training to their teams. An additional 225 trainers are currently registered to participate in future sessions.

Understanding that family members and caregivers outside of the provider network can also benefit from this training, DDD partnered with Raising Special Kids to offer it in both English and Spanish at no cost to families and caregivers. Those interested can visit the Raising Special Kids website to register.

A World of Opportunities

Through a network of government and health care agencies, service providers, advocacy organizations and passionate parents, together, we are working to create a world where individuals with developmental disabilities have the opportunities to thrive. With innovation at the forefront of our minds, we are working to support one another and share skills and resources, so that together we can make a real difference in the lives of those we serve.

Angie Rodgers