Direct Support Professionals Fellowship Program

CAMH and Azrieli Adult Neurodevelopmental Centre logo

Direct support professionals (DSPs) are essential to our healthcare ecosystem. They provide expert care to thousands of people living with disabilities in the community and in residential support settings. According to a new study, DSPs have faced an increase in workplace challenges, with 70% reporting increased stress and 35% reporting moderate to severe mental distress between 2020 and 2022. Many are leaving the sector entirely as a result.

To better understand the mental health and wellbeing needs of DSPs in Canada, the Canadian Centre for Caregiving Excellence and CAMH Azrieli Adult Neurodevelopmental Centre have created the Direct Support Professionals Fellowship Program, bringing together DSPs from coast to coast-to-coast to share what they need to be healthy, strong and thrive at work through facilitated discussion.

Drawing on their lived experience, the group will explore topics such as recruitment, training needs, retention and improving working conditions for DSPs across the country. Members will be involved in a codesign process around policy development and advocacy and be supported to bring their ideas to life in the field.


Headshot of Sue Hutton, a woman waering glasses with light brown hair

Coordinator, Direct Support Professionals Fellowship Program

Toronto, Ontario

Sue is a social worker at the CAMH Azrieli Adult Neurodevelopmental Centre and is thrilled to serve as coordinator of the Direct Support Professionals Fellowship Program with the Canadian Centre for Caregiving Excellence. Sue is also a mindfulness teacher responsible for developing and delivering mindfulness programs designed for care providers, caregivers and adults with neurodevelopmental disabilities.

Sue comes to the Direct Support Fellowship Program with 30 years’ experience as a DSP; first having provided community-based case management, then in a lead role developing and delivering staff rights training. Sue has also delivered human rights education to persons with disabilities and their support networks at ARCH Disability Law Centre. Sue is excited to work with the Canadian Centre for Caregiving Excellence to support and strengthen the lives of care providers across Canada.

Headshot of Olabisi Bisara, a Black woman with shoulder length hair wearing a colourful shirt

Direct Support Professional

Winnipeg, Manitoba

Olabisi is a direct support professional with over 13 years of experience delivering care for people with disabilities in Canada and abroad.

Since she began her career as a direct support professional in 2010, she has focused on assisting and encouraging the individuals she supports to achieve their personal goals through the development of life skills.

She worked as a disability support worker and advocate in Nigeria for over one and a half years before moving to the United Kingdom, where she obtained a diploma in health and social care and gained experience working in a long-term mental rehabilitation hospital.

When Olabisi moved to Canada, she maintained her commitment to serving the disability community, and now works at St. Amant’s Community Residential Program in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Olabisi is passionate about helping people foster meaningful connections in their communities.

Headshot of Claudiane Coutu Arbour, a woman with long red hair wearing glasses

Direct Support Professional

Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec

Claudiane is passionate about the wellbeing of direct support professionals who work with individuals with severe behaviours. Claudiane is currently completing her master’s degree in psychoeducation at Université de Montréal, where she will be pursuing her studies as a doctorate student in fall 2023. Claudiane comes with 16 years of experience as a special education instructor.

Claudiane recently completed her final internship with the Service Quebecois d’expertise en troubles graves du comportement, where she planned projects related to competency-based training and creating tools for health workers working with people with severe behavioral disorders that are under the health and social services system’s authority. Claudiane brings a warmth to the DS Fellows, representing the interests of Francophone DSPs as well.

Headshot of Jodi Dessau, a woman with brown hair wearing a white jacket

Direct Support Professional

Chilliwack, British Columbia

Jodie is the vocational counselor at the Chilliwack Society of Community Living where she works with participants of a new service called L.I.F.E.. Jodie is a strong advocate for the individuals she supports, her coworkers and the community at large. Jodie looks forward to serving fellow DSPs as part of the DSP Fellowship Program. Jodie has been working in the social service field for 30 years and resides in the lovely community of Rosedale BC.

Headshot of Juanita Forde, a Black woman with shoulder length hair wearing a white shirt and jacket

Direct Support Professional

Toronto, Ontario

Juanita is a proud Black woman born to Caribbean parents.
She is a CUPE member in the Ontario region and is a lead steward for Local 2191. Juanita has served the membership through various elected and appointed positions. She is currently a co-chair of CUPE’s Human Rights and Racial Justice committee in Ontario, and she is the Equity and Inclusion representative for the Social Service Workers Coordinating Committee in Ontario.

Juanita is also the chair of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) Region One Under 40 Committee.

Headshot of Penny Goryk

Direct Support Professional

Chilliwack, British Columbia

Penny has worked with Chilliwack Society for Community Living for 13 years. Penny currently works as a vocational counsellor supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in obtaining paid employment.

Penny has also provided direct support topeople living in supported homes, as a respite worker and as a community support worker in a variety of community inclusion programs. Penny is passionate about supporting people to live with dignity in their community and is equally passionate about the wellbeing of DSPs.

Headshot of Drucila Kakwerre.

Direct Support Professional

Halifax, Nova Scotia

Drucila has been a care provider since 2011. She began her career in the long-term care sector before bringing her skills to developmental services, where she has been working as a direct support professional for four years.

She currently works as a regional rehabilitation worker, providing direct support to residents who have been identified with psychological and social or behavioral challenges as well as developmental disabilities and/or chronic mental illnesses. In her role, Drucila provides skill development support to residents with goals of moving to smaller community settings to be able to thrive in their communities.

Drucila is excited to bring her voice to the Direct Support Professionals Fellowship representing Nova Scotia.

Headshot of Shelby O'Brien.

Direct Support Professional

Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia

Shelby is a Nova Scotia Community College graduate, with ten years of experience working as a direct support professional. She actively facilitates program development and is constantly advocating for the rights of individuals with disabilities. Currently working as a residential rehabilitation worker, she also provides support as a shop steward for her local CUPE Union and is a member of her organization’s labour management committee.

Shelby is passionate about the work she does and is considered a positive role model to her peers. She is constantly seeking out new opportunities to grow as a DSP. In the 10+ years that Shelby has been working in the field, she has never asked herself “Why am I still in this field?” but rather “How can I continue to build and strengthen it?”

Headshot of Kiara Pepe, a woman with long brown hair wearing a black shirt

Direct Support Professional

Thunder Bay, Ontario

Kiara is a proud and vocal DSP in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Kiara has worked on the front line in developmental services for 10 years with Community Living Thunder Bay.

Kiara stays active with her union OPSEU to learn and grow as a DSP and to feel empowered with the knowledge of a worker’s rights. Kiara believes that strong DSPs are best able to provide the most fulfilling opportunities for people receiving services.

Headshot of Scott Robins, an older man with a beard and shoulder length hair

Direct Support Professional

Barrhead, Alberta

Scott is a direct support professional with a strong interest in evidence-based practices and the science of support. Scott has been doing this work for more than 20 years. In addition to providing services, Scott speaks at conferences on a variety of topics related to his extensive experience as a DSP.

Scott shares: “I noticed not everyone is, or wants to be, a leader; some struggle with following. I find myself supporting leaders, learners, followers and those who are undecided, uninformed or in between”.

Scott has passion for breaking down the silos and working toward a fully inclusive community. As part of that, Scott can often be heard talking about the importance of a role he loves – being a grandfather – in addition to his many roles in the community.

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