Regional Centers (RCs) provide essential services to individuals with disabilities. These nonprofit organizations unique to the state of California, in conjunction with the California Department of Developmental Services (DDS), have 12 locations throughout the state to coordinate services and assist families with special needs children and adults with disabilities.
What do Regional Centers do?
These centers exist in large part due to the Lanterman Developmental Disabilities Service Act, which was passed in 1969. The Act requires that individuals with disabilities and their families have the right to services and supports to assist them with living as independently and in the same manner as non-disabled individuals. The Act states that individuals with disabilities have the right to live in the least restrictive environment, and to live more independent, productive, and normal lives.
The state provides funds to regional centers to address the needs of consumers living in their catchment area: a defined region allotted to one of the 21 RCs in California. For example, the valley is served by the North Los Angeles Regional Center, and a little farther East, San Gabriel Valley has the San Gabriel / Pomona Regional Center. There are seven locations in Los Angeles County alone. (To look up another RC, please check this directory.)
What Specific Services Do RCs Offer?
When you first contact your regional center, they may test your child to see if he or she is eligible. They may ask you to provide medical records, psychoeducational assessments, and/or Individual Education Plans (IEPs), then they may do a social, medical, or psychological assessment.
There is no age limit and no charge for assessment. Once diagnosed and accepted, your child will be assigned a case manager or service coordinator. Most services and supports are free regardless of your income, but parents may have to pay a co-payment for selected services. Regional centers may offer:
- Information and referral
- Lifelong individualized planning and service coordination
- Purchase of necessary services included in the Individual Program Plan (IPP)
- Resource development
- Outreach to the community
- Assistance in finding and using community and other resources
- Advocacy for the protection of legal, civil, and service rights
- Early intervention services for at-risk infants and their families
- Family support
- Planning, placement, and monitoring for 24-hour out-of-home care
- Training and educational opportunities for individuals and families
- Community education about developmental disabilities
Before your child receives help through the RC, there must be an Individual Program Plan (“IPP”) meeting. The IPP is an agreement between you and the RC as to your goals for your child, his or her needs, and your choices; as well as what services and supports the RC agrees to provide you. By law, the IPP must be written by:
- The individual with developmental disabilities, if possible
- The parents or legal guardians of a child, or the legal conservator of an adult consumer
- The consumer’s authorized representative
- One or more regional center representatives, including the service coordinator
Any person invited by the consumer or his/her parents, guardian, conservator, or authorized representative – for example, a lawyer who can look out for their best interests.
Remember, it’s okay to ask questions, ask for clarification, and talk about what each decision would mean. You shouldn’t sign the IPP unless you understand everything in it. Once signed, the regional center cannot change any part of the IPP without the consumer or his/her representative present.
Appealing a Regional Center’s Decision
If you disagree with a regional center about an assessment or treatment plan, you must tell them in writing. After that, you may try sitting down in a meeting to talk with the service coordinator. If that does not work, you can go to mediation, where the mediator tries to help both sides agree, or have a “fair hearing” where a judge will make the final decision.
If you’re not satisfied with your service coordinator, the law says you can request another one.
Though Regional Centers were founded with the best of intentions, it can be an overwhelming process many can become lost in the shuffle of resources and legal code surrounding them. That’s where our special needs attorneys can help. Whether you need to appeal a decision in a fair hearing, or request a different vendor to provide services, call us.
Your local regional center is there to give information to consumers and their families and help them understand their rights and options under the law, help them locate the services they need, and make sure the local community offers those services, if they don’t already.
RCs are under a government directive to select the most cost-effective treatment for consumers, and they don’t always have to pay for the services to meet your child’s needs—but they do have to find them for you.
For regional centers to fulfill their objectives, they secure these services and supports from qualified service providers and contractors. DDS has the right to audit those vendors.
Who Is Eligible for Regional Center Services?
According to California Welfare and Institutions Code Section 4512, to be eligible for RS services, a person’s disabilities must:
- Originate before the person turns 18;
- Be lifelong;
- Be “substantial.” This is defined as a lack of functioning ability in three or more of the following, based on the age of the child and subject to determination by the regional center:
- Receptive and expressive language
- Capacity for independent living
- Economic self-sufficiency
The DDS, along with the Superintendent of Public Education, includes intellectual disability, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, autism, and conditions closely related to intellectual disability or requiring similar treatment on this list. It does not include handicapping conditions that are solely physical in nature.
Children under 3 years old, who are at risk of developing these disabilities or have a delay in milestones, may also qualify for regional center services based on criteria in the California Government Code Section 95014. Parents at risk of having a child with a development disability may also be eligible for genetic diagnosis, counseling, and other services.