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Printed on: 02/04/2023
Please always refer to the online version for the most current up-to-date information.
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Chapter 3: Regional Centers
(3.1) What do the regional centers do?
Regional centers give services to people with developmental disabilities. They also give early intervention services to infants and toddlers with disabilities, but we do not talk about those services here.[[The regional centers provide early intervention services to infants and toddlers with disabilities (birth to their third birthday) under “Part C” of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and the California Early Intervention Services Act beginning at section 95000 of the California Government Code. This manual does not cover early intervention services. For information on these services see Chapter 12 of Special Education Rights and Responsibilities, which is another Disability Rights California publication.]]
Regional centers must:
- Find people who may need regional center services.[[Section 4641.]]
- Evaluate people who apply for regional center services to decide if they are eligible.[[Sections 4642 and 4643.]]
- Coordinate services for all regional center consumers.[[Sections 4640.6 and 4647.]]
- Develop an Individual Program Plan (IPP) that considers your needs and choices.[[Sections 4646 and 4646.5.]]
- Make sure you receive all services and supports listed in the IPP.[[Sections 4648 and 4651 and other sections of the Lanterman Act.]]
- Develop new services and supports
- Check the quality of the services and supports provided.[[Sections 4648 and 4651 and other sections of the Lanterman Act. ]]
- Help consumers who are in the Self-Determination Program.[[Sec. 4685.8]]
(3.2) How does a regional center find people who may have developmental disabilities?
Regional centers must do “case finding.”[[Section 4641]] This means regional centers must actively look in the community to find people eligible for services. They work with public health agencies, the Department of Social Services, school districts, and other state, local, and private agencies.
Doctors or other medical professionals can refer a person to the regional center. But, you do not need a doctor’s referral to go to the regional center. Anyone who thinks they may have a developmental disability has a right to apply to the regional center.
(3.3) How do regional centers represent people with disabilities and the communities they serve?
The Lanterman Act says the regional center’s Board of Directors must represent the developmental disabilities community. At least 25 percent of the board members must have a developmental disability. At least half of the board members must have a developmental disability or be a parent or legal guardian of a person with a developmental disability.[[Sections 4625 and 4622.]] The board must also reflect the geographic and ethnic traits of the region it serves. This diversity helps more people get the regional center services they need, no matter their race, ethnicity, religion or income.
The Lanterman Act says regional centers must use the state’s money in ways that do not discriminate against any person, group, or family based on age, race, ethnicity, or the language they speak. The law says the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) and the regional centers must collect information each year on regional center “purchase of service.” This information will help find regional centers communities that are underserved.[[Section 4519.5(a) and (b).]] “Purchase of service” is the term used with the “Purchase of Service Fund.” This is the state money the regional centers can use only to buy services for people with disabilities.[[Title 17, Cal. Code of Regulations, section 54302(a)(52).]] Each year, regional centers and DDS must post information on how each regional center is using its “purchase of service” money.[[Section 4519.5(c) and (d).]] They must include the number and percentage of people, by age, race or ethnicity, disability, and residence type (including language spoken) who are eligible for regional center, but not receiving purchase of service funds.[[Section 4519.5(b).]] This means they are clients, but not getting any services. Within three months of posting this on their websites, each regional center must hold public meetings about the information.[[Section 4519.5(e).]] Each regional center must tell DDS its plan to make its purchase of services equal among groups of eligible people.[[Section 4519.5(f)(1)(C).]] DDS may provide more money to help regional centers address disparities in their purchase of service practices.[[Section 4519.5(h)(1).]] This money could pay for things like more direct-care bilingual staff, cultural competency training, and outreach to underserved groups.
(3.4) How can I get my regional center to provide services in a culturally-competent way?
The Lanterman Act has many rules to make sure services are provided in a culturally-competent way.
- Regional center services must be provided in cultural- and language-appropriate ways to people with disabilities and their families.[[Section 4502.1(b).]]
- Regional center boards must review how well the regional center is providing services that are language- and cultural-appropriate each year.[[Section 4622(j)(2).]]
- Regional center contracts with the state must include annual performance objectives, including for providing cultural- and language-appropriate services.[[Section 4629(c)(1)(A)(iii).]]
- Regional center evaluations for IPP planning must be aware of and sensitive to the cultural background of the person and family.[[Section 4646.5(a)(1).]]
- Regional center community resource development services must be cultural- and language-appropriate.[[Section 4679(a).]]
- Regional center family support services must meet the cultural preferences and values of the families served.[[Section 4685(b)(4).]]
- Regional centers and DDS must monitor and evaluate residential services agencies and homes to makes sure they accommodate residents’ culture and values.[[Section 4689.1(e)(8)(E).]]
- DDS must consult with people and families that reflect the ethnic and language diversity of the regional centers’ area to help develop and grow culturally appropriate services. This is to prevent regional centers from spending their purchase of service money in ways that discriminate against certain groups.[[Section 4519.5(g)(1)(C).]]
- DDS’s evaluation of regional centers must include seeing if they are providing services in a cultural- and language-competent way.[[Section 4571(b).]]
Because of these requirements, you and your family should talk to your service coordinator about your language, culture, and values. Do this when your service coordinator is gathering information about you for your IPP. Regional centers must keep your and your family’s lifestyle and culture in mind when they meet with you to discuss your IPP. Regional centers must use the information you give them about your culture to help your team create an IPP that considers your culture, language, and values. The focus of the IPP must be on your wishes, needs, and dreams, rather than on a list of services and supports that are available.
Regional centers could also hire staff that speak other languages and are part of different cultures. They could form support groups held in languages other than English. They could also use service providers who have staff that speak multiple languages.
(3.5) What if I need an interpreter at meetings with the regional center or documents translated into the language I use?
Communication is important. If you do not speak English, have trouble understanding English, or feel more comfortable speaking in a different language, tell the regional center right away. Ask them to provide an interpreter for any phone call or meeting, including the IPP meeting.[[Section 4646(j)(1); Government Code section 11135 – 11139.8; Title 22, Cal. Code of Regs., section 11162(c).]] The regional center must communicate with you in your native language at these meetings. You can bring a friend or family member who speaks English to help you. But the regional center cannot make you bring a friend instead of hiring an interpreter.
You may also have your IPP and other related documents translated.[[Section 4646(j)(2).]] If you disagree with a regional center decision, and you appeal, the regional center must hire and pay for an interpreter, if you need one.[[Section 4710.8(c) and 4712(l).]] It takes time to arrange these services, so tell the regional center right away. If the regional center refuses to translate documents or provide an interpreter, call Disability Rights California or OCRA for information about your rights.
(3.6) What if I can’t go to the regional center for appointments and meetings because of my disability?
If you cannot go to the regional center because of your disability, the staff must visit you at home. Federal law (including Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and its regulations) gives you the right to this kind of “accommodation.”[[Title 29 U.S. Code section 794; Title 45 Code of Fed. Regs., section 84.22(b).]] This right applies to all public agencies that provide benefits or services, including In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS), Social Security, and others. An agency can work with you over the phone if you need. You can also participate in hearings and appeals over the phone.
(3.7) How do I apply to the regional center for services?
First, contact your local regional center. There are 21 regional centers in California. Each covers a certain area. You must apply to the center for your area. See Regional Center Listings or call:
OCRA: (800) 390-7032.
Department of Developmental Services: (916) 654-1958
The receptionist or intake staff must allow you to apply for regional center services. Part of applying is getting an appointment for your first meeting, called the “initial intake.” After you apply, the regional center must complete the “initial intake” in 15 working days.[[Section 4642(a)(2).]] An intake worker will gather information from you. You may talk to members of the regional center staff, including social workers, psychologists, health professionals, or other specialists. They work together as a team in the intake and assessment process. This team is called an interdisciplinary or ID team, and includes at least one doctor, a psychologist, and a service coordinator.[[Title 17, Cal. Code of Regs., section 54001(b).]]
(3.8) How should I prepare for the initial intake meeting?
Bring copies of health benefits cards that show your health care benefits. This means private health insurance, health plans, Medi-Cal, Medicare, or TRICARE (for military families).[[Section 4643(c). If you have no such benefits, the regional center cannot use that fact to deny or reduce services you would otherwise have received from the regional center.]] Bring records you have from doctors, hospitals, health clinics, schools, and anyone else who knows you and your developmental history. Bring the names, addresses, and phone numbers of your doctors, psychologists, and other health care professionals. This can speed up the process. Supplement D of this manual is a checklist that will help you bring the information you need to your first meeting.
(3.9) What happens at the initial intake meeting?
The regional center will ask you to fill out forms and sign releases so they can get your records. They should also give you information and advice about regional center services and services at other agencies. They should tell you about The State Council on Developmental Disabilities, Disability Rights California, and OCRA, and give contact information.[[Section 4646(c).]] The regional center will decide if they need to do a formal assessment. If your disability is documented well, you may not need a formal assessment.
(3.10) How does the eligibility review process work?
After the initial intake, the regional center has 120 days to decide if you are eligible.[[Section 4643(a).]] But, the regional center has only 60 days to decide, if:
- A delay would risk your health and safety, or further delay your mental or physical development, or
- There is a great risk you would be placed in a more restrictive setting. For example, having to move from your family home to a facility.[[Section 4643(a). ]]
If you become eligible for services, the regional center has 60 days to complete your first Individual Program Plan (IPP).[[Section 4646(c).]]
(3.11) When does a regional center have to do more evaluations to decide if I am eligible for services?
Sometimes the regional center needs more information to decide if you have a developmental disability. Sometimes the information in your records is not specific to the developmental disabilities that the regional center serves. Your records may be conflicting, with different conditions to explain your disability. Sometimes the information in your records shows you have a condition, but not how it is substantially disabling for you. In these situations, a regional center may evaluate you to see if you are eligible.[[Section 4642(a)(2)]] They also want to see what services you need to live the most independent, productive, and normal life possible. A team of regional center workers called the interdisciplinary team (or ID team) looks at your records to see if they need to do further evaluations.
(3.12) How do I find out if the regional center has found me eligible for their services?
After the initial intake and assessment, if the regional center decides you are eligible, they will send you a notice in writing. If the regional center decides you are not eligible, they must send you and your representative, if you have one, a written notice by certified mail within five working days of their decision.[[Section 4710(e).]]
(3.13) What if the regional center says I am not eligible for their services, but I think I am?
If the regional center decides that you are not eligible for services, you have the right to appeal.[[Section 4710.5(a).]]
Important: If you decide to appeal, you must do it within 30 days of the date you receive the notice in the mail from the regional center.[[Section 4710.5(a); see Chapter 10 on Disputes and Appeals.]]
Information from this manual will help you with your appeal:
- Chapter 2 has more information about developmental disabilities and who is and is not eligible for regional center.
- Chapter 10 has detailed information on the appeal process.
- Supplement N has a timeline of the key steps in the appeal process and how to file your appeal.
(3.14) Can I apply again if I have new information about my disability that the regional center did not have when they denied me?
If the regional center said you do not have a developmental disability, but you have new information (such as new test results), you can apply again. The regional center must consider the new information you give them by going through the eligibility review process again. They will look at the information from before and any new information you give them. They may decide to do more tests. The regional center will need to give you another decision in writing. The regional center may not want to go through the process again based on new test results if they recently decided you do not have a developmental disability. So, if you need independent evaluations to show your developmental disability, try to get and submit them as part of your first application.
(3.15) If I am found eligible for regional center services, what happens next?
The regional center has 60 days after your assessment is complete to finish your Individual Program Plan (IPP).[[Section 4646(c).]] The regional center will work with you and your family (if appropriate) to develop your IPP. Your IPP is very important because it lists what services you will get. It is like a contract between you and the regional center. It describes the services and support that the regional center will pay for or help you get. Once services are written into your IPP, a regional center must carry out your IPP by providing or paying for the services.[[Assoc. for Retarded Citizens v. Dept. of Developmental Services (1985) 38 Cal.3d 385, 390. See Section 4648.]]
(3.16) If I am eligible for regional center services, will I always be eligible?
A person determined by any regional center to have a developmental disability usually remains eligible for life. The law says the regional center can only stop your services if it does a “comprehensive reassessment” and says their original decision you have a developmental disability is “clearly erroneous” (wrong).[[Section 4643.5(b).]]
(3.17) What is a service coordinator?
A service coordinator is a very important person. They are your contact at the regional center, once you are eligible. They are sometimes called a case manager or social worker.
Your service coordinator helps make your IPP and finds the services your IPP says you need. These include services from the regional center and from other agencies.[[Section 4647(a)&(b).]] Even if you talk to other people at the regional center, your service coordinator is the person you talk to the most.
The Lanterman Act says that you, a family member, or a conservator can do the work of a service coordinator. But, you must get approval from the regional center director. If the director approves, the regional center must give you, or the person acting as your service coordinator, with training and help.[[Section 4647(c)&(e).]]
(3.18) Can I change my service coordinator if I want to?
The job of service coordinator is very important.[[Section 4647(b).]] The Lanterman Act says that no person can continue as your service coordinator unless you agree.[[Section 4647(b). ]] So, you can ask for a different service coordinator if you are unhappy with yours. If the regional center wants to change your service coordinator permanently, they must give you a written notice within 10 business days.[[Section 4647(b). ]]
(3.19) What if I move to a different part of the state, away from my regional center?
Once you are a regional center client, you are part of the statewide system of regional centers. But, you will get services from the regional center responsible for your area. If you move out of that area, a different regional center will be responsible for your services.[[Section 4643.5(a).]]
When you move, your Individual Program Plan (IPP) stays in effect with the same level of services and supports until you agree to a new IPP. If some services or supports that you had before you moved are not available at your new regional center, there must be a meeting within 30 days to agree on a new IPP. Until the new IPP is approved, the regional center must give you alternative services and supports that best meet your IPP goals in the least restrictive setting.[[Section 4643.5(c).]]
The new regional center cannot say you must wait for services. They cannot say existing clients in the new regional center have first priority. You have the same right to services and supports as any other client in the new regional center area, even if there is a disagreement about your case transfer. In rare cases, you may remain a client of your current regional center after moving to an area served by a different regional center.[[In In the Matter of P.F. and D.B., OAH L-2001120516 and L-2001120517, two regional center consumers who had known each other for 35 years and lived together 8 years, were forced to move to another regional center area due to unaffordable housing in the couple’s previous regional center area. The administrative law judge (ALJ) decided that the couple did not have to change regional centers. In In the Matter of S.B., OAH L-1998080340, the ALJ held that a 25-year-old woman who had been a client of East Los Angeles Regional Center since age 4 months did not have to have her case transferred to Harbor Regional Center just because the consumer had moved from her father’s home to her mother’s home, a point just over the boundary.]]
(3.20) If I move to a different area of the state, will the regional centers work together to help me transition to the new regional center?
The regional centers must work together to make sure your transition to the new regional center is smooth, with no delays or gaps in your services.[[Section 4643.5(c).]] The Department of Developmental Services (DDS) has created “Inter-Regional Center Consumer Transfer Guidelines” that say regional centers, clients, families, and service providers should work together before, during, and after you move.[[See Supplement G to this manual.]]
People who transition from one regional center to another should have the same chance to receive services from the new regional center as people already receiving services there.[[Supplement G, Guideline 7.]]
If you are planning to move, ask your regional center for a “pre-transfer planning meeting” as soon as possible.[[Supplement G, Guideline 1.]] Your current regional center, your new regional center, and your service providers will hold in this meeting with you to decide:
- Who is responsible for specific transfer activities,
- The specific responsibilities, and
- When the transfer activities will take place.[[Supplement G, Guideline 2.]]
The pre-transfer planning meeting should make sure you do not have a gap in services and supports, such as nursing care, behavioral support, and supported living services.
For children in foster care or out-of-home placements, county officials and regional centers must make special efforts. They must make sure records are transferred and services continue for these children when they transfer from one regional center to another.[[Section 4643.5(d).]]
(3.21) Who pays for services during the transition from one regional center to another?
Your current regional center will continue to pay for services (and manage your case) until:
- You have a new IPP (or an Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP) for children under age three), and
- The new regional center is providing you services.[[Supplement G, Guideline 1.]]
(3.22) How are disputes with regional centers about moving handled?
Regional centers should try to resolve all transfer disputes between themselves.[[Supplement G, Dispute Resolution Process 1.]] If they cannot, either the regional center or you (or your authorized representative) can ask the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) for help in writing.[[Supplement G, Dispute Resolution Process 2-3.]] Send a copy of the letter to both regional centers.[[Supplement G, Dispute Resolution Process 3.]] Contact information for the DDS Deputy Director of the Community Services and Supports Division is:
1600 9th Street, MS 3-24
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 654-2716
DDS will give each regional center 5 working days to explain its position in writing. Then the Deputy Director will write an opinion within 30 days after they receive the information they need.[[Supplement G, Dispute Resolution Process 4-5.]]
Until the disagreement is resolved, your current regional center must continue to pay for your services and manage your case. At no time should you be without services because of disputes between regional centers.[[Section 4643.5(c) and Supplement G, Guidelines 5, 6, and 8.]]
(3.23) What is the Self-Determination Program?
The Self-Determination Program (SDP) is a way to get your regional center services.[[Section 4685.8]] It is different from the traditional way, where the regional center purchases your services from its vendors. In the SDP, consumers and their families have more freedom, control, and responsibility in choosing services and supports to help them meet objectives in their Individual Program Plan (IPP). As of July 2021, the SDP is available to all eligible regional center consumers. Each regional center has a local advisory committee that meets to help plan the SDP in that area.
In the SDP, you:
- create a Person-Centered Plan to work toward your preferred future. During the process of creating a person-centered plan, you direct the conversation about your strengths, capabilities, preferences, lifestyle and cultural background. At the end of the process, you will have a written plan for your goals for recreation, transportation, friendships, therapies, home, employment, family relationships, and anything else you want.
- will have an Individual Budget, which is your money to buy your services and supports. Your IPP team determines your budget based on the money you used for services in the most recent 12 months. You will then make a spending plan to say how you will spend your budget on services.
- can have an Independent Facilitator to help you create a person-centered plan, make decisions about your budget and spending, find services, and advocate for you.
- must have Financial Management Services (FMS). You choose an FMS vendored by the regional center. FMS will help you manage your budget by paying bills and managing the pay for support workers.
- Find providers for your services and supports. They do not have to be regional center vendors, like they do in the traditional system. You can buy services that are approved by the federal government and listed in the SDP waiver. There are a lot of different services you can buy with your budget. There are some you cannot buy, like room and board (rent, food, utilities).
If you disagree with your IPP, individual budget, or other parts of your services under the SDP, you can appeal and ask for a fair hearing. Your appeal and hearing rights are the same in SDP as in the traditional regional center system. See chapter 10 for appeals, complaints, and timelines.
For more information about the SDP, visit the Department of Developmental Services SDP website here: https://www.dds.ca.gov/initiatives/sdp/. To enroll in SDP, talk to your regional center service coordinator. You must attend an orientation before you can begin the SDP. Orientations are available through the regional center or the local advisory committee in different languages. There may also be statewide orientations you can attend.