Regional Centers are a statewide network of local agencies that serve children and adults with developmental disabilities. They provide assessments, determine eligibility for services like speech, physical, and occupational therapy, and offer case management services. They also identify, develop, and coordinate goals and services, which are detailed in an Individual Program Plan, a written contract created between the Regional Center and the client that support the client in becoming more independent and a meaningful part of their community. (Read about what you can expect at your first Individualized Program Plan meeting!)

Clients are assigned to their local Regional Center by zip code. Each Regional Center operates independently, so services offered (as well as eligibility criteria for specific services) may vary slightly. However, all Regional Centers are governed by the same set of statutes and regulations. Read on to learn more about how Regional Center can help your family! 

What Services Do Regional Centers Provide?

Each Regional Center provides a list of the services it will fund in a document on their website, which is usually called “Service Standards” or “Purchase of Service Standards.” (Again, services may vary slightly from center to center.)

Common services may include: 

  • Early intervention services such as physical and occupational therapy, speech therapy, and center-based social-adaptive development programming for children under age three
  • Medi-Cal eligibility for children who are diagnosed with a qualifying developmental disability but do not meet the criteria for coverage based on family income
  • Respite care, which provides caregivers with relief so they can work, run errands, or take breaks
  • Specialized supervision for children with working parents if daycare costs are higher than the costs for a typically developing child of the same age
  • Social skills classes
  • Behavioral interventions (such as ABA or parent training)
  • Educational support (the Service Coordinator facilitates the transition to preschool, and can provide support at IEP meetings to follow) and educational services for those ages 3 to 17 (newly restored as of June 2021)
  • Assistance with insurance copays for families under 400% of the federal poverty level, or for families who have extenuating circumstances such as extraordinary medical expenses
  • Funding for durable medical equipment (DME), including accessibility modifications such as ramps and bath bars, as well as other medical supplies (as payer of last resort)
  • Independent living skills (for older youth and adults)
  • Adult day programs
  • Social, recreational, and camping services (newly restored as of June 2021!)

You can find a more detailed description of potential Regional Center services in this chart provided by the CA Department of Developmental Services.

Are There Any Other Services Regional Centers May Provide?

Depending on circumstances and a little luck, your specific Regional Center might also provide:

  • Conference fees (parent education)
  • Toilet-training assistance (help with behavioral and adaptive skills)
  • Adaptive and life skills training, especially around transition to adulthood
  • 1:1 aide for after-school programs or child care so parent can work
  • 1:1 aide for summer camp and social-recreational activities
  • Parent support groups and counseling, if all other funding sources fail
  • Daycare for children of working parents who qualify for specialized supervision
  • Personal assistance (especially during Covid school closures)
  • Housing support (income-dependent)
  • Curb-to-curb transportation (for clients eighteen and older)
  • AAC assessment services to facilitate AAC use in the community
  • Specialized transportation
  • Family support through Family Resource Center
  • Classes, workshops, and presentations to support families (such as learning ASL)

Who Is Eligible for Services?

For children under age three, the Regional Center provides early intervention services to children with a diagnosed developmental disability, and to children who are at risk of developmental delay. 

A developmental disability under CA law is a disability that: 

  • started before your child turns eighteen; 
  • continues, or can be expected to continue, indefinitely; and
  • constitutes a substantial disability for that child or adult.

After age three, eligibility requires a diagnosed developmental disability that constitutes a substantial disability for that child or adult. However, some three- and four-year-olds who have aged out of early intervention services can now receive provisional eligibility for continued Regional Center services under the Lanterman Act until their fifth birthday. This is not an extension of early intervention services, but an expansion of access to services under the Lanterman Act. You can read more details about who is eligible for the expansion here. (For an in-depth look at your Regional Center rights, check out this self-advocacy manual published by Disability Rights California, Rights Under the Lanterman Act. It’s available in sixteen languages!)

So, what’s a “substantial disability”?

This is a disability that results in “significant functional limitations” in three or more of the following areas, as determined by a Regional Center, and as compared to a child or young adult’s same-age typically developed peers:

  • Self-care
  • Receptive and expressive language
  • Learning
  • Mobility 
  • Self-direction
  • Capacity for independent living
  • Economic self-sufficiency

Examples of eligible developmental disability diagnoses include:

  • Intellectual disability
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Epilepsy
  • Autism
  • Conditions that are closely related to intellectual disability or require treatments similar to what’s provided for intellectual disability
  • (Note that these diagnoses do not include solely physical disabilities.)


Who Pays for Regional Center Services?

The Regional Center is the “payer of last resort,” which means that they will only pay for a service if no other agency is responsible for providing that service. 

  • The Regional Center refers to other potential funding sources as “generic resources,” and families must prove that they’ve exhausted all generic resources before the Regional Center will agree to fund a service. 
  • Before it approves funding, Regional Center will require that you provide written denials from private insurance (and sometimes from Medi-Cal) for the specific services you’re trying to access. 

Of course, there are always exceptions. For the nitty gritty on who pays for what, and how to secure funding for services, read our Guide to Funding Resources.

Do you have questions about what Regional Center will cover, or perhaps your own lowdown on what services your Regional Center service coordinator helped you get covered? We’d love to know!

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