Regional Center 101
Regional Centers are a statewide network of local agencies that serve children and adults with developmental disabilities as defined by California law.
- 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, but all Regional Centers are governed by the same set of statutes and regulations.
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 (Service Coordinator facilitates the transition to preschool, and can provide support at IEP meetings to follow)
- 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
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.
After age three, eligibility requires a diagnosed developmental disability that constitutes a substantial disability for that child or adult. (For more info, check out this self-advocacy manual titled Rights Under the Lanterman Act, published by Disability Rights California. It’s available in sixteen languages!)
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.
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:
- Receptive and expressive language
- Capacity for independent living
- Economic self-sufficiency
Examples of eligible developmental disability diagnoses include:
- Intellectual disability
- Cerebral palsy
- 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 “payor 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.
What Services Are Not Provided by Regional Centers?
- The Regional Center will not fund recreational activities, although this barrier may be removed for families participating in the Self-Determination Program.
- The Regional Center is barred from providing education services for children aged 3–17 since school districts are mandated to fund those services.
Do you have questions about what Regional Center will cover, or do you have information to share about services your Service Coordinator has helped you get Regional Center to cover? We’d love to know!