FAQs about Regional Centers

California is fortunate to have a unique system that provides services and supports to people with developmental disabilities.  There are many different legislative statutes that govern service delivery and may be difficult to navigate for individuals and families who are new to California or to the regional center system.

Below are some frequently asked questions about the regional center system.  If you have additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact RCOC at info@nullrcocdd.com.

What is the California Department of Developmental Services? 

The Department of Developmental Services (DDS) is a department within the California Health and Human Services Agency dedicated to providing services and supports to people with developmental disabilities.

Some services are provided through state-operated developmental centers and community facilities. However, the overwhelming majority of Californians with developmental disabilities are served in their communities by private, nonprofit regional centers such as the Regional Center of Orange County.

Additional information about the Department, its contractual relationship with regional centers and the laws and regulations that govern the developmental services system can be found on their website.

What are regional centers?

Regional centers are private, independent non-profit corporations – each one covering a different geographic area – contracted by the State of California through the Department of Developmental Services to coordinate lifelong services and supports for people with developmental disabilities and their families.  Regional centers also help support individuals with developmental disabilities and their families by identifying local resources and other community-based services to best fit the individual’s needs.

Established more than 40 years ago by the landmark Lanterman Developmental Disabilities Services Act, the regional center system links those with developmental disabilities with services and supports they need to life safely and with dignity in the community.  There are currently 21 regional centers in California with RCOC serving over 17,000 people with developmental disabilities and their families.  

Who is eligible for services through the regional centers?

Regional centers are responsible for administering several different programs for the State of California, each of which has different eligibility requirements that have specific legal and clinical definitions.

  • Lanterman Act services — To be eligible for services and supports under California’s Lanterman Developmental Disabilities Services Act, adults and children aged 3 and older must have a developmental disability.Early Start services – Created by the Early Intervention Services Act, California’s Early Start program serves infants and young children under age three who are considered “high risk” for developmental disability due to, for example, significant delay in one or more developmental areas or certain medical problems and complications.  In recent years, the California Legislature has narrowed eligibility for Early Start.  Previously, any child under 3 that was suspected of being at-risk for developmental disability could receive Early Start services.
What is a developmental disability?

A developmental disability is defined as a disability that is attributable to any of the following conditions:

  • Intellectual disability
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Epilepsy
  • Autism
  • Disabling conditions found to be closely related to intellectual/cognitive disability or to require treatment similar to that required for individuals with intellectual disabilities

(This definition does not include any handicapping condition that is solely psychiatric, solely a learning disability or solely physical in nature.) 

In addition to the above, the disability must:

How does a person apply for services through RCOC?

To inquire about applying for services, simply call RCOC’s Intake and Assessment Department at (714) 796-5354 or send an email to intake@nullrcocdd.com.  RCOC’s intake staff will assist you by walking through the application/referral and work with you to see what information RCOC will need you to submit to begin the intake process.

Parents, guardians and conservators, or an adult with a developmental disability that was diagnosed before age 18 may initiate the application process. A professional, such as a pediatrician, or other interested party may also do so, but only with permission from the individual or family.

What is Assessment?

Assessment is the term used to describe the process for determining whether a person is eligible for services through the regional center and conducted by the RCOC’s Intake and Assessment Department staff.  This process involves regional center professional staff obtaining information from the client, the client’s parents and other family members, advocates and service providers.  The goal is to gain as much information as possible to assist families in understanding the nature of their situation and to determine whether a person meets the standards for eligibility that the state sets for services to be funded by regional centers.

If the person is eligible for services, the information gained during assessment is used to help in developing an Individual Program Plan (IPP).

What is an Individual Program Plan (IPP) and what is an IFSP (Individual Family Service Plan)?

Based on hopes and dreams for the future as well as an assessment of the person’s needs, preferences and life choices, the Individual Program Plan (or IPP) states specific objectives to develop competencies and achieve personal goals in the areas of community participation, housing, work, school and leisure time.

When children with developmental disabilities live with their families, the plan is called an Individual Family Service Plan (or IFSP) and includes a special section describing those services and supports necessary to maintain the child at home.

In all cases, the person with a developmental disability, parents, the service coordinator and a wide circle of relatives and friends are engaged members of the Planning Team that creates the plan using person-centered planning.

What is service coordination?

Service coordination is another term for “case management.”  This service is provided by an employee of the regional center who often has a background in social work.  Service coordination is the first and most fundamental of the services that clients receive through regional centers.  It is the means through which client/family needs are identified, and specific resources for meeting those needs explored and accessed, so that the person served by RCOC receives the necessary supports to live safely and with dignity in the community.

What are “generic resources,” and why do regional centers refer clients to them?

Some supports and services are provided to RCOC clients and families by public agencies mandated to serve the general public, or through community organizations – these are often referred to as “generic resources.” One example would be the public schools, which are required to provide educational services to all children, including those with developmental disabilities. Another example would be Medi-Cal and Medicare, which provide healthcare to the poor and elderly, including many regional center clients.

The Lanterman Act names regional centers the “payor of last resort” and specifically mandates them to exhaust all other possible sources of funding and needed services – including generic resources and private medical insurance — before it spends regional center dollars to purchase services on behalf of clients and families.

What is the cost for services?

There is no charge for assessment services or for service coordination provided to client and families by the regional center.

For most Lanterman Act and Early Start services, there is no charge to the client or family for services and supports that are specified in the client’s Individualized Program Plan (IPP). However, certain services are subject to Family Cost Participation, which is a sliding scale based on a family’s ability to pay. Also, parents of children under 18 whose adjusted gross family income is at or above 400% of the federal poverty level, are assessed an Annual Family Program Fee of $150 or $200, depending on their income.

How does the regional center decide what services it will and will not pay for?

The Lanterman Act and related laws passed by the California Legislature determine what regional centers can and cannot pay for on behalf of clients and families. In general, regional centers can only purchase services and supports that are necessary to achieve the goals in the client’s Individual Program Plan (IPP) and they are prohibited from funding experimental therapies.

In addition, regional center boards of directors create policies called Purchase of Service (POS) Guidelines that service coordinators follow when authorizing service requests for clients and families.