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 advocate for the child 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)
Social, recreational, and camping services (newly restored as of June 2021!)
Transitional services beginning at age 14, in conjunction with IEP planning for the transition to adulthood (may also include other agencies, such as the Department of Rehabilitation)
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 Center might provide?
Depending on circumstances, your specific Regional Center, and a little luck, Regional Centers 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 assistant (during emergency school closures)
Curb-to-curb transportation (for clients eighteen and older)
AAC assessment services to facilitate AAC use in the community
Family support through Family Resource Center
Classes, workshops, and presentations to support families (such as learning ASL)
Who is eligible for Regional Center services?
For children under age three, 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 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
Examples of eligible developmental disability diagnoses include:
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.
How does Regional Center funding work?
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.
Regional Center refers to other potential funding sources as “generic resources,” and families must prove that they’ve exhausted all generic resources before Regional Center will agree to fund a service.
Before it approves funding, Regional Center will require you to provide written denials from private insurance (and sometimes from Medi-Cal) for the specific services you’re trying to access.