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Self-Determination Program 101

Self-Determination Program 101

Published: Apr. 15, 2021Updated: Nov. 29, 2023

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For more information about Regional Center’s Self-Determination Program and how it might improve your child’s services and supports, we reached out to the California State Council on Developmental Disabilities as well as several families who benefit from the program to give you their insights.

What is the Self-Determination Program?

The Self-Determination Program (SDP) is a voluntary alternative to the traditional way of receiving Regional Center services. First signed into law in 2013 and slowly rolled out over several years through a lottery system, it is now open to all eligible Regional Center consumers as of June 2021.

The participant develops an individualized budget with their Regional Center service coordinator — based on the last 12 months of expenditures and any changes of circumstances or unmet needs — and can decide what services they’d like and who should provide them; providers don’t need to be Regional Center vendors and can even be family members.

There are many approved services, such as a health and wellness coach, recreational activities, respite services, vehicle modifications for accessibility, and more.

List of services funded by the Self-Determination Program in California

For more information, check out this list of approved Self-Determination services on the DDS website.

Note that because Regional Center is the payer of last resort, the participant must use generic services first, such as the school district, private insurance, Medi-Cal, etc.

Why enroll in SDP?

The Self-Determination Program gives people with disabilities more freedom, control, and responsibility to choose the services and supports that help them meet their goals and be fully included in their community. This can include services or needs that were not formerly covered in a child’s Individualized Program Plan.

Person-centered planning drives the entire process and is focused on what the person can and wants to do (rather than what they can’t do) and the supports, services, and resources needed to achieve their goals.

"My daughter has been in the new system for seven months, and I have seen a significant difference in her life. She is happy because she works with people who make her feel good; with Self-Determination, she has the right to choose who she wants to work with. She can also choose services that interest her, such as swimming, dancing, and going out into the community with someone the family trusts. I have seen significant improvements in all areas of my daughter's life but especially in her speech, which I did not see for years in the traditional system." — Undivided member Martha

Who is eligible for Self-Determination?

  • Those who have a developmental disability and receive services from a Regional Center (children who are enrolled in the Early Start Program are not eligible).

  • People who live at home or in the community (those who live in care facilities are not eligible, unless they are planning to move out of the facility).

  • Those who agree to participate in an orientation, work with a financial management services agency, and manage the program’s services within their budget.

How does the Self-Determination Program work?

The participant (and their family as applicable) creates a person-centered plan (PCP), which outlines what is important to and for them as well as the services, supports, and resources that will help them reach their goals. The PCP is presented to the Regional Center, which will come back with an individualized budget. This budget is then used by the participant to create a spending plan that outlines what the participant will do with the money, including addressing any unmet needs (supports or services the participant couldn’t access for a variety of reasons, or needs that were not covered in an Individualized Program Plan).

In this clip, Christine Tolbert, the Self-Determination Program Manager for the California State Council for Developmental Disabilities, explains what factors the Regional Center considers when determining an SDP budget.

The participant chooses a financial management service (FMS), an independent agency that helps them use their budget to pay for services, taxes, and insurance. Participants choose the level of involvement they want from the FMS. The FMS can also run background checks on staff and keep track of spending.

Participants have three options for support in creating their Self-Determination plan:

  1. Hire an independent facilitator (IF) to help create the PCP and spending plan, find and hire the right people, decide how much they should be paid, and mediate issues with providers. The independent facilitator fees are paid by Regional Center for the first year; if the participant chooses to continue to work with their IF or a different IF after the transition, the fees can come out of the participant's budget.

  2. Use their Regional Center service coordinator (keep in mind that many have high caseloads and some people consider it to be a conflict of interest).

  3. Manage the process themselves.

Chris Arroyo, manager of the California State Council on Developmental Disabilities' Los Angeles office, says:

"Setting it up is the hardest part. Once everything is set up, it's just little tweaks along the way. Some people use an independent facilitator in the beginning and then manage it themselves, once things get going."

How can I get started?

Step one is to let your Regional Center service coordinator know that you are interested in transitioning to the Self-Determination Program. They can give you more information, including resources about attending a mandatory SDP orientation. (Be sure that you sign up for an orientation and not an information session, although these are helpful too; this site provides a good explainer about the difference between the two.) Note that some Regional Centers (such as Harbor Regional Center) are accepting certificates of completion from other Regional Centers.

For more in-depth information about Self-Determination, check out our article Frequently Asked Questions about the Self-Determination Program. You can also learn more from the California Self-Determination Program Network and the California Self-Determination Program Forum Facebook group.

Learn about using SDP to fund an Undivided membership in this article.



What is the Self-Determination Program?

Why enroll in SDP?

Who is eligible for Self-Determination?

How does the Self-Determination Program work?

How can I get started?

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Undivided Editorial TeamStaff

Reviewed by Adelina Sarkisyan, Undivided Writer and Editor

Contributors Chris Arroyo, Regional manager at the California State Council on Developmental Disabilities

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