Self-Determination Program 101
What is the Self-Determination Program?
The Self-Determination Program is a voluntary alternative to the traditional way of receiving Regional Center services.
It was signed into law in 2013 and slowly rolled out over several years through a lottery system, and is now open to all eligible Regional Center consumers as of June 7, 2021.
Why enroll in SDP?
The Self-Determination Program (SDP) 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 (IPP). For more information, read our article, Unmet Needs: What Are They and How Can Self-Determination Help?.
The participant is given an individualized budget and uses it to decide what services they’d like and who should provide them (they don’t need to be Regional Center vendors, and can even be family members). Check out this list of approved Self-Determination services on the DDS website.
A person-centered plan (PCP) 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 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 used to create a spending plan that outlines what the participant will do with the money.
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:
Hire a facilitator 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 facilitator can be paid using the plan’s budget.
Use your Regional Center service coordinator (keep in mind that many have high caseloads and some people consider it to be a conflict of interest).
Manage the process yourself.
- There are many approved services: examples include a health and wellness coach; recreational activities such as swimming, sports, drama, and music; acupuncture and massage therapy; speech, occupational, physical, and behavioral therapies; respite services; vehicle modifications for accessibility; and much more. Note that you must use generic services first.
"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." — Chris Arroyo, manager of the California State Council on Developmental Disabilities' Los Angeles office
How can I get started?
Let your Regional Center service coordinator know that you are interested in transitioning to the Self-Determination Program.
Contact your Regional Center to find and attend an 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, watch our Q&A with Independent Facilitator Carla Lehmann of Exceptional Connections. You can also learn more from the California Self-Determination Program Network and the California Self-Determination Program Forum Facebook group.