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What to Expect from Regional Center’s Intake and Assessment Process

What to Expect from Regional Center’s Intake and Assessment Process

Published: Aug. 2, 2022Updated: Jan. 25, 2024

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The application process for Regional Center typically starts with a phone call to your local Regional Center, which you can locate using the state DDS website or zip code look-up tool. Your child’s medical provider may refer your child to Regional Center, but you can also self-refer if you have concerns about their development and want to ask for an evaluation.

Here, we’ll walk you through the application process, and share tips on what to expect from any follow-up assessments conducted by Regional Center.

How to prepare for that initial phone call to Regional Center

Here’s what the Rights Under the Lanterman Act (RULA) manual says about the intake process:
During intake, you may talk to members of the Regional Center staff, including social workers, psychologists, health professionals, or other specialists. They work together as a team in the intake and assessment process. This team is called an interdisciplinary team and includes at least one doctor, a psychologist, and a service coordinator.

You should have several important documents ready so that a member of the intake team can provide information about the application process. These include:

  • Your child’s birth certificate and Social Security number
  • Insurance and/or Medi-Cal information
  • Copies of your child’s medical records
    • You will be asked to sign a HIPAA release so that the Regional Center can request records from your child’s providers, but providing copies directly to your Regional Center will expedite the intake process.
  • Names and addresses of all the medical professionals/service providers who have already seen your child
  • Contact information for your child’s school

You’ll be instructed on how to apply, and after your application has been received, you’ll set up an intake appointment.

What to expect from Regional Center's intake appointment

You’ll want to bring to the intake appointment all of the above documents related to your child’s development and medical records. Expect this appointment to take about an hour. The intake staff will look at your paperwork and any existing evaluations to determine whether they need to conduct their own assessment of your child to determine eligibility for Regional Center services.

The RULA manual says that if your child’s disability is documented well, they may not need a formal assessment. However, if the information in your records is not specific to the developmental disabilities that the Regional Center serves, if the records conflict with different conditions to explain the disability, or if the records do not show how substantially disabling the condition is for your child, the Regional Center may decide to schedule further assessments before determining eligibility for services.

If your child already has a diagnosis and has been evaluated recently, the Regional Center may opt to rely on existing documentation rather than perform its own evaluations for eligibility purposes. They will generally still conduct evaluations to establish recommended services and frequency of services.

What to expect from Regional Center assessments

If an assessment is needed, it must be completed within 60 to 120 days of your initial contact. (For early intervention services, the entire process of assessment, eligibility determination, and development of the service plan must take place within 45 days.)

Typically, the assessments will take place in your home. Depending on what concerns you have about your child’s development, there may be multiple assessments performed by various providers during the evaluation period, including a developmental assessment as well as evaluation for specific therapies like physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy.

Here’s what the RULA manual says about assessments:

An assessment must be done by someone who is qualified. Whenever possible, it should take place in the natural environment. It must involve taking information from family, friends, providers, and advocates and other representatives. And it must be sensitive to your and your family’s lifestyle and cultural background.

Undivided parent Gabriela shares her advice about what to expect during the assessment process: “We were with Regional Center starting at 18 months of age with my daughter for early intervention. We qualified for infant development services/infant stimulation, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy. Right before age three, they told us services would drop off and would go to the district. I requested an evaluation to see if she would qualify to stay with Regional Center as we were concerned with a lot of what was going on with her. They scheduled an evaluation prior to age three, and we met with a contracted psychologist at the Regional Center. The meeting lasted about 30 minutes. During this meeting, the psychologist tried to play different games with her and asked her various questions. My daughter was extremely anxious and shut down and hardly spoke. At the end of the meeting, I was told she was fine and that she didn’t qualify [for further Regional Center services]. She dropped off from RC services at age three.

“I knew there was something more going on with her and at the time did not realize we had a very short window to appeal the RC decision. We decided to pursue outside private evaluations. Prior to age four, I once again contacted the RC and let them know I had two evals that had [a diagnosis].

“Regional Center reviewed the evaluations and wanted us to come in for an evaluation from their team. The assessment the second time around was much more thorough and consisted of their in-house head psychologist, a developmental pediatrician, and a speech therapist. The evaluation was about an hour and a half, including a thorough parent interview along with her testing. Afterwards, they immediately said she qualified [for continued Regional Center services] and apologized for her having dropped off.

“All this is to say that I really advocate for parents to go with their gut feelings. Sometimes, the parent is the squeaky wheel, and they have to persist with getting the assistance they need.

“Another important point that I make to parents is that there is an appeal process that many aren’t aware of, but the timeline is very short. Parents also don’t realize that they can do outside evaluations later on down the line [and have their children assessed] at any age. Many parents think they only have that one window of opportunity, and that is not the case."

Lisa Concoff Kronbeck, Undivided's Public Benefits Specialist, says that if parents disagree with the results of an assessment and subsequent denial of eligibility or services, they may submit an appeal request. The Regional Center is not obligated to provide a second-opinion assessment, but parents can submit outside assessments that contradict the findings in the Regional Center’s report, get new assessments via private insurance or Medi-Cal, or hire an independent evaluator who can also testify at hearing. Disability Rights CA has some additional recommendations for hiring an independent evaluator.

Ideally, the process will result in your child being determined eligible for Regional Center services. The next step is scheduling a meeting with your service coordinator to develop Individualized Program Plan (IPP) goals (or IFSP goals, if your child is under age three). You can learn more about this in What to Expect at Your First Individualized Program Plan (IPP) Meeting.



How to prepare for that initial phone call to Regional Center

What to expect from Regional Center's intake appointment

What to expect from Regional Center assessments

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Brittany OlsenUndivided Editor
An editor and cartoonist who loves using words and images to simplify and share ideas. She has ten years of experience as a copy editor and lives near Portland, Oregon. She often spends her free time going on nature walks with her dog or trying new bread recipes. Reviewed by Jennifer Drew, Undivided Senior Editor Contributors Lisa Concoff Kronbeck, Undivided Public Benefits Specialist

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