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Understanding the System

Responsibilities & Function

Parents with a developmentally disabled child who live in the state of California have a wide variety of services and service providers available to them. It is a challenge, however, to know when and how to interact with all these agencies.

The following is a brief description of several different agencies who may be integral in helping you find services for your child:

Regional Centers

Regional Centers are non-profit corporations created by the Lanterman Act to serve people that fall within the state definition of being developmentally disabled. They contract with the State Department of Developmental services and there are twenty-one regional centers throughout California. Each Regional Centers serves a different geographical area.

Responsibilities & Functions

Generally, Regional Centers are responsible to act as a central point in the community from which a person with disabilities and his or her family can obtain or be referred for needed services. One of the most important services of the Regional Center is the assignment of a Case Manager and the development with the Consumer and their family, of an Individual Program Plan (IPP). The IPP is a written plan for obtaining those services needed by the consumer, whether the services are provided by the regional center or by another agency.

Other services Regional Centers provide include case finding activities, diagnostic evaluations, prevention and public awareness programs, and coordination and assistance with the development of other community services.

For information on the Regional Center assigned to your area, call The Program Services Department at the Department of Developmental Services, 916-654-1958.

Area Boards

The Area Boards are part of the system created by the Lanterman Act. There are 13 Area Boards located throughout the State of California. Because they receive federal funds, they serve people who fall within both state and federal definitions of having a developmental disability.


For the State definition of a developmental disability see the Regional Center information above.

The Federal definition of "developmentally disabled" means a severe, chronic disability of a person which;

  • is attributed to a mental or physical impairment or combination of mental and physical impairments,
  • is manifested before the person reaches the age of twenty-two,
  • results in substantial functional limitations in three or more of the following areas of major life activity:

    a. receptive expressive language
    b. self care
    c. learning
    d. self-direction
    e. capacity for independent living, and
    f. economic sufficiency
  • reflects the person's need for a combination of services, both specific and generic that are individually planned and coordinated.

Responsibilities & Functions

  • Protecting the rights of persons with developmental disabilities and seeking remedies to insure that those rights are protected.
  • Encouraging and helping to establish independent advocacy organizations that provide practical personal services to individuals with developmental disabilities.
  • Reviewing the policies and practices of publicly funded agencies.
  • Assisting the State Council on Developmental Disabilities in preparing the state plan.
  • Providing public information, education and training as needed.
  • Providing mediation, appeals and fair hearing information.

Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA)

AB 1250 requires all school districts and county school offices to form geographical regions to provide for all special education service needs of those residing within the regions boundaries. Each region's Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA) develops a plan describing how it would provide special education services.

Each SELPA must have an Administrative Unit within the legal entity that is responsible for seeing that every eligible child receives appropriate services. Each region determines the funds available and the responsibilities.

Responsibilities & Functions

  • ensuring program availability for all eligible individuals;
  • curriculum/program development;
  • budget review,
  • evaluation,
  • program coordination,
  • community advisory committee support;
  • interagency coordination

All SELPA's all have the same goal . . . "to deliver appropriate education programs and services to eligible students."

For information about SELPA offices call 916-323-4768

Mental Health Services

The Department of Mental Health is the department mandated by Lanterman-Petris-Short legislation to administer mental health programs for the citizens of California. Each county provides its own plan and is responsible to provide services.


Any child, youth or adult who is emotionally, mentally or behaviorally disordered is eligible for mental health services, regardless of their ability to pay. People will be billed on a sliding scale basis that takes into consideration income, number of people in the home, expenses, etc.

Under AB3632/AB 882, the state interagency agreement that provides for free Mental Health Services when referrals for a Mental Health Assessment are made by the IEP Team. Any services provided by Mental Health that are required by the IEP are exempt from financial eligibility standards.

Responsibilities & Function

  • Out-patient/in-patient assessment
  • Diagnosis
  • Individual and group therapy
  • Treatment planning
  • Consultation with schools, Regional Centers, social services, etc.
  • Referral
  • Personality evaluation
  • Medication
  • After care (following hospitalization)

For information about the Mental Health services in your area, call 916-654-3565

Department of Rehabilitation

The Vocational Rehabilitation Program provides vocation rehabilitation services to persons with disabilities that will enable them to enter or return to employment.


An individual must:

  • have a physical or mental disability that constitutes or results in a substantial handicap to employment.
  • have a reasonable expectation of getting or maintaining a job as a result of having received vocational rehabilitation services.

The following are services provided:

  • medical services
  • psychological and vocational employment counseling and guidance
  • assistance devices
  • vocational training
  • transportation assistance
  • reader services for the blind
  • interpreter services for the deaf
  • job placement and follow-up

The Habilitation Services Program is responsible for establishing program guidelines, and monitoring and funding community based programs that are designed to prepare developmentally disabled adults for competitive employment; to prepare and maintain them at their highest level of vocational functioning; or to prepare them for referral to vocational rehabilitation services.

To get information about your local Department of Rehabilitation office contact:

California State Department of Rehabilitation 830 K Street Mall Sacramento, CA 95814 (916) 445-3971