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Obtaining Services in California

In a state the size and complexity of California, no individual state agency is capable of providing all the services needed by any specialized population. Services for those with developmental disabilities are no exception. The multiplicity of agencies can easily be overwhelming and intimidating to persons with developmental disabilities and their families.

To ease families' access to the service system, and because the State is so large, the California Legislature established the regional centers, which serve as the single points of entry into the service system for persons with developmental disabilities. After assessment/diagnosis and establishing eligibility, regional centers assign a service coordinator to each individual, assist in developing an Individual Program Plan, then either obtain or purchase services for individuals and their families.

Funding for these services comes from the State Department of Developmental Services (DDS), using both state and federal funds, which contracts annually with each of the 21 regional centers. In 1984 the California Supreme Court determined that the DDS-regional center system is an entitlement program. Accordingly, there are no regional center waiting lists and each individual is entitled to receive those services that appear on his or her individual program plan.

Many other state and local agencies also provide services to persons with developmental disabilities. In addition to the state departments and federally-funded agencies, a variety of local governmental and private agencies and organizations are involved in the service system for people with developmental disabilities.

Individuals with developmental disabilities have all the rights afforded California citizens without disabilities. Every state agency is to serve individuals with developmental disabilities who meet any pertinent eligibility criteria (e.g. age, income, location of residence, etc.).

There are more than 75 state agencies in California, with hundreds of offices, boards, and commissions connected to those agencies. A listing of all state agencies, departments and commissions is available on the State of California web site.

Under the planning process of the federal Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act, there are certain federally-assisted services the Council is required to identify within state government:

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  • Education:
    The California Department of Education (CDE) has primary responsibility for educational services for persons with developmental disabilities. Services for infants through adults are provided pursuant to the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

    Adults with developmental disabilities who meet eligibility requirements may receive post-secondary education through California's network of public higher education: California Community Colleges; California State Universities; and the University of California. Each of these has an office or program that provides services and supports for students with disabilities.
  • Job Training:
    Job Training is a component of many programs provided to Californians with developmental disabilities. These include: adult day services provided by the Department of Developmental Services; Habilitation and Supported Employment Services provided by the Department of Rehabilitation; and WorkAbility programs provided by the Departments of Education and Rehabilitation and the Community College System.
  • Vocational Rehabilitation:
    The California Department of Rehabilitation administers vocational rehabilitation services through a statewide network of district offices. A number of formal and informal cooperative agreements with local agencies assure specialized services for people with special needs, including individuals with developmental disabilities.
  • Public Assistance:
    The California agency charged with administration of the federal SSI/SSP program is the Department of Social Services. The SSI/SSP program provides eligible people who are aged, blind or who have disabilities, with grant payments intended for basic needs and living expenses.
  • Medical Assistance:
    California's version of the federal Medicaid program, known as Medi-Cal, is administered by the Department of Health Services. Medi-Cal is intended to provide medical/health care for low income Californians who otherwise would not have access to services. Those eligible may receive a variety of health and dental services and related supports (i.e. durable medical equipment and medical transportation).
  • Social Services:
    In addition to administering the public assistance program, the Department of Social Services provides a number of services that impact the lives of individuals with developmental disabilities and their families. These include: foster care; Adoption Assistance Program (financial assistance designed to encourage and promote the adoption of special needs children); child abuse prevention; in-home supportive services; and community care facility licensing.
  • Child Welfare:
    In addition to public assistance, the California Department of Social Services provides many programs relating to the welfare of the state's children.
  • Maternal and Child Health:
    The Department of Health Services (DHS) is responsible for administering services to this population. In addition to the department's Maternal and Child Health Branch, there are a number of programs under the auspices of DHS that address the issue of maternal and child health. These include: Child Health and Disability Prevention; newborn genetic screening; Women, Infants and Children (WIC) food supplement program; and the Office of Disability Prevention, to name a few.

    The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence reports that fetal alcohol syndrome is considered to be the leading preventable cause of mental retardation in the country. The state has a Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs. ADP's Office of Prenatal Substance Abuse oversees treatment programs that serve pregnant, postpartum and parenting women and their infants.
  • Aging:
    The California Department of Aging (CDA) administers state and federally funded home and community-based programs for older adults and some younger adults with disabilities, including developmental disabilities. The Department's Office of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman is under state and federal mandate to respond to reports of abuse in 24-hour care facilities. To better meet the needs of an aging population with developmental disabilities, interagency agreements exist among the 33 Area Agencies on Aging and the 21 Regional Centers.
  • Programs for Children with Special Health Care Needs:
    The California Department of Health Services is responsible for the two primary California programs dealing with children with special health care needs: Medi-Cal and California Children Services (CCS). Medi-Cal is the state's version of the federal medicaid program and provides health care services to eligible children and adults. CCS is a state-county program of specialized medical care and rehabilitation for certain eligible children with disabilities whose parents are unable to afford such services. Eligibility for CCS is determined through its own criteria that is not the same as regional center eligibility criteria.

    In addition, some specialized health care services are provided through the Department of Developmental Services for children with developmental disabilities who are medically fragile and are ineligible for services through Medi-Cal, CCS, or private health insurance. This includes those who receive services throuh the regional center system as well as those receiving medical services while residing in one of the state's developmental centers.
  • Children's Mental Health:
    Responsibility for children's mental health services lies with the California Department of Mental Health. DMH's programs for children include a variety of services including the Children's System of Care for Seriously Emotionally Disturbed (SED) children; and the state's Early Mental Health Initiative that serves young school age children in kindergarten through third grade (K-3) who are identified as having moderate school adjustment problems.
  • Housing:
    The California Department of Housing and Community Development guides supports and directs the public and private sector in the provision of safe affordable housing for Californians in need. Eligible individuals with developmental disabilities, or projects that serve them, are eligible to apply for many of the programs.

    The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing is charged with safeguarding against discrimination in the workplace or place of residence. As such, they are one of the entities who handle certain types of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance issues.
  • Transportation:
    The Department of Transportation (CALTRANS) has responsibility for implementation of the Federal Transit Authority in California. This includes the Section 5310 program for the purchase of vehicles and related equipment for specialized transportation needs of the elderly and persons with disabilities.
  • Technology:
    The state agency responsible for issues related to assistive technology is the Department of Rehabilitation (DOR). Services provided by DOR include telecommunications, sensory and other technological aids and devices, as well as rehabilitation engineering services to customize and adapt equipment and devices.
  • Comprehensive Health and Mental Health:
    There is no one state agency charged with "comprehensive health and mental health." Public health and mental health services in California are divided between the Departments of Health Services and Mental Health, and are delivered primarily through the state's counties.