Alison Yin for EdSource
A new report examining how California serves its infants and toddlers with special needs recommends that the state combine services under one agency to improve equity and reduce delays.

California lags behind most states in providing timely services to infants and toddlers with disabilities or developmental delays, and as a result, those children often wait weeks or months before receiving services.

That was one of the findings in a new report published by the Legislative Analyst’s Office. The report, titled, “Evaluating California’s System for Serving Infants and Toddlers With Special Needs,” assesses how California serves more than 40,000 children under the age of 3 with a disability or a significant developmental delay, such as not speaking or walking as expected.

It compares the state’s two agencies responsible for providing services to infants and toddlers with special needs — regional centers and the K-12 school system, which administers those services through school districts and county offices of education. Regional centers are operated by the California Department of Developmental Services. The report recommends that the state provide services only through regional centers, which serve 82 percent of the state’s infants and toddlers with special needs.

“We identified what we thought were important weaknesses in the system. One of those weaknesses is a disjointed system,” said Ryan Anderson, a spokesman for the Legislative Analyst’s Office. The LAO states in the report that if one agency is responsible for all children with special needs, it would reduce delays and ensure equity.

Typically, the delay in California occurs in the time it takes for a school and regional center to develop an individualized family service plan — a child’s plan for services they need such as weekly speech therapy — as well as the time it takes to implement that plan. Those delays place California 46th out of 50 states in meeting the initial plan deadline and 47th in meeting the deadline to begin services, the report states. It finds that while most states meet those deadlines 95 percent of the time, California meets them less than 85 percent of the time.

The report states regional centers are better equipped to be the lead agency because they serve more children, offer more parental choice and are more likely to use private or state subsidized insurance such as Medi-Cal to cover expenses.

While it is standard for a school to hire its own service provider, such as a speech therapist, regional centers typically coordinate services with a list of specialists so parents have more options, Anderson said. Regional centers are also required by law to find out if families have health insurance plans and attempt to pay for services with insurance before using state funds.

The report also emphasizes the importance of early intervention for children who have developmental delays, such as an infant who has not spoken their first words by 18 months old. It states that many children who are initially referred for developmental delays and receive help early “show significant progress and are determined to no longer require special supports at age 3.”

This is one reason developmental screenings are important for infants and toddlers, said Deborah Turner, lead administrator for an early intervention program called Help Me Grow, which works with doctors to integrate developmental screenings into their practice. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screenings at 9, 18 and 30-month doctor visits.

Turner said screenings alone cannot predict every aspect of a child’s development but it is a critical tool that helps families to understand milestones a child should typically reach by a certain age for talking, walking and other skills.

“We don’t want to scare parents, we want to say ‘This is useful to you,’”Turner said. “Screening is an attempt to get information; it does not mean the child absolutely needs services but it could mean they need support.”

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  1. D Wagner 6 months ago6 months ago

    Your article fails to comment on the higher rate of satisfaction parents noted on surveys in regards to their programs provided by schools. Nor does it take into account children’s progress in learning and parental support. The report primarily views taxpayer cost as the primary driving force for sending children zero to three years of age to a regaional center rather than the school systems. If also fails to explain the lack … Read More

    Your article fails to comment on the higher rate of satisfaction parents noted on surveys in regards to their programs provided by schools. Nor does it take into account children’s progress in learning and parental support. The report primarily views taxpayer cost as the primary driving force for sending children zero to three years of age to a regaional center rather than the school systems. If also fails to explain the lack of funding sent to schools systems in order to serve larger numbers of young children and their family which in fact caused the vast change in numbers to expand exponentially to regional centers rather than schools.

    School districts in fact frequently bill Medi-cal for applicable medical services to help defray costs, and if designated by legislators they could equally bill private insurance. They have the same capability to hire a medical billing firm as a Regional Center. They also have the ability to sub-contract if they’re unable to find the requisite specialist. And schools utilize para-educators, COTAs, PT Assistants, and Speech Therapy Assistants to defray costs working at the direction of the licensed/credentialed specialist. And typically following current legislative requirements, they support families in home. Should the law change to support some group activities using existing school facilities, there could be further reductions in costs to the school systems.

    Regional centers frequently arrange for services outside of the home. Parents have to bear the costs of travel and their time with this arrangement. School systems for early intervention frequently provide services in home, teaching parents as the therapy occurs. This allows for parents to have support and encouragement while learning how to do specialized techniques.

    The report also failed to discuss other systems of support for early intervention that could be utilized as an extension to support special education. One system is Early Head Start, where many children with special needs are identified and referred by their home based teacher into a school or regional center special education system. By ignoring the current well thought out high quality systems that are in existence, parents with children with special needs are being segregated and potentially isolated from community supports. By starting families primarily using health insurance rather educational systems, a message is sent that this is a medical problem that can be fixed by a doctor or specialist, rather than a lifelong process of learning to gain skills, and work through problems as a team approach.

    Families have long-term relationships with their school systems, and it can start early as it was envisioned with the advent of early intervention. Families who start in school systems become familiar with school systems and staff members. They develop relationships in the neighborhoods with other families-some with children with disabilities, some without. They learn the process of working with their child to teach at home early on, rather than expecting someone else to be the sole experts, responsible person for their child. The children are supported near home, making friends in the community.

    It appears that this report is quick to judge on a sole criterion, rather than looking at the real picture of what it means to send all very young children with disabilities to a single regional office.

  2. Harold P. 8 months ago8 months ago

    The creation of California's Regional Centers was an amazing and necessary thing. Unfortunately, since the creation there has been the classic, look at all the money we are getting and the little oversight or accountability we have and let's just do whatever we want attitude. Some regional centers are better than others. A review of on line information shows that the worst regional centers tend to be Inland Regional Center, San Diego Regional Center and … Read More

    The creation of California’s Regional Centers was an amazing and necessary thing. Unfortunately, since the creation there has been the classic, look at all the money we are getting and the little oversight or accountability we have and let’s just do whatever we want attitude.
    Some regional centers are better than others. A review of on line information shows that the worst regional centers tend to be Inland Regional Center, San Diego Regional Center and Golden Gate Regional Center. Add to that, apparently judges assigned to regional center cases, called “fair hearing” at an office of administrative law level, are seldom equipped to interpret the law for disabled, called the “Lanterman Act.” When good judges enter the fair hearing arena and rule in favor of parents, they are, according to online sources, often weeded out by pressure from the regional center “in house attorneys.” Apparently each of the 21 regional centers of California have their own lawyers who religiously oppose families who have children who need services.
    There is reportedly another trend brewing in regional centers where they are against providing services for adults with disabilities who aren’t in state-run group home facilities. It’s reported that some regional centers don’t want families to maintain control of adults with developmental disabilities who reside in their homes.
    Some regional centers have resorted to making false allegations against families to protective agencies, in an attempt to discredit, discourage or otherwise deny families their voice in advocating for their adult children with disabilities. There are also reports from past and current sources that claim some regional centers are ripe with nepotism and abuse of power. Corruption throughout the ranks. So called “service coordinators” are overwhelmed, often too weak or powerless to blow the whistle on the rampant corruption.
    It’s also reported that the state Department of Developmental Services is lax and weak. It doesn’t investigate serious allegations leveled at corrupt regional centers.