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How Regional Centers Determine Developmental Disability

California Regional Centers

When an adult has a serious developmental disability that impedes their ability to live independently and look after their well-being, California allows for the appointment of a ‘limited conservator.’ In a limited conservatorship, a responsible adult who takes on certain legal responsibilities—depending on the level of disability—on behalf of the disabled person.

However, who has the authority to determine whether someone has a disability warranting a conservatorship? Bear in mind that when a guardian is granted a right to exercise over another person, that right is stripped away from the cared-for person. This is an extremely delicate issue, and could be easily abused in certain circumstances.

This is why the State of California uses ‘regional centers’ to evaluate residents for developmental disabilities.

Regional centers are independent nonprofit entities that California contracts with to provide evaluation and support services for residents of the state who have developmental disabilities.

In a situation where a person is believed to have a developmental disability that necessitates a conservatorship—such as when a parent’s impaired child is coming of age, and the parent wishes to assert continued legal control over their child’s well-being—they are referred to their local regional center. For residents of Sacramento County and several surrounding counties, Alta California Regional Center is the local regional center.

At regional centers, medical staff will evaluate the physical and mental health of disabled persons. For a person to be officially considered as developmentally disabled, they must meet the criteria defined by Section 4512 of the California Welfare and Institutions Code. Some of these criteria include:

  • The disability began before the age of 18.
  • The disability is expected to continue indefinitely.
  • The condition in question is a “substantial disability.”
  • The condition is either intellectual in nature, or is a physical disability that requires care similar to that necessary for an intellectual disability, such as severe autism, epilepsy, or cerebral palsy.

If these conditions are met, then the regional center will consider the person in question as developmentally disabled.

Once this diagnosis of developmental disability is made, the State of California then recognizes them as such, and a judge may grant a limited conservatorship to an appropriate guardian.

However, if the regional center’s staff concludes that a person is not developmentally disabled, the decision can be appealed to your local area board. Contact your regional center for information as to which area board serves your region.

If you would like assistance with navigating the legally and emotionally process of having a loved one evaluated for a developmental disability, or you need help with establishing a limited conservatorship, we can help. Give us a call at 916-400-4516, or send us a message using our contact form.