California’s Unique Service Delivery System

In 1969, the Lanterman Act established a system to provide Californians with developmental disabilities and their families the right to community-based services and supports necessary to live like people without disabilities.

california regional centers

Under the Lanterman Act, each person with a developmental disability has an Individual Program Plan (IPP) which specifies the services and supports the person is entitled to receive, while also considering the individual’s needs, desires and objectives. Through the IPP process, the needs of an individual are assessed and services and supports are identified for each consumer.  The services and supports identified in the IPP are guaranteed to that consumer – it is a legal entitlement.

In 1985, the California Supreme Court clarified, in ARC v. DDS, that the Lanterman Act entitled individuals with developmental disabilities to the services in their IPP.  The decision put clear limits on the state’s authority and affirmed the supremacy of the IPP in determining the types and levels of service each individual receives.  The court’s ruling made it clear that the IPP is the system’s driving legal document.

Then, in the early 1990s, through an extensive community stakeholder process known as SR 9, a state-wide consensus emerged about the importance of consumer choice.  Individuals and their families wanted to strengthen the IPP process to emphasize their role in choosing the services and supports needed to implement their IPPs.  As a result, in 1993 the Legislature added language to the Lanterman Act that affirmed the central importance of consumer choice.

The purchase of services (POS) under the IPP is the responsibility of the 21 Regional Centers statewide. These centers are under contract with the Department of Developmental Services to provide localized intake and assessment, to conduct IPP meetings, provide ongoing monitoring and quality assessment reviews, coordinate the actual purchase of services and, in most cases, pay service providers. Services and supports may be purchased from hundreds of possible community-based providers.

With the California Supreme Court’s affirmation that the Lanterman Act intended the IPP to be the backbone of the system and with the Legislature’s emphasis on the importance of consumer choice, another clear direction for the future was defined.  Everyone working in the system has a professional and moral responsibility to recognize the IPP as the driver of the system, to encourage each individual (or the family, when appropriate) to make informed choices for him- or her-self, and to actively support the choices that supported persons make for themselves.

California’s commitment to individualized service planning and consumer choice is unique.  Our system of services and supports for people with developmental disabilities is one of the few existing governmental endeavors expressly designed, by law, to be driven from the bottom up rather than from the top down.