Services for children and adults with developmental disabilities are coordinated through regional centers — private, nonprofit organizations that contract with California’s Department of Developmental Services. The state’s 21 regional centers serving 240,000 children and adults act as gatekeepers to a vast array of supports, including physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy and respite care, for people with developmental delays. The centers conduct developmental screenings, determine eligibility for services and coordinate care.
But the number of services provided through regional centers varies vastly from region to region, and between racial and ethnic groups. Among the most striking disparities is the amount of money regional centers spend on services for children from Spanish-speaking households compared to those from their English-speaking counterparts. A 2020 Public Counsel study of youth ages 3 to 21 living at home found that, for every $1 an English-speaking child received in fiscal year 2018-2019, a Spanish-speaking child received 82 cents — a disparity that grew 46 percent over the previous four years.
A big reason for the disparity is language, advocates said. Securing services can be difficult and time consuming for any family. But English-speakers are more likely than those with no or limited English proficiency to understand how the regional center system works and to have the linguistic and economic resources to fight it.