Systems That Are Accountable To Us
Regional centers and school districts are required by law to provide services and supports that are individualized and person-centered. But who makes sure they are following the law? In California, the Legislature and the Department of Developmental Services have significant oversight powers for regional centers, yet there is still a sense that no one is being held accountable. School districts are answerable to local school boards, who are elected officials, yet special education seems to be barely noticed or is dysfunctional.
Each regional center has a core level of oversight by their boards of directors, who are made up primarily of individuals served by the regional centers and family members. These board members are supposed to oversee the regional center executive director as well as the general policies and procedures of the organization. The members, however, are often recruited and hand-picked by regional center staff leading to concerns about their ability to appropriately supervise the executive director. Indeed, board members have complained of fear of retaliation in questioning decisions at an agency that provides them or their loved one with critical services. Individuals and family members face the same concern in advocating for needed services that the regional center won’t provide.
Within the education system, fear and intimidation of parents also play a significant role. Filing a complaint about a school or service or going to due process over a disagreement is expensive, stressful, and can strain the critical relationship that a family must have with their child’s school. School districts and SELPAs (Special Education Local Planning Areas) have Community Advisory Committees that are often powerless. Parents feel like they have nowhere to turn.
Our Action Plan
Disability Voices United will advocate for the oversight bodies – including the Executive Branch (Departments of Developmental Services, Education, and Health and Human Services), State Legislature, and the federal government – to do their jobs in holding regional centers and school districts accountable for providing choice of settings, services and supports that are individualized, person-centered, and outcome-based as well as eliminating fear and intimidation of individuals and families within their systems. We will:
- Research the extent to which the systems disempower or intimidate families and individuals
- Encourage legislative oversight hearings and lead grassroots advocacy efforts to ensure that agencies are complying with laws and rights established under the Lanterman Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and other disability rights laws
- Collect stories of the lack of accountability to present at legislative hearings
- Train current and prospective Regional Center board and committee members and school district Community Advisory Committee members on their responsibilities and their oversight roles
- Recruit individuals and family members to serve on regional center boards and Community Advisory Committees.
- Train individuals and family members on advocacy and their rights and encourage attendance and monitoring of board meetings
- Encourage investigations of regional center or school district mismanagement or abuse of power
- Compel more aggressive action when there are systemic issues of individuals’ needs not being met or abuse of power
- Seek alternative ways to ensure oversight, such as audits and class action litigation
- Prepare a rating system/report card for the 21 regional centers measuring individual/parent satisfaction, transparency, staff responsiveness, disparities in services, and other factors
- Become a source and provide compelling stories for the media
Our board member, Alison Morantz, directs the Stanford Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Law and Policy Project (SIDLAPP), which has produced several outstanding reports on the Lanterman Act and increasing accountability of the DD system. You can find the reports and more information here.