Services to the developmentally disabled in California are delivered by the State Department of Developmental Services through a statewide system of 21 privately-owned non-profit corporate Regional Centers, which are divided up by county. San Andreas Regional Center is based in Campbell, CA and covers Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Benito, and Monterey Counties. Each regional center is a sole-source vendor to the state in their “catchment area”, which includes a group of counties. There are no competitors for these services provided by the state. If you have a developmentally disabled child, the regional center treats your child as their “client”. They are mandated by the California Lanterman Act to do everything possible to serve families, in theory. That intent is reiterated throughout the statutes. But there is a large gap between theory and practice. If the families do not like what they are getting, or if they get nothing of any value, a regional center has an arsenal of strong arm tactics that they can apply afforded them by the law. They can force the cut-rate services they want on your child, reinforced by their army of “professionals”. She is literally their “captive customer”
The amount of funds that a Regional Center gets from the state and the federal government depends on the number of their clients. It is a huge, lucrative business that writes a lot of paychecks, with a $6B budget for DDS statewide. Therefore they have a strong incentive to claim your child as a client, and will fight you if you refuse to let them deliver their services to your child, even if they are low-budget boondoggle projects with little or no benefit, or if the child appears to be harmed or put at risk by program aides or other clients. SARC is driven by money, despite their seemingly beneficent cover. If you want to oppose them, you need a lot of money, a battalion of lawyers, and a lot of time. They are networked by their own admission with Child Protective Services (CPS) and Adult Protective Services (APS). If you decide to take your child out of one of their programs, for example because you are a good parent exercising your parental discretion and judgment, and find that the program is only making your child worse, they report you as a matter of policy to CPS or APS. San Andreas Regional Center includes Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey counties.
What happens when developmentally disabled children are no longer minor children, but become adults? There are presently roughly 75 wards being conserved by San Andreas Regional Center alone. When children that have lived with their parents reach the age of emancipation and are no longer under the legal custody of their parents yet wish to remain at home, the Regional Center sends the parents a letter telling them, incorrectly, that if they want their children to remain at home they will have to petition the court for conservatorship of their child…and in order to get conservatorship the law requires them to obtain the approval of the Regional Center. If the Regional Center doesn’t like you for some reason, they can veto your conservatorship. One reason may be that you aren’t enrolling them in any of their lucrative programs. Again, captive customer.
This has happened to many parents. It recently happened, for example, to a mother in Watsonville who chose to take her adult developmentally disabled daughter, who lived at home from birth, out of a San Andreas program at age 32 when she had participated for many years. The program was refusing to tell the mother where they were taking her daughter on outings. The mother, being of sound conservative judgment, disapproved, and petitioned the probate court in Santa Cruz county for conservatorship of her daughter. SARC opposed the mother by petitioning for conservatorship of her daughter in opposition to her, despite probate statutory and constitutional preferences. They got around the statutory preferences using the same inappropriate statute that they applied for in Nancy’s case, Health and Safety Code §416.9, ignoring §416.23 which dispositively prohibits it from being used that way.
During the program, the aides duped her unsuspecting, moderately developmentally disabled, incompetent and compliant daughter into seeming to say she didn’t want to live at home anymore. They did this by placing a McCaw communication device in her hands which had several iconic buttons to choose, that the aides programmed to speak as desired when pressed. One was a hamburger, another a milk shake, and so on, and among the other innocent choices, one was a nuclear button that said, “things are not going so well at home, I think I’d like to move to a group home” No one explains why that button was placed there and programmed among other seemingly innocuous choices in the first place. SARC psychologists claim she pressed that button on one occasion. Her daughter did not want to go live in a group home. Her brother says that she would sign anything that you placed in front of her if you merely asked her to. Her mother foolishly allowed the attorney appointed by the court, selected by SARC, as her daughter’s public defender to speak to her daughter in private, a pivotal mistake in such cases. He then proceeded to petition the court on her daughter’s behalf to be conserved by the state. She lost her bid against the state for conservatorship. She appealed in the California Sixth District Court of Appeals (see In Re Faustino) on the same grounds that we argued, that §416.23 prohibits the statute from being misused this way. They strained mightily to find that §416.23 does not say what it clearly says and denied her appeal. She appealed to the California Supreme Court (see petition) and was denied review. She lived in fear that her daughter might be removed from her home by the state at any time. She was eventually able to find a lawyer to negotiate her daughter’s right to remain at home as long as she remained in the program, but her daughter remains conserved by the state. The final bill was somewhere in the neighborhood of $50k, a large bill for a retired grandmother on a pension just to keep her daughter at home.
Another parent in San Jose just finished spending over $40k to keep his developmentally disabled 19 year old son at home after a year long legal battle against SARC, represented by the same attorney that fought us for Nancy; fortunately he won, but he is still looking over his shoulder because the state has not given up yet. He presciently stopped the state attorneys from speaking to his son, who vocally opposes living in a group home, in private. Fortunately his son could speak and knew his own mind. Nobody is reimbursing his costs either, and its not necessarily over yet.
page last updated March 22, 2006