What would it mean for people with disabilities if they could decide, with their family support system, what to do with funds provided through the San Diego Regional Center? For participants in the three-year-phase-in-period of the Self-Determination Program (and their parents), it has been life changing.

Adam (age 14) takes cooking classes and is learning to play the piano—all paid for through his budget from the Regional Center. “Before self-determination, his services consisted of respite only,” says his mother Josie. “But utilizing the annual budget designated for respite, Adam decided he wanted to take piano lessons and learn to eat healthy through cooking classes (which we couldn’t afford otherwise). Being able to use our Regional Center budget to pay for these classes is enriching Adam’s life so much more than simple respite services were.” 

In July 2021 the Self-Determination Program (SDP) becomes available as an option to all San Diego Regional Center consumers, providing them with more freedom, control and responsibility to choose services and supports that help them meet objectives in their Individual Program Plan (IPP).

Under the new plan, participants are able to access many services that were suspended during budget cuts in 2009, such as social and recreational programs and camps.

“When families have the opportunity to think and engage in a person-centered way, it enriches the partnership between the family and the San Diego Regional Center,” says Suzy Requarth, M.Ed., regional manager and project manager of the Self-Determination Program. “The role of the service coordinator evolves into one of empowerment. How can we empower families to embrace the person-centered planning process, think creatively about the services and supports their children need, and develop a plan that truly helps children achieve their goals and connect them to their community? It’s an exciting journey for the entire team.”

The SDP allows participants to have more control in developing their service plans and selecting providers to better meet their needs. This is a voluntary program and participants are not required to use Regional Center vendors.

The SDP is based on a 20-year-old pilot project in which almost 200 individuals participated in a test of self-determination in five regional centers. The pilot program was deemed a resounding success and is being expanded throughout California. In SDP each participant receives a budget that is calculated by the amount spent on their services from the prior 12-month period, plus any unmet needs that are identified through the Person-Centered Planning Process. 

Using their allotted budget, consumers can choose who supports them, and they have the freedom to purchase services that interest them. With budget cuts a decade ago, all recreation programs were dropped from the Regional Centers’ budgets. Now consumers can access those recreational options (and more) again!

At a Glance: What is the Self-Determination Program?

  • Self-Determination is a voluntary alternative way of receiving services through the Regional Centers of California that will be available to Regional Center consumers over the age of 3. 
  • The Self-Determination Program emphasizes personal control over funds and services.
  • For Self-Determination Program (SDP) participants, the Individual Program Plan (IPP) must be developed utilizing a person-centered-planning process. Person-centered planning is an approach to determining, planning for and working toward the preferred future of a person with developmental disabilities. The preferred future is what the person (and family) want to do, based on the person’s strengths, capabilities, preferences, lifestyle and cultural background. Person-centered planning is a framework for planning and making decisions.
  • Participants receive a budget to purchase their own services, which are not limited to Regional Center vendors. 
  • Budgets are established using the prior 12 months of expenditures, plus any unmet needs that are identified in the Person-Centered Plan. 

Helpful Resources

San Diego Regional Center Self-Determination Program

Disability Voices United

California Department of Developmental Services Self-Determination www.dds.ca.gov/initiatives/sdp

SDP Service Definitions

Sandra McElwee creates Person-Centered Plans for participants in the Self-Determination Program. She has a 27-year-old son with Down syndrome who is empowered to live a self-determined life.