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Report finds California Has Failed in Effort to Reduce Racial Disparities in Services for Children with Developmental Disabilities

A new report from Public Counsel shows that a six-year, $66 million effort by the State of California to reduce inequitable access to developmental services for children has been largely ineffective and that inequity “continues to plague communities of color.” The report evaluates the outcomes of a disparity reduction program established by the state in 2016 to reduce inequities within California’s regional center system – a network of state-funded but independently run agencies charged with providing services to Californians with developmental disabilities. The report’s findings include:

  • Inequitable funding is worsening between white and Latino children at most regional centers.
    • Disparities in service expenditures between Latino and white children have improved in four regional centers over the past six years but worsened in the other 17 regional centers.
  • Disparities for Asian children have worsened statewide over the past six years, yet the state does not have improvement goals for this population.
    • Without explanation, California’s Department of Developmental Services (DDS) has not assigned improvement targets for Asian children in its disparity monitoring process and has not been tracking this group’s inequitable trajectory under this process.
  • Disparities between children of “other ethnicity” and white children are the most profound among all race/ethnicity groups and are worsening.
    • As with Asian children, DDS has not assigned improvement targets for “other ethnicity” children in its disparity monitoring process and is not tracking this group’s worsening plight under this process.
    • Children with “other ethnicity” are the fastest-growing race/ethnicity group.​

For 30 years, advocates and families have raised concerns about disparities in service access. An L.A. Times exposé in 2011 revealed stark racial differences in services for children with autism, prompting then State Senator Darrell Steinberg to create a Task Force on Equity and Diversity that identified dozens of recommendations for reform – many of which remain unimplemented. Public Counsel’s report calls for a joint legislative oversight hearing to thoroughly review the worsening predicament, noting that there “have been just two legislative hearings dedicated exclusively to examining funding inequities” (in 2012 and 2017), and neither consisted of a fully impaneled set of legislators from both the Senate and Assembly.

The report identifies nine recommendations for addressing the system’s problems. For example, it highlights that the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) has a flawed funding methodology that perpetuates the system’s inequities: “DDS’ current budgeting formula allocates funding to regional centers not according to their consumers’ needs but on what the regional centers have previously spent.” The formula results in drastically different spending on services for children – often thousands of dollars or more annually – even between regional centers within the same city. 

One of the solutions that the report proposes is a targeted spending plan for each regional center to provide earmarked funding to unserved and underserved groups to bring them closer to funding equity with their white peers.

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