These days, we have a few things at the top of our minds, and one of them is how we’ll manage to balance work (and maintain a reasonable level of family happiness) with child care and the demands of distance learning over the next six months (or more). For the most part, the support systems we’ve grown accustomed to relying on — school, therapies, after-school child care — are no longer available, and many of us shied away from using respite or specialized supervision during the early days of the stay-at-home measures.

However, as the pandemic continues, we may want to reconsider using these services and/or request additional resources from Regional Center, particularly when it comes to supporting our kids during distance learning. Below, we’ll cover what services are available, and how to start thinking about using Regional Center to help support you and your child during distance learning.

A young child wearing a knit hat, a white sweater, and blue pants crouches while playing with race cars outside.

Respite

A Regional Center may fund in-home respite services for the purpose of providing parents with relief from the ongoing care and supervision of their child with developmental disabilities. The number of respite hours provided is based largely on the extent of the child’s care needs, as well as extenuating family circumstances. Additional respite hours may be available on an emergency basis, e.g., due to a family health emergency, shut-downs during the COVID-19 pandemic, or for parents to attend trainings or conferences related to the child’s disability.

Many Regional Centers use an assessment tool to calculate how many hours of respite a family should receive. There are several issues that can arise from this approach. First, the service coordinator might fill out the assessment tool without input from the family, and could make assumptions about the child’s needs and limitations that lead to a miscalculation of how many hours the family should receive. Second, many of these written assessment tools are based on a scale that assumes a maximum number of hours per month or quarter, whereas in reality there is no longer a statutory cap on the number of respite hours a family may receive — it must be tailored to the family’s specific needs. Finally, and on a related note, the tool itself can gloss over the nuances of families’ particular needs by limiting eligibility to families who can check off specific boxes on the form. Again, the number of hours awarded must be tailored to the family’s specific and individual needs. You may wish to request that the assessment tool be filled out during the IPP and with your input. You may also ask for a copy of any Regional Center policies addressing how respite is calculated and what exceptions are available. If you disagree with the Regional Center’s decision regarding your respite hours, you may file a request for fair hearing.

As the pandemic continues, many parents find themselves in need of additional respite support, especially when other children are home from school as well. Some families are also experiencing difficulties in finding individuals willing to come into their homes to provide respite services.

Some COVID-19-related exemptions you might request may include:

  • Additional funding for respite services if parents’ needs for relief have changed.

  • A waiver to the requirement that the respite provider live outside the home, so that a roommate, extended family member, adult sibling, or other person without legal responsibility for the child may provide respite services without introducing a new person into a quarantined household.

  • A waiver to the first aid/CPR requirement for newly registered respite providers until such courses are readily available. Currently this waiver is already in place for new providers caring for children without significant health impairments. Some agencies may be applying the waiver across the board.

 

Specialized Supervision

Regional Centers may be able to fund specialized child care services (sometimes referred to as day care, child care, or specialized supervision) for parents who work full-time or are enrolled in full-time job training or education programs that will lead to employment and can only take place beyond the child’s school day. Some Regional Centers may offer exceptions to rules regarding what kind of work or study a parent must be engaged in to receive day care services; limited or one-time exceptions may be made for parents who are working part-time, studying for a licensing exam, doing volunteer work that helps Regional Center families, etc.

In order to receive funding for day care services, the child’s care and supervision needs must exceed that of a non-disabled child of the same age, such that they cannot participate in Regional Centers may be able to fund specialized child care services (sometimes referred to as day care, child care, or specialized supervision) for parents who work full-time or are enrolled in full-time job training or education programs that will lead to employment and can only take place beyond the child’s school day. Some Regional Centers may offer exceptions to rules regarding what kind of work or study a parent must be engaged in to receive day care services; limited or one-time exceptions may be made for parents who are working part-time, studying for a licensing exam, doing volunteer work that helps Regional Center families, etc.

In order to receive funding for day care services, the child’s care and supervision needs must exceed that of a non-disabled child of the same age, such that they cannot participate in regular childcare resources in the community (such as day care centers, after school programs, YMCA, and others). The care hours are usually awarded during periods when a child is not in school, e.g., after school or during school vacations.

Child care is generally funded to the extent the cost exceeds childcare costs for a typical child; in other words, only the portion in excess of typical childcare costs will be funded. Often, additional child care/specialized supervision/personal assistance funding will be available for older children and young adults, as their typically developing peers can be home alone and usually do not require one-on-one day care services.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, parents who are working full-time (whether in or out of the home) may be able to request specialized supervision hours if their child’s school is closed and the child requires supervision so that parents may continue to work. Additional exceptions/allowances may be made on a case-by-case basis.

Some COVID-related requests may include:

  • Treatment of full-time IHSS parent-providers as working parents to make their child eligible for supervision services during times when the child is usually at school.

  • Specialized supervision hours during the day, when children would ordinarily be in school. These are often referred to as “ESY hours,” a block of four hours per weekday that are available for children during summer breaks so parents can continue to work. Again, more hours may be available for adolescents and young adults.

 

Distance Learning: Additional Considerations

The Regional Center is statutorily prohibited from providing educational services that are offered by the school district. With the statewide transition to distance learning, it’s worth thinking about how we can reframe our child’s needs so that the Regional Center may be able to assist us within the framework of services they are permitted to provide. Bear in mind that some of what follows amounts to speculation, as it is impossible to know what services school districts will be providing to students with IEPs as the new school year begins. The Regional Center will always defer to the school district when the district is in a position to provide a service.

At the start of the pandemic, OCRA director Katie Hornberger answered some questions from Special X parents in a Zoom Q&A webinar, which you can review here. Katie advised parents to ask ourselves what goals we are trying to accomplish in order to figure out what services we need from the Regional Center. If the issue is that our child needs academic assistance such as tutoring or an in-home teacher in order to progress with the curriculum, that’s likely to be a service the Regional Center is barred from providing. However, if your district is offering distance learning through some form of virtual classroom, and your child requires a 1:1 aide at school in order to attend to tasks, perhaps what you need at home isn’t a tutor per se, but a behavioral aide or personal attendant to help your child sit through online lessons and stay on task. This service is more in line with what the Regional Center typically provides, meaning it’s more likely to be approved, and also there are more likely to be vendored providers ready to step in and provide the service. However, you may be required to seek this service from the district before the Regional Center will agree to provide it.

If the child’s school district is willing to provide a 1:1 in-home aide for part of the school day (and this is a HUGE “if”!), working parents might still be able to argue for specialized supervision services from the Regional Center. Some factors to consider here might include:

  • If school para-educators and behavioral aides are permitted to work in-home at all, they may not be permitted to do so without a responsible adult present, so if the parent is working outside the home, someone else will need to be at home with the child.

  • Even if parents are working at home, a school aide likely will not be able to remain in the home for the entire school/work day, which leaves working parents with a block of time when they still need supervision for their child, just as students coming home after school still need supervision until parents arrive home from work.

 

Lisa Concoff Kronbeck
Public Benefits Specialist

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