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Auditor slams state developmental services agency

“The Western Center on Law & Poverty in November filed a lawsuit against the Harbor Regional Center in Los Angeles on behalf of a group of Latino parents, alleging racial discrimination and arguing the center failed to meet children’s needs during the pandemic when schools and day programs shut down.”

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PRESS RELEASE: Latinx Parents Sue to Stop Discrimination by Harbor Regional Center when serving People with Developmental Disabilities

For Immediate Release

Latinx families already get fewer services than white families and are hit harder by closure of schools and day programs during the COVID pandemic.  

TORRANCE, CA—A group of Latinx families known as Padres Buscando el Cambio filed litigation to fight for more services for intellectually and developmentally disabled children and young adults who rely on Harbor Regional Center. The regional center, which has offices in Torrance and Long Beach, is supposed to provide respite services, one-to-one aides, in-home supports, day programs and other services to adults and children with intellectual and developmental disabilities such as autism and cerebral palsy. The parent group is made up of families whose children’s needs have been long ignored.

During the pandemic, when schools and day programs closed, these children and their families were left with little to no help during the day. Members of Padres Buscando el Cambio say that they were overwhelmed and in need of more help from Harbor Regional Center before the pandemic. During the pandemic, Latinx families’ lack of equal access to regional center services became unbearable.

In addition to challenging the actions of Harbor Regional Center, the lawsuit also names the California Department of Developmental Services, which is responsible for ensuring its regional centers comply with the law.

Mayra Jimenez, the leader of Padres Buscando el Cambio, says: “Harbor [Regional Center] and the state do not seem to recognize how much our children are suffering, especially during the pandemic. For example, young people with autism are upset that they cannot go to school and need support coping with the changes. Families need help but instead the regional center insists on proof that the school denied us first. That takes time, and we need help now. They need to take an individual look at each child’s needs and approve services to make up for not only what was lost, but also the new challenges we face because of the pandemic. Also, Harbor makes us jump through so many hoops and procedures to get even a little help and overstressed families cannot cope.”

The inadequate COVID services for Latinx families also make existing service inequities worse. Harbor Regional Center spends only 37 cents on Latinx individuals for every dollar it spends on white individuals. As a recipient of state funds, Harbor Regional Center’s actions are not only unfair, they are also illegal, according to the group.

“There is no justification for the way Latinx families at Harbor Regional Center are treated,” said David Kane, an attorney for Western Center on Law & Poverty. “Regional Centers like Harbor are mandated by the state to provide the kind of care these families are asking for. It’s bad enough they must fight to receive services — the racial discrimination takes the urgency of the situation to another level. This needs to be addressed ASAP.”

Latinx parents seeking help for their children from Harbor Regional Center also faced explicitly discriminatory comments from regional center staff. For example, when requesting more services or service hours for their children, service coordinators sometimes chastised parents with comments including, “It was your decision to have so many kids,” and “It is a parent’s responsibility to care for her own child.”

Citing unanswered requests issued months ago, the parent group first demanded that Harbor Regional Center – and then the California Department of Developmental Services – take urgent, corrective action to avoid a lawsuit. When these demands were not addressed, the group was forced to file its lawsuit.

Parisa Ijadi-Maghsoodi, Senior Attorney with Disability Rights California, agrees. “There is no denying that disabled people and their families are hurting, and that Harbor Regional Center and the Department of Developmental Services have a legal obligation to meet their individualized needs throughout this pandemic and beyond. We remain hopeful that the regional center and the state will recognize this suffering and work with us to develop a comprehensive approach to service delivery that meets the needs of the Latinx community.”

Contact: Courtney McKinney, cmckinney[at]wclp.org 

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Disability Rights California (DRC) – Is the agency designated under federal law to protect and advocate for the rights of Californians with disabilities. View a full copy of the complaint: https://www.disabilityrightsca.org/cases/pbc-v-hrc.

Western Center on Law & Poverty fights in courts, cities, counties, and in the Capitol to secure housing, health care and a strong safety net for Californians with low incomes, through the lens of economic and racial justice.

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