About the Office
The Office of the Self-Determination Program Ombudsperson (Office) is an independent entity within the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) that helps regional center clients and their families fully participate in the Self-Determination Program (SDP) by:
- Providing information and assistance
- Facilitating solutions to disagreements
- The Office helps regional center clients and families understand their rights in the SDP, including the processes to resolve issues or complaints. If requested, the Office can assist with the resolution process by connecting regional centers, financial management services (FMS) agencies, and/or independent facilitators. In some cases, the Office also may connect individuals and families with other internal or external partners who can provide further support.
- The Office cannot decide disputes in favor of one party or another, represent someone in the appeal process, overturn a fair hearing decision or make a recommendation to a court.
- Investigating complaints regarding implementation of the SDP
- Compiling and reporting data to the Legislature
- Recommending changes to DDS and the Legislature
All information is confidential unless an individual agrees otherwise, or disclosure is required by law.
The Office opened in October 2021, soon after it was established in law (Welfare & Institutions Code section 4685.9) in July 2021.
Office of the Self-Determination Program Ombudsperson
Katie Hornberger, Acting Ombudsperson
Katie Hornberger’s career has been spent working with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Ms. Hornberger was an Early Intervention teacher working toddlers with speech and language delays. She also taught special education and did in home behavioral intervention for children with Autism. She was an Educational Consultant vendor for Frank D. Lanterman Regional Center before joining Disability Rights California (DRC) as a Clients’ Rights Advocate in the Office of Clients’ Rights Advocacy (OCRA). Ms. Hornberger served as the advocate assigned to North Los Angeles County and Harbor Regional Center clients before becoming a supervisor. She handled an assortment of matters including accessing regional center and educational services, pursuing public benefits and Adoption Assistance Program claims, and discrimination cases. Ms. Hornberger also provided community trainings on a variety of topics. In 2012, she became the Director of OCRA. In that role, she managed the program, conducted policy work, participated in committees, and continued to provide community trainings. Ms. Hornberger also managed the Work Incentives Program Assistance grant for three counties and the statewide Office of Payee Review and Beneficiary Assistance at DRC. She came to DDS in September 2021 and set up the Office of the Self-Determination Ombudsperson. She works on appeals process reform and other initiatives at DDS.
Ms. Hornberger holds a B.A. in Sociology, cum laude, from the University of California at Irvine and a Juris Doctor from Pepperdine University School of Law.
Cynthia Salomón-Ponce – Manager
Cynthia began her career as a Deaf Services Coordinator at an Independent Living Center. There, she discovered her passion for working with the community and individuals with disabilities. In 2006, Cynthia joined Disability Rights California (DRC) working at the Office of Clients’ Rights Advocacy (OCRA). She served consumers of Regional Center of Orange County and Harbor Regional Center. In 2016, she transferred to DRC’s Legal Advocacy Unit to focus on Special Education cases statewide. When the Office of Payee Reviews and Beneficiary Assistance (OPRABA) was established, Cynthia carried out complex reviews and investigations to protect vulnerable populations and advocate for systemic change.
Jacqueline Davis, Community Program Specialist II (Representative)
Jacqueline’s career began in 2006 by supporting individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities as a direct support professional and respite worker. She previously served at Alta California Regional Center where she facilitated the vendorization process and monitored vendor compliance with the Lanterman Act and state regulations. Her experience also includes the broader context of human services such as working with seniors, delivering child protective services, and connecting individuals to resources. Jacqueline earned a Master’s Degree in Social Work, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work, magna cum laude from California State University, Sacramento. She also possesses Associate Degrees in Communications, Ethnic Studies, Liberal Studies, and Social Science. Jacqueline joined the Self- Determination Program Ombudsperson Office in August 2022.
Leslie Garcia, Associate Government Program Analyst (Representative)
Leslie’s professional experience as an ABA interventionist inspired her to focus her career advocating for individuals with disabilities in all capacities. She went on to work at Alta California Regional Center as an Early Intervention and Children’s Service coordinator. Leslie continued her professional journey with the CA Department of Rehabilitation (DOR) Vocational Rehab Program. Leslie remains dedicated to assist individuals and their families navigating the developmental disability system. Leslie joined the Self-Determination Program Ombudspersons Office in August 2022.
Natalie Ibarra, Associate Government Program Analyst – Bilingual (Representative)
Natalie began her career in Human Services with the CA Department of Social Services where she served as a Licensing Program Analyst. She worked closely monitoring adult and senior care facilities ensuring proper care and living conditions were provided. Natalie has experience working with regional centers and individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Natalie joined the Self-Determination Program Ombudspersons Office in November 2022.
Connie Parra, Executive Assistant
Connie’s passion for public service began as a young adult when she attended and was involved in local events in her hometown. This sparked curiosity and motivated her to give back to the community in any way possible. Connie’s public sector experience started at the City of Cerritos and continued at the County of Orange. She is always willing to learn about her role and is excited to be part of the DDS family, serving the community. Connie is bilingual Spanish staff and will be supporting the Offices of the Ombudsperson and Office of the Self-Determination Program Ombudsperson.
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The Office strives to be an effective, accessible, and purposeful part of the path forward for the SDP. One of its primary functions is to assist regional center clients and their families with participation in the SDP and address any issues or barriers they are experiencing.
“All of our providers have been paid and we can finally close out [the year]…Thank you for working hand-in-hand with us all to remedy this matter.”
“This information [provided by the Office] is golden.”
If you need help with or have questions about participation in the SDP, please contact us:
Online Form: Get Help Here
Phone: (877) 658-9731
Recommendations from the SDP Ombudsperson
The Office received concerns regarding issues with setting up initial services and staff, payments for services and supports, and communication with and availability of FMS agencies. To help address these issues, the SDP Ombudsperson recommended that DDS evaluate monthly rates for FMS agencies. Following its evaluation, DDS revised the FMS rates as described in the directive on April 26, 2023. At the recommendation of the SDP Ombudsperson, DDS also increased the frequency of FMS focus group meetings, from occasionally to bi-monthly, which created more opportunities for direct communication with FMS providers.
- Self-Determination Program – Financial Management Services Payments and Notifications
- Regional Center Payment of Financial Management Services for SDP Participants
The SDP Ombudsperson learned that some participants were experiencing an interruption of services moving from one budget year to the next due to disagreements concerning individual budgets and spending plans or scheduling conflicts with the Individualized Program Plan (IPP) team. In response, the Office assisted DDS with the development of a directive allowing the regional center to either extend the current budget and spending plan or renew the budget and spending plan as a new purchase of service authorization, depending on the participant’s situation.
Funding to Support the Implementation of the SDP
The Office learned that participants were experiencing challenges with the person-centered planning process, which led to some participants not having enough funds to support them with the transition into SDP. To address this issue, the Office assisted with developing a payment structure with caps and guardrails so individuals can receive the support they need when entering the SDP. More information can be found in the DDS’ June 30, 2023 directive.
Extension and Development of Standardized Vendorization Packets
The Office presented to DDS the concerns expressed by independent facilitators and others in the self-determination community regarding the cumbersome process to become a regional center vendor. In response to these concerns, DDS released a standardized vendorization packet for Self-Directed Supports as a solution. More information is available in DDS’ directive on March 20, 2023. In accordance with SB 136 (Chapter 192, Statutes of 2023), DDS also will be establishing standardized vendorization procedures for other regional center services in the developmental disabilities services system.
Clarity on Who Can Be a Service Provider
The Office heard that regional centers and FMS agencies had different viewpoints on who could be a service provider. Some allowed a conservator to be a service provider, while other regional centers did not. Working with DDS, the frequently asked questions (FAQs) on the website were updated to clarify that a conservator could be a service provider on the spending plan.
Process Improvement and Training
Concerns have been raised around regional center service coordinator knowledge, inadequate response times from regional center teams, and a perceived lack of transparency and clarity on SDP initial enrollment and annual renewal processes. The SDP Ombudsperson recommended developing a Regional Center Best Practices Focus Group with stakeholder involvement and strong participation from regional centers, to establish consensus on enrollment and SDP participation timelines and expectations around transparency regarding SDP processes. It also was recommended that DDS facilitate the development and implementation of a “train-the-trainer” curriculum for participant choice specialists to use with regional center service coordinators and other non-SDP focused team members at their regional centers. DDS met with participant choice specialists and provided training in October 2022. DDS developed five training modules in addition to the orientation. They are planned to go out in 2024 and additional trainings for participant choice specialists will be held.
During the pandemic, certain in-person meeting requirements under the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act were waived. The LVACs expressed concerns about returning to in-person meetings when the requirements were lifted, so the SDP Ombudsperson worked with DDS to re-analyze whether Bagley-Keene applies to LVACs. With the help of the Office, DDS released a directive clarifying that Bagley-Keene does not apply to LVAC meetings and also provided the committees with best practices to follow. Of note, Senate Bill 143 and Senate Bill 544 both were enacted in September 2023, allowing remote meetings to continue for committees subject to Bagley-Keene.
Community Outreach and Assistance
The Office is an active partner in the Self-Determination community and regularly participates in outreach events throughout the State. This includes presentations about the Office and the services provided, general information about the SDP and targeted information about elements of the SDP. These presentations have been made in meetings, conferences, or trainings for groups including, but not limited to:
- Independent Facilitators
- Participant Choice Specialists
- Financial Management Services (FMS) Agencies
- Regional Centers
- Family Resource Centers
- Parent and Family Support Groups
- Advocacy and Awareness Groups
- Statewide and Local Advisory Committees
- The State Council on Developmental Disabilities
The Office also coordinates meetings with community groups and stakeholders to gather feedback on lived experiences, identify areas for continued improvement, and collaborate on solutions to common issues. These outreach efforts are key in informing the recommendations the Office presents to DDS and the Legislature in briefings to inform policies and changes to improve the SDP.
Request to Present
Due to current State budget constraints, presentations are available only virtually. If you would like us to present for your community group, please email us at SDP.Ombudsperson@dds.ca.gov.
Last modified: February 23, 2024