As you’ve certainly heard by now, a mass shooting in San Bernardino on Wednesday morning has left at least 14 people dead and at least 17 wounded.
Two suspects in the attack, which occurred on the grounds of a social service facility called the Inland Regional Center, died in a gunbattle with police.
What exactly is the Inland Regional Center and its mission?
It was created by the state as part of a network of regional centers, and it serves adults and children in San Bernardino and Riverside counties who have developmental disabilities.
Such disabilities include those resulting from Down syndrome, epilepsy, autism and cerebral palsy.
If you have a loved one with a developmental disability, your first stop in California is the regional center in your area. There are 21 regional centers statewide. As State of Health reported last week, regional centers were created after the 1969 Lanterman Act ended the mass institutionalization of people with developmental disabilities and created the network of the nonprofit centers.
“The majority of work that regional centers do,” said Eileen Richey, executive director of the Association of Regional Center Agencies, “is providing case management services to people with developmental disabilities as well as their families.”
While most of the direct services or treatments happen at providers’ offices in the community, clients and families are frequently found in the regional centers.
“They could be there for a development plan,” Richey said in an interview, “and they could be at a regional center for an evaluation or an assessment for services.”
Almost certainly, people with developmental disabilities and family members were in the Inland Regional Center when the shooting started. The Inland center is the state’s largest, with more than 600 staff members and 30,000 clients. It’s hard to gauge how widespread the impact of today’s events will be on the center’s clients.
Helping a loved one with a developmental disability cope with the tragedy will depend on the person, says Karla McLaren, the Santa Rosa author of “The Art of Empathy.”
“Everyone will experience it differently,” she said. “And it’s important to listen to the person’s own fears or own concerns … and to talk about that frankly.”
Olivia Balcao, a social worker and senior program analyst with the Association of Regional Center Agencies, said it’s important to be aware of the person’s disability and their own ability to take in the information.
“You share an amount and try to see how much they’re grasping, how much they’re processing, if they have any questions, and give them the lead.”