The completed project at Opportunity Farm will include a family center, residential cottages and a therapy and education center. Courtesy of CHA Architecture, Portland

NEW GLOUCESTER — Dozens of children with intellectual and development disabilities are being sent out of state for treatment, but the Morrison Center plans to change that with new residential, educational and therapy services at its Opportunity Farm campus.

The Morrison Center has launched a $14 million capital campaign to build out its 150-acre property on Gloucester Hill Road, starting with homes for 24 more children. It currently houses 12.

“We have an urgent need. There are far too many kids that are placed out of state,” said Morrison Center Executive Director Mark Ryder.  He estimates between 75 and 80 Maine children are receiving care elsewhere.   

Thirty acres of the Morrison Center’s Opportunity Farm will be built out as part of the project. Jane Vaughan / Lakes Region Weekly

In June 2019, the state passed a law “To Develop Plans To Return to the State Children Housed in Residential Treatment Systems outside of the State.” 

The law says the Department of Health and Human Services will work with parents “to develop plans to bring the children back to the state to receive the required services.”

“Improving the availability and effectiveness of children’s behavioral health services is a top priority for the Department’s Office of Child and Family Services,” Jackie Farwell, director of communications for Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services, said.

The problem, Ryder said, is that there is a shortage of residential care facilities for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Maine. Amy Whitmore, director of development at the Morrison Center, said there are only eight or nine such facilities in state.

“We want to respond to that need,” Ryder said. “It’d be great for not only the kids. We’ve got to get the kids closer to their families.” 

“Shortages in the behavioral health care workforce are impacting families throughout the state, including foster families and kinship caregivers, as they try to meet the needs of the children in their care,” Farwell said. “It is imperative that we address these shortages through evidence-based and community-based services that minimize the need to utilize higher levels of care.”

The Opportunity Farm project will include specially designed cottages that can be tailored to fit the specific needs of its occupants, as well as a family center and educational and therapy center, including a K-12 special purpose school.

“It will be life-changing for some of Maine’s most vulnerable kids and their families,” Whitmore said. 

The renovation, which will occur in phases, will also include developing 30 acres of farmland to grow food and 100 acres for tree farming to heat the buildings.

The Opportunity Farm aims to bring dozens of kids back in state to receive treatment. Jane Vaughan / Lakes Region Weekly

“We will sustainably harvest our woods and use that for heating purposes for the buildings. We would like to have some animals on the farm to solidify the human-animal connection. There’s so many things we could do,” Whitmore said. 

“When we’re successful with the marketing campaign, it is rather unlimited with what you could do with 150 acres,” Ryder said.

The Opportunity Farm is licensed to care for 12 children. The project will begin by constructing three cottages, each of which can house up to eight children.

Whitmore said it will be a few years before the project is complete, but the Morrison Center has started working on the architectural plans with Portland-based CHA Architecture.

“We have been working on meeting with parents and guardians to develop individualized plans to return children in out-of-state residential care to Maine as soon as it is safe and appropriate within the context of their treatment,” Farwell said.

Once complete, “children will be within Maine and be accessible,” Whitmore said. “It’s just wonderful to be involved in raising funds for such a large project but such an impactful project.” 


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