Woodfords Family Services was founded in 1967 by a small group of parents who had the vision and determination to enrich the lives of their children with special needs. The only way to reach this goal was through their own efforts. They started a school in the basement of the Woodfords Congregational Church in Portland. The school was a place where children with varying special needs could learn and be free to interact with their peers. This was a radical departure from the options previously available.
From an original class of five children in the 1960s, the school grew to more than 100 children in the next two decades as it became known as the Educational Center. The agency began Woodfords Adult Services and the Practical Life Program for individuals growing into adulthood. Woodfords also extended its school services to include younger children – 2½ to 5 years old – with the opening of the Westwood Children’s Center in 1984.
In the 1980s significant, but welcome, changes took place in state and federal approaches to children with special needs. The long-sought goal of integrating children with special needs into public schools became a reality. This led to the closing of the Educational Center in 1994, which had meant so much to so many families.
This momentous change in Woodfords’ mission was followed in short order by the renewal and growth of remaining programs, and the creation of vital new programs for children and families:
- Residential Services, established in 1994 as Woodfords Individualized Living Options, continues today with a growing number of residences and several shared living arrangements.
- Family Support Services, which includes Respite Services, In-Home Support Services, and Therapeutic Recreation continues to grow, and currently serves approximately 450 individuals and their families.
- Westwood Children’s Center evolved into Woodfords Early Childhood Services. The agency now offers preschool services in Westbrook, Freeport, Waterville, and Rockland for approximately 100 children funded by DHHS. Most have a diagnosis with of autism, but approximately one-quarter of the students are typically-developing children who learn alongside their peers with special needs in an inclusion classroom. Early Childhood Services also provides a Toddler and Family Program in Westbrook for children ages 2 to 3 years who have special needs. The funding of a Developmental Evaluation Team by the state has made it possible to provide trans-disciplinary evaluations of children ages 1 through 5.
- The Therapeutic Foster Care Program, established in 1999, continues to fill a unique need for children in the foster care program who have developmental disabilities, mental health diagnoses, and/or severe medical issues. This program has grown considerably, and now serves approximately 23 children. Additionally, the program has greatly expanded its capacity to provide resources and trainings specific to the needs of therapeutic foster parents.
- Children’s Case Management was created in 2000, followed by Case Management for Adults in 2003 and Children’s Mental Health Case Management in 2006. The program is currently working to create a site-based case management model that will focus services around particular communities and draw on communities’ natural strengths and resources. These programs currently serve 260 children and 55 adults.
- Since the acquisition of the Maine branch of Bancroft NeuroHealth in 2004, Woodfords has maintained and grown the agency’s team of ABA consultants in the field of services to children with autism.
- The Woodfords Training & Resource Center has also grown since its inception in 1996. Through the Center, the agency meets the ever-changing training needs of our employees and offers these services to other agencies in the community. Woodfords has become a leader in the field by developing large conferences to promote awareness of developmental disabilities and train service providers across the state.