Pine Tree Society President Noel Sullivan and Chief Operating Officer Teresa Berkowitz outside the organization’s Bath office, where child case management services are now available. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

BATH — Pine Tree Society, which works with Mainers with disabilities and their families, has expanded its children’s case management services to its 149 Front St. office in Bath, allowing new referrals to be accepted within an hour radius of Bath.

The 84-year-old nonprofit already offers services to 55-60 families at its Scarborough and Auburn offices, and the Bath office will accept about 20, according to Teresa Berkowitz, Pine Tree’s chief operating officer. Expanding services allows area families to get the help they need without waiting for an opening, Pine Tree President Noel Sullivan said.

“There’s always been … an unmet need around case management” in the region, he said. While other organizations provide services, there’s enough demand that “we felt we really needed to up our game here, and provide more opportunities for kids to access case management, because that’s the conduit to connect to other things. It educates parents, as well as the child, on services that are available to them.”

Pine Tree had already been offering audiology and speech services in Bath before the expansion. Through its child case management services, the organization serves those with intellectual disabilities, as well as developmental disabilities such as autism.

“Autism continues to increase, so that is a big area of focus,” Berkowitz said.

The 2019 Maine Kids Count reported that among 29,620 students ages 6-20 with disabilities, 3,190 (10.8%) have multiple disabilities; 780 (2.6%) have intellectual disabilities and 16 (0.1%) have developmental delays.

According to Maine Kids Count, 2,824 children (9.5%) have autism. The number of students diagnosed with autism rose from 1,055 in 2005-06, which are the numbers provided by the Maine Department of Education.

The number of students with disabilities rose from 29,482 (15.6%) in 2011-12 to 29,620 (17%) in 2016-17, according to the report.

Case management includes rehabilitative and community services, home and community treatment services, medication management, outpatient therapy or counseling, respite care, managing behaviors at home, and providing financial assistance.

Pine Tree, which provided about 2,200 hours in child case management services last year, has never carried a long waitlist and wasn’t able to quantify a number, “because case management services are kind of acute, and so when somebody really needs case management … we’d refer them out,” Berkowitz said.

Children tend to come to Pine Tree during times of transition, such as when they’re about to enter kindergarten or adulthood. The organization also specializes in adult case management, Berkowitz said.

“When you have a child with a special need and you’re a parent, the parenting is so much harder in every single way,” Berkowitz said. “You don’t end up having just a parent-teacher conference; you have an IEP (individual education planning) meeting. … You can’t do a regular play date; your children’s needs are different. You can’t get a regular babysitter. It’s like ‘parenting plus’; everything is harder.”

That’s where the case manager comes in, to in part help parents learn about and acquire all the services their children need. Sitting in meetings with specialists, “having another person in the room lets (the case manager) listen to the information in an objective way that is different in a way that a parent can listen,” Berkowitz said.

Carrie Woodcock – executive director of the Maine Parent Federation, which works with parents of children with special health care needs – echoed those sentiments.

“Oftentimes, when working with those families, navigating the systems of care … can be very overwhelming and confusing,” she said. “Case management can help provide a level of navigation for those families in accessing services that are needed to help their children progress in ways outside the school, with community and in-home supports.”

“Once parents get a hold of it, they value it greatly,” Sullivan said.

Julie Brennan, Pine Tree’s director of case management services, can be reached at 386-5952 for more information.

“We are flexible about where we meet and accommodate what works best for families based on what the goals are,” she said. “As case managers, we want to get to know a child in different environments and we do whatever is easiest for the parent. The important thing is that the family gets what they need for help. We often meet at a child’s school or home or at our office.”

Information on enrollment eligibility and a list of diagnoses Pine Tree addresses are listed at pinetreesociety.org/children-and-families/case-management-children or by calling Pine Tree’s Bath office at 443-3341.

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