Douglas County Dist. Judge Jean Shepherd said the addition of a third house for an area youth facility will help ease the large number of children in the court system needing special care but who currently have no place to go.
"From a community perspective and from a placement perspective, I think we are fortunate to have this expansion," she said.
Shepherd made the remark during a press conference Wednesday afternoon at the Lawrence Public Library by the O'Connell Youth Ranch board of directors, which announced plans to construct a third house at the ranch.
About 20 people attended the event.
The ranch, founded in 1976, is a group home for boys who have been removed from their homes by a court order or who have been abandoned by their parents.
CURRENTLY, the 120-acre ranch has two homes that house 10 boys each, said Orville Embrey, president of the board of directors.
The third house will be built on the southeast corner of the ranch's property, which is east of Lawrence and about a mile south of the Farmland Industries fertilizer plant on Kansas Highway 10.
The third house will be constructed similarly to the existing houses and also will house 10 boys.
Embry said boys ages 8 through 18 are housed at the ranch.
He said Kansas needs more facilities such as those provided by the O'Connell Youth Ranch.
"We have more than 100 kids that have to go to facilities in Missouri because there is no place that they can go here," he said.
The existing homes at the ranch provide "Level IV" care, which entails a family environment with some supervision, Shepherd said.
THE NEW home will provide "Level V" care.
"Level V care requires a little more supervision and is for kids that are not ready to be in a family environment," Sheperd said.
Shepherd said two levels of care would provide stability for boys that have deep problems.
"When you have more than one level of care it can provide stability because the child can move up from one level to the next and still remain in the same environment," Shepherd said.
"I've had kids that may have been moved 15 times in 15 months, and the more stability the child has, the better he can make connections."
The ultimate goal of the O'Connell Youth Ranch is to prepare boys for a return to their own homes, placement in foster care or adoption.
THE COST of the third house will be about $157,000. Embrey said about half of the money has been raised.
Groundbreaking for the third house is planned for no later than Sept. 17, and the house should be open by Feb. 1, organizers said.
The O'Connell Youth Ranch is funded through the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services and by donations.