Front Wards, Back Wards charts the 160-year history of Massachusetts' Fernald Center, the first public institution in the United States to serve individuals with developmental disabilities. A diverse group of current and former residents and their families recount the center’s troubled history and detail the manifold changes that have taken place at the facility since the 1960s. Today, following an overhaul of its philosophies and practices, the 200-acre Fernald Center clings to its original mission of offering a variety of treatment options in addition to vocational opportunities for its residents. But its future is in jeopardy. Cameras follow residents and advocates as they travel to the Massachusetts State House to present former governor Mitt Romney with a 5,000-signature petition to keep Fernald open.