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Moms Talk Special Needs Concerns With Greenburgh Leaders

From left, Dana Hanner, co-founder of Special Moms of Westchester, speaks to Greenburgh Police Chief Joe DeCarlo about police interactions with special needs children.
From left, Dana Hanner, co-founder of Special Moms of Westchester, speaks to Greenburgh Police Chief Joe DeCarlo about police interactions with special needs children. Photo Credit: Samantha Kramer

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Special Moms of Westchester is reaching out to Greenburgh leaders to address concerns about members' children with special needs in the community.

Dozens of mothers in Special Moms of Westchester , a newly formed group that has gained more than 300 members since its founding one year ago, had questions for Greenburgh Police Chief Joe DeCarlo and Town Supervisor Paul Feiner Tuesday night, where they convened for a discussion at The Vintage Restaurant in White Plains. Many mothers, like Lisa Cordaseo, said that knowing how to interact with special needs children is vital for police officers responding to an incident where a child has behavioral or social issues.

"This is a population that's very vulnerable, who doesn't have the awareness that other kids their age do," said Cordaseo, whose child with behavioral issues had police responding to her home on a weekly basis. "If things like this are addressed it would set a level of peace and calm in the community."

DeCarlo said the Greenburgh police department is unique in that they all have had emergency medical service training, so they know how to interact with people with special needs. Many also have had experience in responding to residents of Greenburgh's group homes, he added.

Better communication between families with special needs and police authorities is important, especially because the Newtown school shootings in December has strengthened the focus on mental health issues in schools and the community, DeCarlo added.

Norma Litman, a clinical social worker at Westchester Jewish Community Services in Hartsdale, said she frequently comes across situations where incidents regarding special needs people are mishandled.

"There are lots of incidents where kids have a meltdown and police restrain them, mistaking it for domestic violence," Litman said.

Many group members were also concerned about where their children would be taken to if a behavioral incident got especially threatening. Greenburgh resident Sheryl Frischman, whose 13-year-old son has autism, said Greenburgh needs a respite center for people like her son who won't be accepted into hospitals for temporary care.

The concern has Frischman scared to call the police when her son has a behavioral episode, because she's not sure what might happen to her child.

"It's nerve-wracking if, god forbid, I have to call the police, thinking, 'What will they do?'" she said. "That's the thing that scares me."

Members of Special Moms of Westchester's next step is to move forward to state representatives, hoping they'll be able to get funding for a respite or behavioral health center.

"You could make this a major issue — it's really doable," said Feiner, adding that Assemblyman Thomas Abinanti's (D-Greenburgh) son has autism and is sure to listen to the group's concerns. "All you need is one lawmaker who can make things happen."

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