TUPPER LAKE - Janice Fitzgerald's youngest son John drives, votes, skis whenever he can and is an Eagle Scout. He also has been diagnosed with multiple developmental disabilities since he was a small child.
Over the years, Fitzgerald has made sure her son has had the support he needs to try anything he puts his mind to.
"We really don't know what John is capable of doing unless we let him try," she said.
Maureen Peplow, of the Tri-Lakes Center for Independent Living, tells a crowd assembled Wednesday afternoon at Family Champions in Tupper Lake what it’s like to raise three adopted children who all have attachment disorders.
(Enterprise photo — Jessica Collier)
Fitzgerald was one of two parents who discussed the joys and challenges of raising children with mental and emotional disorders at an event held Wednesday afternoon in Tupper Lake to bring awareness to such things during Children's Mental Health Week.
The talk was hosted by Karen Pioli at the headquarters of Family Champions, an organization she founded that helps people with anything from getting clothes and supplies when they can't afford them to matching them up with government services for mental and emotional disorders.
Pioli said she wants families to be aware of how prevalent mental and emotional issues are in children and to help get rid of the stigma surrounding such issues so people don't hesitate to get help when they need it.
"I just want people to know that there is help out there, there are services," Pioli said.
Fitzgerald is now the executive director of Parent to Parent of New York State, a nonprofit organization that supports and connects families of individuals with special needs. She gives her presentation about raising her son, and the strategies she and her family have developed to give him a successful, happy life a few times a year and does day-long workshops with families and caregivers as well.
Other presenters at the Wednesday event included Franklin County Department of Social Services Commissioner Lesley Lyon; Jill Abdallah, aide to state Assemblywoman Janet Duprey; Susan Delehanty of Citizen Advocates; and several representatives from other county and nonprofit organizations.
Multiple presenters highlighted the statistic that one in five families have a child who has an emotional or mental disorder, and Delehanty noted that 79 percent of those children do not get treatment, which she said is alarming.
Delehanty talked about an expanding program called Clinic Plus that will let families have their children screened for mental health issues for free until they reach the age of 18.
Presenters noted other services available to families, including the county's early-intervention program that gives children under the age of 3 access to intervention therapy at no out-of-pocket expense to parents.
Also at the event, village Clerk Mary Casagrain presented a proclamation from the village board declaring this week Children's Mental Health Week in the village of Tupper Lake.
Maureen Peplow, the other parent who spoke Wednesday, told the crowd how challenging it has been to raise three adopted children who have attachment disorders.
Peplow retired to St. Regis Falls after living downstate for most of her life, and it took her some time to connect with services in the area that help her with her children.
Now that she has connected, though, she takes advantage of therapy, as well as "respite," which allows her kids to stay with another family for a few days every month to give them a break and see how other families function; and "wraparound," a monthly get-together with all the different people giving her kids care so they can coordinate who will take care of which aspects of the children's lives.
Peplow's oldest child had severe drug and drinking problems and is now living in a separate facility, but she said she has hope her younger two won't go the same way.
"I don't want my kids to be the victims," Peplow said. "I want them to celebrate their lives. I want them to become responsible citizens."
Contact Jessica Collier at 891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.