Queens, N.Y. (WKBW-TV) Senator Charles Schumer and the mother of Avonte Oquendo announced Sunday plans to introduce legislation that would create and fund a program to provide voluntary tracking devices and support families with children who have Autism Spectrum Disorder or other developmental disabilities where "bolting" may be a common occurrence.
Last October Avonte Oquendo, a 14 year old boy with autism bolted from his school in Queens. After searching for more than three months, his remains were found on January 16th.
In November Senator Schumer called on the Department of Justice to expand the voluntary innovative Alzheimer's tracking program to include at risk kids with autism and is now continuing his efforts by introducing the legislation.
Under Avonte's Law, police departments and law enforcement would be provided with funds to provide devices to interested and qualified parties including parents, schools and non-profits.
If passed, the bill would authorize $10,000,000 in federal funding for the program.
Dr. Stephen Anderson of Summit Educational Resources said "It's individual parent choice. If I had a kid with autism I would get one and typically if that kid has any tendency to wander... Alone it's not enough kids with autism are still gonna require extraordinary amount of supervision."
Here in Western New York a similar program is in place called Project Lifesaver. Project Lifesaver is a law enforcement based tracking system for those who wander or bolt, including children with autism.
Summit, a local school that works with children and young adults with developmental disabilities could be one of the organizations who benefits from the legislation if it is passed.
Included in a statement released the following information was released:
"Avonte's Law" would create an entirely new grant program within the Department of Justice, to enable DOJ to award funds to local law enforcement agencies or qualified organizations that want to provide tracking devices for children with Autism and provide training and other resources to schools and local entities to help them react to a situation similar to Avonte's. The program would be modeled after DOJ's current Alzheimer's program that awards competitive grants to organizations that assist in locating individuals that have Alzheimer's disease and are missing. The program would be completely voluntary for parents, and would work in conjunction with schools, local law enforcement and other entities with experience in this area, such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). Schumer stressed that these devices could be life-saving, and an important resource for parents who want them, and that additional training for schools and law enforcement could help find wandering children more quickly.
"The tragic end to the search for Avonte Oquendo clearly demonstrates that we need to do more to protect children with autism who are at risk of running away," said Schumer. "Thousands of families face the awful reality each and every day that their child with autism may run away. Making voluntary tracking devices available will help put parents at ease, and most importantly, help prevent future tragedies like Avonte's. By expanding the innovative program we currently have in place for at-risk Alzheimer's patients, we will help thousands of families avoid what Avonte's family just experienced."