U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced that the Department of Justice (DOJ) would immediately allow existing grant funds to be used to fund voluntary tracking devices through local law enforcement agencies for children who have Autism or other developmental disorders in which “bolting” from parents or caregivers is common; the voluntary program would only be for parents who choose to use the devices. Schumer has pushed for this program in light of the Avonte Oquendo tragedy. Oquendo, a 14-year-old boy with autism, bolted from a school in Queens in October and his remains were just found. The federal government already provides grant funding for similar devices to track seniors with Alzheimer’s, and Schumer today said that DOJ would allow for grant funds to include children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Schumer stressed that the program would be totally voluntary for parents, would be run by police departments or other local law enforcement entities, and would also provide funding for training of individuals on how to use and maintain these devices. Parents, schools, and law enforcement would all have to choose to participate. Massachusetts already has a successful program to help locate children with Autism that wander from their safe place.
The commitment was made by Attorney General Eric Holder at a Congressional hearing this morning. It follows this week’s announcement that Schumer would introduce "Avonte's Law" that would create and fund an entirely new grant program within DOJ that would provide this type of funding. Schumer said that because Avonte's Law would increase funding and provide a more stable funding stream, he would still be pushing it despite the progress announced today.
“The sights and sounds of NYC and other busy places can be over-stimulating and distracting for children and teens with Autism, often leading to wandering as a way to escape. Voluntary tracking devices will help our teachers and parents in the event that the child runs away and, God forbid, goes missing,” said Schumer. “DOJ already funds these devices for individuals with Alzheimer’s and they have done the right thing in deciding to do the same for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. I'd like to thank Eric Holder and his staff for their commitment to this issue, and for instituting this measure to protect the vulnerable."