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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Avonte's Law, 2015

Senator Charles E. Schumer brough Avonte Oquendo's mother, Vanessa Fontaine, to the State of the Union as his guest. Schumer invited Ms. Fontaine in order to draw attention to his bill, “Avonte’s Law."  From a Schumer press release:
Schumer’s legislation [S 163] will create and fund a program to provide voluntary tracking devices and expand support services for families with children who have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or other developmental disorders in which “bolting” from parents or caregivers is common. This voluntary program would only be for families who choose to use the devices. Schumer’s decision to author and introduce legislation will ensure that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has the authority and funding to provide grants to local law enforcement entities and other organizations with an interest in assisting these children.
In October 2013, Avonte Oquendo, a 14-year-old boy with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, bolted from his school in Queens. Authorities and volunteers searched for Avonte for more than three months, until his remains were tragically discovered on January 16th in College Point, Queens. In November 2013, in response to this case, Schumer called for the DOJ to expand one of their current grant programs to provide voluntary tracking devices, and make eligible children who have autism or other developmental disorders in which “bolting” from parents or caregivers is common. In January 2013, DOJ agreed to make this an eligible usage for Byrne JAG grants, which was an important step, however there is not sufficient funding in this program to provide voluntary tracking devices for individuals with ASD on any broad scale. Schumer’s legislation, Avonte’s Law, would create a permanent, $10 million grant program dedicated to purchasing these devices for individuals with ASD and other relevant disorders, as well as training to use these devices. A new grant program would also provide additional resources to local entities that find other innovative ways to assist families.
“Senator Schumer’s legislation focuses attention on an issue that gravely affects so many in the autism community,” said Autism Speaks President Liz Feld. “Tragically, a number of wandering cases often end up being fatal. The resources and attention directed at this issue through Senator Schumer’s bill are sorely needed and an important contribution to the national dialogue that has ensued following Avonte’s heartbreaking case. Sadly there have been far too many more tragic accidents involving wandering since Avonte's passing a year ago.”