The federal government would provide free electronic tracking devices for children with autism and other developmental disabilities who are prone to wandering under a proposed new law.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said he is introducing legislation this week to allocate $10 million to the Justice Department to create a new program to provide the devices to families wanting help monitoring their children.
The proposal comes just over a week after the remains of 14-year-old Avonte Oquendo were discovered. Oquendo, who had autism, went missing from his New York City school in October prompting a massive search.
“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,” Schumer said.
The bill named “Avonte’s Law” would create a grant program allowing the Justice Department to award funds to local organizations and law enforcement agencies so that they could provide tracking devices to families.
Participation and use of the technology would be strictly voluntary, Schumer said.
Research suggests that about half of individuals with autism are prone to wandering. Many parents already employ tracking devices to monitor their kids with special needs, but advocates say that the devices — which often involve a monthly fee — can be cost-prohibitive for families.
Tracking devices can be worn as a bracelet or attached to a child’s shoe or belt loop. In the event that an individual goes missing, a caregiver can contact the company that provides the device in order to identify the missing person’s location.
Schumer said his proposal is modeled after an existing federal program that provides tracking devices for those with Alzheimer’s disease.
The senator first called for the Justice Department to provide tracking devices for individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities in November. Schumer said he is working with the agency to put a program in place but indicated that legislation is needed to ensure that the Justice Department has the authority and the funding to act.