The Justice Department will make funding available immediately to provide free electronic tracking devices for kids with autism who are at risk of wandering.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday that his department has existing grant money that can be used for the technology.
Police departments nationwide can begin applying for funding immediately, Holder said. Local law enforcement would then use the money to pay for tracking devices to distribute to families who want them.
Holder made the commitment while testifying before a U.S. Senate panel.
The comments come days after U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said he was introducing legislation that would allocate $10 million to the Justice Department to create a grant program to provide tracking devices to families wishing to monitor their kids with autism and other developmental disabilities due to wandering concerns.
The plan is modeled after an existing federal program that provides tracking devices for those with Alzheimer’s disease.
During the hearing Wednesday, Holder called Schumer’s concern for kids with autism “legitimate.”
“I think that given the nature of the unique issues that kids with autism issues face and given the way in which our nation has responded to adults with Alzheimer’s issues, that they ought to be treated in much the same way,” the attorney general said.
Schumer first floated the idea of funding tracking devices last November in response to the disappearance of Avonte Oquendo, a 14-year-old with autism who went missing from his New York City school and was recently found dead.
About half of individuals with autism are prone to wandering, research suggests. Tracking devices can be worn as a bracelet, attached to a child’s shoe or belt loop or even sewn into clothing. In the event that an individual goes missing, a caregiver can contact the monitoring company for the device to pinpoint the person’s location.
Even with Holder’s commitment, Schumer said he will press forward with his legislation in order to ensure a permanent funding source is established for the program.