Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has reintroduced a bill that would create a permanent federal funding stream for voluntary tracking devices for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, to reduce safety risks associated with wandering.
The bill, known as Avonte’s Law, is named after Avonte Oquendo, whose tragic story brought national attention to the issue in 2013. That October, Avonte, then 14 years old, wandered from his school in Long Island City, Queens.
Despite one of the largest city-wide searches in New York City history, Avonte was not found until three months later, when his body was found along the banks of the East River.
In January 2014, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Department of Justice would begin providing funding for parents to obtain subsidized tracking devices for children prone to wandering. The funds come from an existing program for people with Alzheimers.
Sen. Schumer also introduced the first version of Avonte’s Law, to provide a permanent funding source for the program. The New York City Council unanimously passed a bill in August 2014, requiring the city to prevent wandering risks.
Under the new version of Avonte’s Law, introduced January 19, the DOJ would created a new, $10 million grant program, allowing the DOJ to award funding for tracking devices to local law enforcement agencies and other qualified organizations.
Parents receiving the devices would work with schools, local law enforcement and other entities with experience in this area, such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The program would be completely voluntary.
To further bring attention to the issue, Sen. Schumer brought Vanessa Fontaine, Avonte’s mother, as his guest to the State of the Union.
“My legislation will help Avonte Oquendo’s memory live on, while helping to prevent any more children with autism from going missing,” Sen. Schumer said in a news release.
The tracking device can be worn as non-tampering wristwatches, anklets, clipped onto belt loops or shoelaces, or woven into specially designed clothing.
Studies have shown that as many as half of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders have a tendency to wander.
“Senator Schumer’s legislation focuses attention on an issue that gravely affects so many in the autism community,” Autism Speaks president Liz Feld said in the news release. “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.”
A video of Feld and Dr. Paul Wang, senior vice president of medical research with Autism Speaks, discussing the new legislation on ABC’s “Up Close with Diana Williams” can be seen here.