Trying to keep autistic kids safe
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“The NCPD will soon launch a tracking-device program,” said county spokeswoman Katie Grilli-Robles, though she declined to be more specific. But she added that since 2010, the county has had the Return Every Adult and Child Home program, known as REACH, which is designed to provide police with vital information and photos of those who have cognitive disorders such as autism, Alzheimer’s or dementia.
The Byrne Grant Program helps law enforcement agencies pay for crime-prevention programs, police equipment and training. Nearly $280 million in funding was approved last year by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, though precisely how much money could be spent on the tracking devices is uncertain. After Oquendo’s death, Sen. Charles Schumer contacted U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to inquire about making the money available for that purpose. In addition, Schumer has also proposed Avonte’s Law, which would create a $10 million grant program specifically for protecting children with autism.
An electronic tracking device could be worn as a bracelet or watch, attached to a shoe or a belt loop, or sewn into a child’s clothing. If a child went missing, a caregiver would call the monitoring company to locate him or her. Most such devices cost hundreds of dollars, but a child’s family would pay only a monthly monitoring fee.
Lisa Ruddy, director of education policy for the New York-based Autism Action Network, said she believes it is vital that people with autism who have a history of wandering wear tracking devices. “There is no question that the anxiety of parents will be significantly reduced if their child is wearing a tracking device, especially under the care of another individual,” Ruddy said. “I would caution that this should not relax the supervision of a parent, caretaker or teacher in any way. The parent should always make sure that the person watching their child is vigilant in keeping them safe even with the device.”