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Bipartisan senators introduce bill to protect individuals who wander

March 08, 2016
Washington, DC— Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York have introduced legislation to help families locate missing loved ones who have autism or other conditions that may cause them to wander away from caregivers. S.2614, also known as Kevin and Avonte’s Law, will reauthorize the expired Missing Alzheimer’s Disease Patient Alert Program and include new provisions to support people with autism.  
Kevin and Avonte’s Law is named in honor of two boys with autism who perished after wandering. Nine-year-old Kevin Curtis Wills jumped into Iowa’s Raccoon River near a park and drowned in 2008.  Fourteen year-old Avonte Oquendo left his school and drowned in New York City’s East River in 2014. 
The bill allows Justice Department grants to be used by law enforcement agencies and nonprofits for education and training programs to prevent wandering. The bill also provides access to resources to help individuals who become separated from their caregivers. The grants will facilitate training and emergency protocols for school personnel, supply first responders with additional information and resources, and make local tracking technology programs available for individuals who may wander from safety.   
“We’ve all seen the heartbreaking stories of families frantically trying to locate a missing loved one whose condition caused him or her to wander off.  We’ve also seen benefits of the Amber Alert program and other notification systems to locate missing children and bring relief to families through community assistance.  Kevin and Avonte’s Law will use similar concepts and other technology to help locate people with Alzheimer’s Disease or other forms of dementia as well as children with autism spectrum disorders who may be prone to wander away from their families or caregivers.  It also will make resources available to equip first responders and other community officials with the training necessary to better prevent and respond to these cases,” Grassley said in a release announcing the legislation. 
The tragic deaths of Kevin Wills and Avonte Oquendo underscore the need to safeguard children from wandering.  According to a recent national survey, a third of children with autism had wandered within the past year.   
“We must move rapidly to implement the potentially life-saving precautions like voluntary tracking devices that will protect our precious children. That is why we are fighting for the prompt passage of Kevin and Avonte's Law, which will provide federal funds for voluntary tracking devices for children and expand services for families and children who have Autism Spectrum Disorder in which 'wandering' from parents or caregivers is common. This technology will allow parents of all children with autism, no matter their means, to use the benefits of a high-tech solution to an age-old problem,” said U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer. 
The legislation is also cosponsored by Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina.  
“I’m honored to join Senator Grassley and Senator Schumer in their effort to create a system that will help locate children with autism who are prone to wandering,” said Senator Tillis. “This legislation will give families in North Carolina and across the nation the peace of mind that our local communities and first responders have the resources to help find missing children with autism spectrum disorder and adults with Alzheimer’s Disease.”   
Autism Speaks has partnered with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and Project Lifesaver International to provide safety training and resources to more than 10,000 people with autism and their families and more than 11,000 first responders as well as hosting safety fairs across the country as a resource for local communities.  
"All too often, our hearts break when families face the tragic loss of a loved one who goes missing. Kevin and Avonte’s Law is a major step forward to help families, caregivers and first responders protect our loved ones and save the lives of those who may wander," said Stuart Spielman, Senior Policy Advisory and Counsel at Autism Speaks. "We look forward to supporting this critical legislation as it moves forward and we are extremely grateful to Senators Schumer, Grassley and Tillis for their leadership to improve the safety for individuals with autism or conditions that may cause them to wander."   
If you want to advocate for safety and wandering legislation, be sure to sign up for autism votes here