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Several Cases Of Wandering Special Needs Children And Adults In Western New York Could Have Been Prevented By Wearable Tracking Devices That Allow Law Enforcement To Locate Vulnerable Children And Adults – Almost Half Of Children With Autism Will Wander At Least Once

Schumer Is Calling For The Immediate Passage Of “Kevin& Avonte’s Law” Which Would Create A Vital Grant Program To Provide Families With Lifesaving Locator Devices; Monroe County Is Among One-Third Of NYS Counties Now Without A Locator Device Program

Schumer: No Time To Lose To Pass “Kevin & Avonte’s Law” And Help Parents And Caregivers Keep Track Of At-Risk Loved Ones Prone To Wandering Away

On the heels of the three day disappearance and subsequent manhunt for a Livingston County woman who wandered from her parent’s home U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, launched a new push to pass “Kevin & Avonte’s Law” – a bill that will create and fund a program to provide voluntary tracking devices and expand support services for families who care for someone with autism, dementia, or other special needs, where “bolting,” “elopement,” or “wandering” from parents or caregivers can happen. This important legislation reauthorizes and expands an existing program designed to assist in locating Alzheimer's disease and dementia patients, known as the Missing Alzheimer's Disease Patient Alert Program, to include children with developmental disabilities, such as autism, and renames it the Missing Americans Alert Program. In expanding this program, this bill will ensure dedicated Department of Justice (DOJ) grant funds are available for local law enforcement and non-profit entities to provide wandering prevention training and to implement lifesaving technology programs to find individuals who have wandered. The programs could be educational, or they could include funding to make non-invasive tracking technology available for those who wander. Finally, the bill would provide funding for training of individuals on how to use and maintain these devices and outreach to community members to better educate and create awareness around identifying and aiding children and adults with developmental disabilities who have wandered. Schumer said this bill would provide critical resources to Monroe County and similar communities where tracking device programs are not currently available and therefore should be passed immediately.

“We need to do more to protect vulnerable children, seniors and adults with autism, dementia, or special needs who are at risk of wandering away,” said Senator Schumer. “Thousands of families face the awful reality each and every day that their child or relative may put their lives in jeopardy by wandering away, risking injuries to themselves and others, or worse. Making voluntary tracking devices available will help put these hurting families at ease, so there is no time to lose to pass “Kevin & Avonte’s Law” so that parents and caregivers can get lifesaving locator devices that can quickly pinpoint their loved one’s location if they go missing.”

Senator Schumer initially drafted this bill in 2014 after working with the mother of Avonte Oqendo, a 14-year-old boy with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), who bolted from his school in Queens in October 2013. Authorities and volunteers searched for Avonte for more than three months, until his remains were eventually discovered along a beach in Queens after which law enforcement concluded he had fallen into the East River and drowned. Republican Senator Grassley of Iowa and Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota have both since joined the charge after similar tragedies occurred with 9-year old Kevin Curtis Wills a child with Autism from Iowa and 6-year old Hamza Elmi, an autistic child from Minnesota. Schumer said all could have been found and saved if they were wearing a locator device, which is why Senator Schumer is pushing this legislation to get the word out about this important technology and to help communities like Monroe County fund the devices.

S. 2070, the Kevin & Avonte’s Law of 2017 for which Schumer is an original co-sponsor, would reauthorize and expand an existing program, the Missing Alzheimer’s Disease Patient Alert Program, to include children with a developmental disability like autism. The new program, called the Missing Americans Alert Program, would be administered by the U.S Justice Department and provide grant funding to law enforcement agencies, public safety agencies, and non-profits for wandering prevention education work, as well as to provide caregivers with tracking devices that they and law enforcement could use to quickly locate a missing loved one. The program would be completely voluntary for parents, and would work in conjunction with schools, local law enforcement and other entities with experience in this area, such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). Schumer stressed that these devices could be life-saving, and an important resource for parents who want them, and that additional training for schools and law enforcement could help find wandering children and adults more quickly. The bill would also establish vital privacy protections to ensure that the tracking technology is used safely and the date is kept secure.

Schumer said the recent disappearance of Starrlita R. Smith, a Livingston County women with special needs who disappeared for several days from her parent’s care proves how critical Kevin and Avonte’s Law is. Ms. Smith wandered away from her parent’s home in Livingston County late last month, prompting a massive 3-day manhunt before she thankfully returned home and was treated for dehydration and malnourishment. She reportedly had wandered before, but never this long and did not have identification, a cell phone, or any devices that could be used to locate her. The Livingston County sheriff office launched what became a 3-day manhunt across the county and nearby regions using unmanned aerial vehicles, K-9 teams, investigators and patrol resources in the search. Thankfully once she was found the Livingston County Sheriff’s office provided Smith’s parents with a tracking device that their daughter will now wear to prevent a repeat incident. Livingston County is among about the two-thirds of New York State counties that participate in a tracking device program and make tracking devices available to needing caregivers.

Schumer said these wandering cases are not unique and in fact, according to the 2016 New York State Missing Persons Clearinghouse database, excluding New York City, last year Monroe County ranked third in the state for the most missing vulnerable adult cases. Nassau County had the highest number of missing vulnerable adult cases reported with 137, followed by Westchester County with 104; Monroe County with 74 cases; Orange County with 49 cases; and Saratoga County with 42 cases.

There have also been other cases such as in May 2017, when the Town of Greece Police Department reported a 76-year-old woman with dementia had wandered off. She was thankfully found unharmed several towns away in East Rochester. In 2016, a Hamlin man with dementia had wandered off for a second time before being found. The first time he wandered from Hamlin, NY he was found in Connecticut by state police as he was driving the wrong way down a road. In 2016 a 59-year old Penfield woman who suffers from dementia had wandered and was missing for several hours before she was found.

Finally, According to a 2012 Pediatrics study, almost half of children with Autism have wandered from their caregivers at some point. A 2017 report by the National Autism Foundation revealed that between 2011 and 2016, nearly one third of missing-person cases of those with autism resulted in death or required medical attention. According to AWAARE and the National Autism Association, of these children, 74 percent run or wander from their own home or from someone else’s home, 40 percent run or wander from stores and 29 percent run or wander from schools. Close calls with traffic injuries were reported for 65 percent of the missing children and close calls with drowning were reported for 24 percent of the missing children. Running and wandering in children and teens with autism takes an enormous toll on families and caregivers. 56 percent of parents reported running as one of the most stressful behaviors they have had to cope with as caregivers of a child with autism. 50 percent of parents reported receiving little guidance on preventing or addressing this common behavior.

Children, teens and adults with developmental disabilities tend to run for various reasons, including avoiding a demand or situation, sensory overload, or a desire to access something or someone that they care about. These individuals often have a significant lack of impulse control and may also lack significant safety awareness. For example, an everyday environment for a typical developing child may create anxiety and be intolerable for a child or teen with autism or adults with developmental disabilities. This may lead to running or wandering, but tracking technology devices are vital in helping families and caretakers find children and adults and bring them to safety.

Tracking technology includes personal locating devices that can prevent tragedy when individuals wander from school or home and are lost. Tracking devices can be worn as non-tampering wristwatches, anklets, or clipped onto belt loops or onto shoelaces. They can also be woven into specially designed clothing. When users of the device are missing, the caregiver/school system notifies the device company and a trained emergency team responds to the area. Recovery time for Project Lifesaver users, a maker of one of the devices, averages 30 minutes, which is 95 percent less time than it takes to find those without these tracking devices. Schumer noted that these devices should be used in conjunction with other educational and behavior supports which could be funded by a DOJ grant.

Unfortunately, according to Schumer these life-saving devices are currently only offered in about two-thirds of New York State’s counties. Schumer said it is vital that the Kevin and Avonte bill be passed in order to fund programs so that it can expand to Monroe County and beyond. Locally, Project Lifesaver program devices are offered in Livingston, Ontario, and Wayne counties, as well as in other upstate counties including Erie, Onondaga, and Albany. In those communities, law enforcement agencies have used donations or other funds to contract with the national Project Lifesaver non-profit to provide wearable locator devices to needing caregivers and families for free or at a reduced cost. The device is about the size of a watch and can be worn on the wrist or ankle. In the event the wearer of the device wanders, Law Enforcement are equipped with locating receivers that can pinpoint the wander’s location. Other devices on the market use GPS technology and other types of wearable devices to accommodate a wear’s comfort needs.

Schumer was joined by local officials.

Senator Schumer was joined by Monroe County Sheriff-elect Todd Baxter who said, “Whether it’s a vulnerable child with autism or an adult with dementia, when it comes to locating someone who has wandered away, timing is critical.” Baxter continued, “Technology that can help to quickly pinpoint the location of a missing vulnerable person saves lives, spares costly manhunts, and brings peace of mind to parents and caregivers. I appreciate Senator Schumer’s work to create this new dedicated federal grant program so that more law enforcement and non-profit agencies can look to help families in their communities access this technology.”

Bruce Holroyd, Volunteer Advocate with the Alzheimer's Association Rochester and Finger Lakes Region was also there with Senator Schumer and the County Sheriff-elect. “More than 6 in 10 adults with dementia will wander at some point,” said Holroyd. “Alzheimer’s disease affected both my father and mother-in-law so I have experienced first-hand the fear and helpless feelings when my own family members had wandered. We worry that not only could they suffer serious injury or worse to themselves, but they could endanger the lives of others within the community which is why we applaud Senator Schumer’s efforts to pass Kevin and Avonte’s Law. This law creates new dedicated funding for lifesaving tracking technology for those who wander and reauthorizes the Missing Americans Alert Program which has been shown to be a proven way to help quickly identify and reunite persons with Alzheimer’s with their families. It will save lives and bring much needed peace of mind to caregivers. I would like to personally thank Senator Schumer for his continued leadership in protecting our citizens affected by Alzheimer’s.”

Sarah Milko, Executive Director of AutismUp, a parent run organization in the Greater Rochester area serving thousands of families living with Autism said, “Research has shown that about half of children with autism will wander and parents in this community know that all too well. And while children with autism are actually prone to wander, they are among the most vulnerable to being harmed and difficult to find. They may not be verbal, may not answer to their name, they may try and hide, and can easily become disoriented. It’s vital that parents of individuals with autism have access to lifesaving help that can guard against wandering and access to technology that can help locate them when they do wander. This legislation will do just that and we’re pleased to join with Senator Schumer in support of it.”