Thousands of American families struggling on very different fronts will received federal support now that President Obama has signed into law two separate bills late Friday, one to help prevent international child abduction and return American children now held overseas, and the other targeting $1.3 billion in federal funds to assist families touched by autism.
"What a momentous day for thousands of families across America," said Rep. Chris Smith, the author of the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction and Return Act (H.R. 3212) and the author of the Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research and Support (CARES) Act (H.R. 4631). "While different in scope, these new laws have one, overriding common theme: making the federal government work better for children and families.
"Yesterday, if you were a parent whose American child was abducted to a foreign land, the State Department took a step back and quickly outlined the limitations on what it would do to help," Smith said.
"With the enactment of the ‘Goldman Act’ that policy changes. The State Department gets new tools to effectively engage the fight and work several fronts to get our children back," Smith said.
"The Goldman Act works to right the terrible wrong of international child abduction, end the enormous pain and suffering endured by separated children and parents, and force the federal government to act to bring abducted children home," Smith said. "Left behind parents will now have tangible support and backing from their federal government."
Smith's Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research and Support Act, The Autism CARES Act, builds on Smith's long established record of assisting the now 1-68 children who have been identified with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). According to the latest CDC data released in March, New Jersey has the highest prevalence rate in the nation, with one in 45 children identified as having ASD.
"The Autism CARES Act authorizes $1.3 billion over five years to continue the critical pipeline of federal research dollars that are working to identify best practices for early intervention, treatment and care for families touched by autism," said Smith who has authored previous legislation that has helped form the base line of federal autism programs.
"And the new law, for the first time, tasks the federal government with examining and anticipating needs for autistic adolescents who are 'aging out' of their school-based support and transitioning into adulthood," he said.
Last month Smith held a congressional hearing that delved into successful corporate programs designed to employ persons with ASD worldwide. He said every year 50,000 youths with autism enter into adulthood and communities that are unprepared to meet their need. The federal government can and must play a role in identifying new ways to assist people with ASD in our communities.
Smith said both laws were inspired by the love, work and tenacity of local parents fighting for their children.
The child abduction law is named after David Goldman and his son Sean of Monmouth County, N.J. who were separated for over five years after an international abduction to Brazil. Smith traveled to Brazil with David Goldman twice to help bring Sean home in 2009. Goldman now works to help other left behind parents reunite with their children.
“We finally have a national law that has some teeth in it to prevent future abductions and also get immediate action for victim families," said David Goldman. "Just as it had been in my case, many of these families have been suffering for years fighting to be reunited with their abducted American children. This is a terrific result of bipartisan work. The enactment of this law has been long overdue and is a life boat for these families.”
Regarding the Autism CARES Act, Smith credited Bobbie and Billy Gallagher of Ocean County, N.J.--the parents of two small children with autism who visited his office 17 years ago. Using their own extensive research, the Gallaghers demonstrated how far behind the federal research agencies were in their understanding and work on autism.
“The Gallaghers are pioneers in the effort to find better treatment and interventions for children with autism. Together with other parents they have been tenacious in their efforts to see this bill passed into law,” Smith said.
“The laws we have today to help families with autism would not be on the books were it not for them," he said.