Calls for swift action in HouseSmith Welcomes Senate Passage of Kevin and Avonte’s Law to Help Seniors w/ Dementia, Children w/ Autism
Before leaving town on Thursday, the Senate passed Kevin and Avonte’s Law, legislation aimed at protecting children with autism and seniors with Alzheimer’s who are prone to engaging in wandering behavior, which tragically can have fatal consequences.
“I’m pleased that the Senate has passed Kevin and Avonte’s Law. This is a step forward in the effort to keep seniors with Alzheimer’s and children with autism safe. I’ll continue to fight for passage of this legislation in the House to ensure this bill is enacted,” said Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), author of the companion bill in the House, HR 4919.
Smith said the legislation will reauthorize and expand the existing Missing Alzheimer’s Disease Patient Alert Program, to include children with a developmental disability—such as autism—and rename it the “Missing Americans Alert Program.”
“We all empathize with a parent who learns that their child is missing, including and especially when that child has autism or another developmental disability. When children with a disability or seniors with Alzheimer’s do wander, time and training are essential to ensure their safe return,” said Smith, who is co-founder and co-chair of both the Autism Caucus and the Alzheimer’s Disease Task Force in the House.
“My home state of New Jersey has the highest prevalence rate of autism in the country, with 1 in 41 children on the spectrum—a 12 percent increase in the last two years. While wandering safety and prevention programs for children with autism are currently in place and making a positive impact through law enforcement agencies, I’ve heard from constituents that there aren’t enough resources to support these critical programs and that families who need them don’t have access,” Smith continued.
Wandering, which is also referred to as elopement, occurs when an individual leaves a safe area or a caretaker. Wandering is a safety concern for both seniors with Alzheimer’s and children with autism. It is estimated that 60 percent of individuals with Alzheimer’s and 49 percent of children with autism have wandered and we know that the results can be devastating: The legislation is named in honor of two boys with autism, Kevin Curtis and Avonte Oquendo, who both wandered from safety and tragically drowned.
The new Missing Americans Alert Program will be used to provide grants to law enforcement agencies, public safety agencies, and non-profit organizations to promote initiatives that will reduce the risk of injury and death relating to the wandering characteristics of some children with autism, as well as individuals with Alzheimer’s. Kevin and Avonte’s Law will reauthorize the program for five years, with an annual funding level of $2 million dollars.
Funding can be used to provide proactive educational programing to prevent wandering such as providing prevention and response information, including online training resources, to families or caretakers of individuals who wander. Additionally, funding can be used to provide education and training to first responders, school personnel, clinicians, and the public in order to recognize and respond to endangered missing individuals and facilitate their rescue and recovery. Funding can also be used for innovative locative technology to facilitate rescue and recovery.
The Senate version of the bill, S. 2614, introduced by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), includes a new provision mandating the Department of Justice (DOJ) to provide a report identifying the number of law enforcement agencies that apply for grants, the number that are awarded funding, and the number of individuals who benefit from the program. Smith previously had requested similar information from the Department of Justice.