House OK's Kevin and Avonte's LawSmith Bill to Help Families with Autism and Alzheimer's Passes Overwhelmingly (346-66)
Today, the House of Representatives approved Kevin and Avonte’s Law (H.R. 4919), bipartisan legislation that will help protect children with developmental disabilities, such as autism, and seniors with Alzheimer’s who are prone to wandering. Authored by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), H.R. 4919 provides targeted support to communities for locally-based, proactive programs to prevent wandering and locate missing children or seniors who have wandered from safe environments.
“This is an issue that hits home for me,” said Smith, founder and co-Chair of the Autism Caucus and the Alzheimer’s Disease Task Force. He referenced the successful use of the Project Lifesaver Program to safely bring home an 8-year-old boy with autism from Bergen County, New Jersey who wandered from his family in a public park on November 4th. “Sadly, just days later, a 4-year-old boy was pronounced dead after wandering from supervision and drowning in Salem County. Like the children for whom this legislation is named, these two New Jersey boys demonstrate how critical this legislation is to prevent such needless tragedy.”
Wandering is a safety concern for both seniors with Alzheimer’s and children with developmental disabilities. It is estimated that 60 percent of the 5.3 million individuals with Alzheimer’s, and 49 percent of the 1 in 68 children with autism have wandered. The results can be devastating: this legislation is named in honor of two boys with autism, Kevin Curtis Wills and Avonte Oquendo, who both wandered from safety and tragically drowned.
“The ‘Missing Americans Alert Program’ will fill a great unmet need, particularly in the autism community—since 2011, over 100 individuals with autism lost their lives after wandering from a safe environment,” said Smith. “Time and training are of the essence when individuals wander and Kevin and Avonte’s Law can help equip local law enforcement with the training and technology to bring these children home safely.”
Specifically, Smith’s legislation will reauthorize and expand a previously authorized program, the Missing Alzheimer’s Disease Patient Alert Program, to include children with a developmental disability and rename it the “Missing Americans Alert Program.” Grants could be made to law enforcement agencies, public safety agencies, and nonprofit organizations to provide proactive educational programing to prevent wandering to families and caretakers of individuals who wander, as well as training to first responders and school personnel in order to recognize and respond to endangered missing individuals and facilitate their rescue and recovery. Additionally, this funding could also be used for voluntary, non-invasive technologies that facilitate the rescue and recovery of wanderers.
This much needed, bipartisan legislation is supported by a number of autism, Alzheimer’s and children’s groups, including Autism Speaks, Autism New Jersey, the Autism Society, the National Autism Association, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, SafeMinds, the National Down Syndrome Society, the Alzheimer's Association, and the Alzheimer's Foundation of America.