The Department of Justice has announced that local police departments can access funds to pay for voluntary tracking devices for kids with autism. Funds are available to law enforcement agencies, not directly to families of individuals with autism. These agencies can request grant money to pay for tracking devices and to provide education and training related to the issue of wandering.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced last week, that his office had determined that Byrne funding could be used for tracking devices. “Byrne grant money can be made and will be made available for the purchase of these devices,” Holder told a U.S. Senate panel.
The commitment responded to a request from New York Democrat Sen. Charles Schumer. Sen. Schumer was prompted to take action after Avonte Oquendo, the 14-year-old autistic teen, went missing from his New York City school in October and was recently found dead.
According to Max Dworin, a spokesman for Schumer, to request funding from the federal Byrne program, police should go through the same process they typically utilize. He said Law enforcement agencies can apply for grant money to pay for tracking devices and to provide education and training related to the issue of wandering.
“Police departments apply for these every year for a variety of local law enforcement projects,” Dworin said. “Now, essentially, the Department of Justice has opened up this funding for autism.”
Organizations and schools should work with local police to put programs in place because all applications must go through law enforcement agencies, Dworin said. Police departments that obtain funding will be responsible for designing and implementing their local program. They will also determine how tracking devices will be distributed.
Nearly $280 million in funding through the Byrne program was approved in 2013 by The Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance. It’s uncertain how much money could go toward tracking devices.
Schumer has proposed federal legislation separately that would allocate $10 million in committed funds to pay for the technology. Schumer’s bill calls for tracking devices to be made available to families wanting to monitor those who are at risk for wandering with autism or other developmental disorders.
Kevin Lewis, Justice Department spokesman did not provide any explanation Wednesday about whether the new opportunity through the Byrne grant program would be limited to people with autism only or if funds could be used for tracking devices for individuals with other types of developmental disabilities as well.
About half of children with autism are prone to wandering as research indicates. Electronic tracking devices can be worn as a bracelet, attached to a shoe, a belt loop, or sewn into an individual’s clothing. A caregiver can call the monitoring company associated with the device in order to locate the individual, in the event that they go missing.
Though the technology can be cost prohibitive and a monthly fee is often involved, many families are currently using tracking devices. The Justice Department provides funding to pay for similar devices for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, who are also at risk for wandering under an existing plan.