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Congressman Bob Goodlatte

Congressman Bob Goodlatte’s Weekly Column: December 23, 2016
Bringing Them Home Safely
By Congressman Bob Goodlatte
Washington, DC (Dec. 22, 2016) - It’s a family’s worst nightmare when a loved one goes missing, especially if a child has autism or a family member has Alzheimer’s disease. Many of us know someone who has been impacted by these diseases, but unless you have gone through this situation firsthand, it is hard to imagine what these families have experienced. An estimated 60 percent of the 5.3 million individuals with Alzheimer’s and 49 percent of the 1 in 68 children with autism have wandered away, leaving safe areas and the protection of a responsible caregiver. The results can be devastating.

That is why the House of Representatives recently passed Kevin and Avonte’s Law with large, bipartisan support. This legislation is named in honor of two boys with autism who wandered away from their caregivers and tragically drowned. The special circumstances surrounding cases of individuals prone to wandering are circumstances that people in local communities, such as first responders and school personnel, are often not specifically trained to handle. Additionally, the cost to communities for a search for a missing person is extremely expensive, even in instances where the local law enforcement agency is trained.

In order to help prevent these cases, Kevin and Avonte’s Law reauthorizes a critical Justice Department grant program to help prevent folks with Alzheimer’s from wandering and also extends it to children with autism. Through this program, grants would be awarded to local law enforcement agencies, public safety agencies, and nonprofit organizations to provide educational wandering-prevention programming to families and caretakers of individuals, as well as training to first responders and school personnel to facilitate rescue and recovery.

The bill also enables parents and caregivers to apply for voluntary, non-invasive tracking technology that can be used to help locate a person who has wandered away from the care and safety of his or her home. While these devices are already in widespread use, there are many families that simply cannot afford them. The bill also takes very specific steps to address privacy concerns that some have raised, and makes it clear that these devices are only to be used on a voluntary basis and where they are the least restrictive alternative.

American communities are safer when they are equipped with the training to prevent tragedies from happening. Kevin and Avonte’s Law will assist communities in receiving valuable education on how to prevent individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and children with autism from wandering, and to respond quickly and appropriately in cases in which they do.

I have heard from families in the Sixth District who would benefit from Kevin and Avonte’s Law, and I hope this legislation will provide families across the country with much-needed assistance, as well as a little piece of mind knowing that resources and training are available to help their loved one. No family should feel heartache like Kevin and Avonte’s families faced.

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