By Christina Santucci
A federal lawmaker plans to introduce a $10 million bill to create a voluntary tracking program and expand support services for children with developmental disorders in response to the death of a 14-year-old autistic boy whose remains were found in College Point three months after he ran out of his Long Island City school.
“The tragic end to the search for Avonte Oquendo clearly demonstrates that we need to do more to protect children with autism who are at risk of running away,” U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said a statement about the legislation dubbed “Avonte’s Law.”
The tracking program would expand one already in place to find seniors with Alzheimer’s, and the devices would only be set up for parents who choose to use them, the senator said.
“By expanding the innovative program we currently have in place for at-risk Alzheimer’s patients, we will help thousands of families avoid what Avonte’s family just experienced,” Schumer said in a statement.
Avonte was last seen Oct. 4 at the Riverview School, a public school for special needs children close to the East River in Long Island City. DNA testing confirmed last week that his remains were found along the rocky shoreline at Powell’s Cove.
“There is no medicine to relieve the pain from the loss of a child,” said the Oquendo family’s lawyer, David Perecman. “However, Avonte’s law will make sure that this grave loss and the pain it has wrought will not be vain.”
Perecman had alluded to the announcement after a public funeral for the Rego Park teen in Greenwich Village Saturday morning, and during a Sunday news conference at Schumer’s Manhattan office, they were joined by Avonte’s mother, Vanessa Fontaine.
Avonte’s Law would create a new grant program within the Justice Department that would be available to law enforcement, schools and non-profits, which assist children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. It would authorize $10 million in federal funds to help pay for the tracking devices, training for parents, schools and law enforcement, as well as other methods to assist families of children who wander away from caregivers.
Tracking devices, which cost about $80 or $90 and a few dollars per month to operate, can be worn as wristwatches, anklets or clipped onto belt loops or onto shoelaces, as well as being woven into specially designed clothing, according to Schumer’s office.
Reach managing editor Christina Santucci by e-mail at [email protected] by phone at 718-260-4589.