Federal government to fund tracking devices for kids with autism

Posted at 9:30 PM, May 01, 2014
and last updated 2014-05-01 23:30:33-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah parents with autistic children may soon be able to get free GPS tracking devices to help monitor the whereabouts of their kids, especially if the children are prone to wandering.

The federal government made the announcement at the end of January that $10 million will be allocated to the Justice Department for a grant program to provide these devices.

James Vaughan with Families of Autism and Aspergers Standing Together said a recent story underscores the importance of the effort.

“It makes like what we had yesterday and this morning a much quicker resolution than the 16 hours that young Steven was out there,” he said, referencing the case of an autistic teen who was found in Salt Lake City after several hours of searching.

Had Steven been equipped with an electronic tracking device, he likely could have been found and home much sooner. This year, the feds will fund tracking devices for kids with autism and other developmental disabilities that pose concerns for wandering.

“If we had devices available that are effective and can tell police exactly where these children are, it’s just a profound benefit of taxpayer cost savings, resource savings and for moms and dads just a relief that they know they can have something that is going to help find their child,” Vaughan said.

Families won’t be able to get a free device on their own. They’ll need to work with their local law enforcement agency. Police departments will need to apply for the funding, which will come out of the Byrne Grant Program, then use the money to pay for the devices to give to families who need them.

There are several devices currently on the market, some with advanced features.

Julia Howard with Amber Alert GPS says with their device, “You can see little map markers of where they've been throughout the whole day so that's their little digital breadcrumb or footprint, and you know where they're going. Did they make it to school? Did they come home from school? Are they where they're supposed to be?”

Officials with the Salt Lake City Police Department tell FOX 13 News that they regularly apply for and receive Byrne Grants. They partner with the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office and receive an allocation of more than $315,000. Some of that money could go toward paying for these devices.

The department is in the process of applying for the Byrne Grant for this fiscal year. The two departments are currently working together to create their “wish list” to determine how much of their budget will go toward these devices.