In an effort to locate missing youth with autism, the Lincoln Police Department launched a pilot program of Project Lifesaver in Lancaster County, NE, reports 1011 News. The Project Lifesaver program equips individuals children and youth with disabilities with a frequency emitting bracelet or anklet that can be tracked by law enforcement officials if they go missing.
Project Lifesaver is a 501 (C)(3) public safety non-profit organization that provides public safety agencies with equipment and training for locating missing at-risk populations, such as children and youth with cognitive disorders. Agencies that use Project Lifesaver have searches that average 30 minutes. The Lincoln Police Department told 1011 News, “the search for a missing child could take anywhere from 3-8 hours…sometimes more”. Searches for missing persons can be expensive and time-consuming as well reports 1011 News.
Vicki Depenbusch, Program Director at Autism Family Network, spent three years working with Lancaster County to launch the program. She told 1011 News, “As a mother of a child with autism myself, I know my biggest fear when he was little was him going missing.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that children and youth with autism have trouble understanding unsafe situations. A survey published by the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that 49% of the 598 parents surveyed reported their child and teen with autism to wander.
According to the CDC children and youth primarily wander because they have fun exploring, are searching for a less stressful place, or get drawn towards something they find interesting.
According to the Project Lifesaver website, they aim to help law enforcement locate children and youth with disabilities because they are “prone to the life-threatening behavior of wandering”. 1011 News reports that 20 children in Lancaster County, NE, will participate in the pilot program. The Lincoln Police Department and Lincoln Sherriff’s Office hope to expand the program to adults with dementia and Alzheimer’s.