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Sheriff Announces Program to Help At-Risk Missing

The Cook County Sheriff’s Office is making free scent kits and training available to the public to assist in locating individuals with autism or dementia who may wander away, Sheriff Thomas J. Dart announced today.

Approximately half of autistic children age 14 or younger and 60 percent of those with dementia are at risk of wandering away from caregivers and becoming injured or worse, according to studies and advocacy organizations. In 2019, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office handled 227 missing person cases alone, which included such wandering cases as well as other runaway incidents.

“Caregivers who have to worry that a loved one might wander off and become lost and injured need our help,” Sheriff Dart said. “We handle too many of these cases and they are terrifying for the family. We have to do what we can to help mitigate the chances of wandering and improve the chances of finding someone quickly.”

To that end, the Office is providing training to residential care facilities for those with autism or dementia and making scent kits available for free to caregivers. The scent kits allow caregivers to capture the scent of their loved one and store it in a cold location for up to 10 years. The kit allows tracking dogs to utilize a pure scent that is not tainted by other scents that are often in a house or on clothing.

Sheriff’s Police and staff provided the first training on wandering to families and social service providers at Little City’s main campus in Palatine on Monday and donated 100 scent kits. Little City serves more than 1,400 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The program was announced Wednesday afternoon at a press conference with representatives from Little City and Autism Speaks.

“We know through research, and from the experiences shared by our community, that wandering is a challenge for some children and adults with autism. This can be dangerous and tremendously stressful for all involved, but with the right resources and information, families and communities can develop a multifaceted safety plan to prepare for and prevent wandering,” said Colleen Shinn, Autism Speaks’ Director of Community Outreach for the Midwest and South-Central Region. “At AutismSpeaks.org, we offer a variety of resources, tools and tips to help keep people with autism safe.”

Rich Bobby, Little City’s Chief Program Officer-Children’s Services, said, “We take every measure to ensure the safety of the children and adults we serve, and we appreciate the proactive effort of the Sheriff’s Office is taking to make searches more efficient.”

The public can inquire about free scent kits by:
• Visiting www.cookcountysheriff.org/watr/home
• Emailing ccso.wandering@cookcountil.gov
• Calling (847) 635-1188, the Sheriff’s Police non-emergency line.


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