April 19, 2017AWS Foundation, in collaboration with the Fort Wayne Fire Department, will offer free Safety Kits to families of children with special needs. The kits are designed to safeguard against wandering and other dangerous situations involving children with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

Intended to assist family members and caregivers with prevention and when in emergency situations, safety kits are available daily between the hours of 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM at all 19 neighborhood Fort Wayne Fire Stations located across the city.

“Kids with special needs can be prone to wandering, to place themselves in dangerous situations and are much more likely to be bullied than others,” says Tom O'Neill, AWS Foundation Board Chair. “The goal of this safety kit is to provide families with a variety of tools designed to help prevent a potentially harmful situation from occurring and to give them more resources if an emergency occurs.”

Patti Hays, CEO of AWS Foundation states, “The foundation developed the safety kit to proactively protect children with special needs who are among the most vulnerable members of our community. We’ve asked the Fire Department to help us distribute them because the local firehouse is a vital part of every neighborhood and plays a critical role should there be an emergency. We want kids to recognize it as a safe place and firefighters as their friends should they need help.”

Initial production consists of 2,000 kits. AWS Foundation sees this as a starting point as they work to better understand the unmet needs of children with disabilities in the community that could benefit from receiving a kit. The kit is designed to address a number of safety concerns from wandering, bullying and seclusion to safety prevention methods both at home and school.

Several items contained in the kit are produced by companies that employ individuals with disabilities with employment being one of AWS Foundation’s five community initiatives. The kits were assembled by FWCS students with special needs as part of the Scherer Resources vocational skills training program located at Anthis Career Center. The program prepares high school students with special needs as they transition from the school environment to work and community life.

“We’re fortunate to live in a caring and giving community that values and appreciates all residents,” said Mayor Tom Henry. “The City of Fort Wayne and the Fort Wayne Fire Department are honored to be part of this collaborative effort to make a lasting and meaningful difference for individuals with special needs.”

One of the biggest concerns expressed by caregivers who tend to people with cognitive problems is how to keep them safe. In children, wandering is a risk associated with many conditions, such as autism spectrum disorder, Down syndrome and head injuries. A study by the Interactive Autism Network found that 49% of children with autism are prone to wandering from safety. A family may first become aware of wandering behavior when they are faced with the fact that a child has left the home, yard or their side unattended. Many children with a cognitive disability do not grow out of a tendency to wander as they enter adulthood. The Special Needs Safety Kit for Kids provides information and tools for prevention and to help families to develop a safety plan should there be an emergency.

“The Fort Wayne Fire Department’s commitment to this community doesn’t stop at the emergency response.  Prevention is a very important part of our mission to save lives and participating in this initiative will hopefully prevent injuries to some of our most vulnerable citizens,” says Fire Chief Eric Lahey. “The Fort Wayne Fire Department applauds the good work of AWS Foundation.”

Special Needs Safety Kits for Kids will also be available to families of children receiving developmental specialty care at Lutheran Hospital or Parkview Hospital