HOUSTON - KHOU 11 News is continuing our promise to stand for Houston by digging deeper into protecting children with special needs.

Thanksgiving weekend, Pearland Police recovered the body of 9-year-old Marcus McGhee, a non-verbal child with autism. McGhee wandered off his uncle’s property Thanksgiving day.

League City and several surrounding municipalities started the Guardian Program in 2015 to assist police responding to calls involving people with special needs including people who are non-verbal or affected by: Autism, Alzheimer’s, Dementia, or other mental/intellectual disability.

At 18-months-old, Traci Wallach’s son, Samuel, wasn’t speaking. Therapy helped his speech but doctors diagnosed him with autism in 2014.

“He likes to be outside,” said Wallach. “He likes water and he likes to swim. It [wandering] can be a problem.”

After the diagnosis, Wallach started working on a system to alert police about people with special needs before they arrive on the scene of an emergency. Participation in the Guardian Program is completely voluntary and free. A Guardian application must be submitted to the League City Police Department annually.

Guardian Program Application by KHOU on Scribd

Participant Eligibility:

  1. Participant or guardian is a resident of League City
  2. Participant attends school within the League City Police Department jurisdiction
  3. Participant may be unable to communicate basic personal information due to a diagnosed medical disorder
  4. Participant is prone to wander away or runaway from guardians, residence or school due to diagnosed medical disorder

Guardians voluntarily submit a completed application and photo with a required medical information

The Guardian Program registry allows first responders to have access to critical information designed to help safely reunite families of registered participants.

For example, when police respond to the Wallach’s house, they already know about Samuel. They have an updated picture, a description of his special needs and his favorite song to calm or help locate him.

“If he were to get lost right now there is no wait period, it’s an automatic. It sends to local PD and they report it to local news stations,” said Wallach.

Stickers and license plates mark the hundreds of families that have signed up in the past year. Surrounding municipalities like Friendswood, Kemah, Sugarland and Dickerson are part of the information sharing database.

“It helps to have that information already in the database for the police, fire, EMS and I honestly think more police departments need to get on board,” said Wallach.

Just two days ago, KHOU 11 news featured GPS tracking devices for children with special needs who are prone to wander. Technology like that can cost around $50 per month. Wallach argues that the Guardian Program is the best cost effective way of getting piece of mind.

Check with your local police department to see if your area has the Guardian Program or one like it.