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Special needs registry program launches in Carolina Beach

Published: Jan. 14, 2022 at 2:06 PM EST
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CAROLINA BEACH, N.C. (WECT) - Officers in Carolina Beach are working to spread the word about a new program aimed at being proactive when it comes to interacting with families with special needs.

The C.A.R.E. program, which is an acronym for children and resident encounters, is a registry aimed to help neighbors and visitors alike, whether it’s an adult family member with dementia or a child on the autism spectrum that has a history of wandering.

The program launched this October and the department already has a handful of participants.

Families answer a questionnaire outlining basic contact information, the person’s physical description, and important details about their history, routine, and places they might go first if they wandered away.

From there, the information goes into the system to be used if the person gets lost, or needs help from first responders.

It’s an effort that’s personal for its creator, CBPD Detective Brandon Smith. Smith has two sons with special needs.

“For a family that has that loved one that has special needs, they can register this person and it really gives them peace of mind,” said Smith. “The last thing a parent wants to do when a crisis occurs is give their loved one’s name, date of birth, all the critical information that we need to try and find this person — a picture. If we already have that information, we can skip all that, and go straight to trying to find them.”

Smith knows firsthand how it feels to be a parent in crisis. In the last year, his son wandered away.

“It was the scariest moment of my entire life — thank God we found him within six minutes. It’s an extremely fast response, but that was only because of things that are already put in place, like a GPS tracker and the local law enforcement in that area,” said Smith. " It seemed like forever. You can go a long way in six minutes.”

The aim of the CARE program is to help investigators make the most of each precious minute of the search, and minimize the questions for distraught family members.

“You’re talking to a parent that’s in one of the worst instances they’ve ever been involved in, so you’re asking all these questions and sometimes they don’t even have the answer because their thought process is just to locate their child, to look for their loved one,” said CBPD Sgt Colby Edens.

The registry can also help officers tailor law enforcement’s response. The questionnaire prompts families to pass along information that can help officers understand how to keep a person suffering from dementia calm once found, to turn down radios when interacting with an individual with a sensory disorder, or notify police not to approach a child with epilepsy with flashing lights on their patrol cars.

“It’s extremely important to have this if you have a loved one with special needs. It’s a puzzle — it’s another puzzle piece to the big picture, and that picture is basically to keep your loved ones safe,” said Detective Smith.

It’s not all about emergency situations either. Smith adds the department wants to use the registry to pass along information about resources and free events families might be interested in participating in also. If you’re interested in learning more about CARE, visit the agency’s website here.

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