The Scott County Sheriff’s Office is hosting its first Sensory-Friendly Safety Day Saturday, Aug. 10 at the Spring Lake Town Hall Community Center from 1 to 3 p.m. The free event will unite law enforcement personnel, firefighters and emergency responders from across Scott County to meet children, adults and teens with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.
New Market Township resident Molly Hoffard approached Scott County Sheriff Luke Hennen with the idea when she found herself wondering who could provide help if her 8-year-old nonverbal autistic son ever wandered away from home.
“None of this information is given to you when you move anywhere. Especially in a more rural area, like where we live,” Hoffard said. “In our case, him wandering away is our biggest fear because he does not have a typical understanding of danger. He loves to run and he loves water, so that’s scary.”
For many parents of children with intellectual or developmental disabilities, Hoffard explains, it is unnerving to wonder if law enforcement will misunderstand their child’s behavior, especially as many individuals with those kinds of disabilities have not been exposed to sirens and loud noises in a safe environment and may react adversely to them. Her idea is that the event will provide families like hers with an opportunity to meet officers, ask questions and perhaps check out a fire truck or ambulance in order to build a level of comfort that isn’t quite there yet.
“Our hope is that it would be a positive interaction with law enforcement and that it would be a way for them to engage with people in uniform to see the lights, see the vehicles and not have fear,” Hennen said. “More exposure is always good for all kids.”
In the last half hour of the event, there will be an optional opportunity where lights and sirens will be turned on, offering a safe, non-emergency setting to possibly lessen that fear and calm anxiety in the future.
Hoffard said Hennen also made her aware of what the county offers her son and others with disabilities, such as Project Lifesaver and The Vitals App, which equips first responders with personalized information about an individual’s needs.
“To eliminate some fear, build some connections and gain some information would maybe help a few parents sleep a little better at night,” Hoffard said.
Hoffard considers herself an advocate for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and is a graduate of Partners in Policymaking, an eight-month, comprehensive training that teaches disability law, policies and advocacy skills.
According to Hoffard, the classes were “intense” and delved deep into the dark history of how disabled individuals have been mistreated in society. The program also taught Hoffard the importance of impacting her local government, which she says led her to contact her county sheriff about a potential Safety Day event. At the federal level, Hoffard is currently working to reintroduce a bill that bans restraint and seclusion in schools, something she says will “take a lot of work” but hopes to achieve down the road.
“I’m just doing this because there’s a need for full inclusion in our community,” Hoffard said. “Someone has to do it, so it might as well be me.”
Several local agencies, including the sheriff’s office, local police departments, fire departments, and emergency medical services are planning to participate in the event. There will also be a cookie dough food truck.
Those with any questions or concerns about what to expect are encouraged to contact Scott County Sheriff’s Office Community Engagement Deputy Amy Lueck at 952-496-8862 or ALueck@co.scott.mn.us.