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FocusFirst provides a cost-effective direct response to the vision care problems of children who live in urban and rural areas in Alabama. Under the supervision of Impact staff, undergraduate and graduate students ensure that children, six months to five years of age, in Head Starts and lower-income daycares are screened for vision problems using technologically advanced photo optic scan cameras. All children failing the screenings receive subsidized follow-up care through our partner nonprofit Sight Savers America. FocusFirst fulfills Impact’s mission by providing a unique service opportunity designed to address an important community need while developing a stronger sense of responsibility within college students to improve the community health care needs of a large segment of Alabama’s population.
Poor vision adversely affects tens of thousands of children in our state each year, leading to a substandard education. This is largely the result of poor public awareness about the importance of eye care in young children and the inability of children to recognize their own vision problems. These problems are heightened in families from economically disadvantaged backgrounds by financial hardship and lack of access to appropriate medical care. According to national and local research studies, "Thousands of Alabama’s children grow up in rural areas of the state, distant from any eye service providers, often with no means of transportation to obtain needed eye care" (Eye Health Needs Assessment for Alabama, April 2000, prepared for The Alabama Eye Institute).
Furthermore, it is well recognized that vision screenings are most effective during the preschool years when early identification and treatment of many conditions can prevent irreversible vision damage or loss. Unfortunately, although many children in daycare, pre-K, and Head Start programs are known to need eye care, many go without it. Despite the importance of early screening and detection, it is estimated that only 21% of preschool children receive comprehensive vision screenings. Further exacerbating this situation, vision problems among children have been linked with behavioral risks, reduced academic performance, and low self-esteem (Johnson R. Division Screening of Academically and Behaviorally At-Risk Students: Journal of Behavioral Optometry, p 7, copyright 1996).
Over 1,900 college students at twenty colleges and universities throughout Alabama have participated with FocusFirst. Over the last six years, these students have screened more than 88,000 children in all 67 counties across the state, with approximately 11% of the children failing the screenings and receiving subsidized follow-up care as necessary through our partner nonprofit, Sight Savers America.
- Sarah Louise Smith
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