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System Failing Kiwi Kids With Vision Impairment

System Failing Kiwi Kids With Mild And Moderate Vision Impairment

New Zealand children with mild and moderate vision impairment are falling through the cracks unnecessarily a new report has found.

Approximately 10-20% of New Zealand children have vision impairment, including those who need glasses to correct their vision problem.

But children with mild and moderate vision impairment and their families are not getting the support they need because of problems with vision screening services, poor parent and educator information and limited access to assessment and intervention services.

The report Improving services for children with mild and moderate vision impairment in New Zealand has been published by See Here, a project that focuses on support for the large number of New Zealand children with mild and moderate vision impairment.

The report states that changes in health and education policy are needed to ensure Kiwi children are detected early and get the help they need.

See Here Project Manager, Janet Digby, says the current policies are not allowing equal access to screening, assessment and intervention services for all families.

Children in New Zealand are currently screened for some vision problems at 4, 5 and 11 years of age. A new and comprehensive check being introduced this year will be done before children go to school and will include some vision screening. This will replace the vision screening currently done with five year olds.

A review of the latest New Zealand Vision and Hearing Screening Report (2005/06) showed a large difference between vision screening participation rates for European (77%), Mäori (45%) and Pacific children (29%).

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The See Here report is calling for free vision assessments for all children suspected of having vision impairment.

Dr Peter Holst of See Here says it is not realistic to expect families to access hospital optometrists if they can't afford private care.

"At the moment, assessment services for children with a suspected vision loss are often only provided by private sector optometrists. That means families have to pay to have their child's vision tested and creates an inequality of access between those who can afford private care and those who are forced to access the handful of optometrists working in hospitals, through the public system," Dr Holst says.

Funding for children's glasses is also limited, and only available annually to families of children under 16 with a Community Services Card or High User Card. No funding for other interventions is provided, unless the child's vision impairment is more severe.
Janet Digby says there is an inequality of care when compared to children with hearing impairments, who do not have to pay for hearing aids or other assistive devices. All these devices, including repairs, are fully funded by government.

Paul Manning, Executive Officer of Parents of Vision Impaired representing more than 2000 members nationwide, is concerned families are not getting the help they need because of the cost of assessment and lack of adequate intervention services.
"Many families need a test and a pair of glasses for their child but under the current arrangements they can't afford it.

"There is also a misconception about the vision screening conducted in schools. Parents think if their child passes the vision screening their vision is okay, but the screening does not check near vision."

Cindy Summerfield is a parent of a child with glasses. He was having trouble learning to read and had headaches. He was screened at school, but Cindy didn't know that vision screening did not include a check for near vision problems.

"I thought his vision must have been fine, but was suspicious that he wasn't seeing the books properly."
Cindy decided to take her son, Shaun, now 10 years old, to an optometrist. She didn't know he might be able to get his vision checked at the local hospital.
"He now has glasses and his reading has really improved, but we had no idea we were eligible for any assistance. If we hadn't had the resources and skill to follow it up, Shaun would still be having learning problems because of his sight."

Vision Hearing Technicians Society President Glynne Morressey says cases like Shaun and Cindy's highlights the lack of national information for parents on vision (and hearing) screening.
"National monitoring of vision hearing screening services and technician training and monitoring all stopped two years ago. This means that some technicians are screening children without formal training, while others may not have had their practice checked for 2 years or more, meaning they may not be screening children correctly.

New Zealand Association of Optometrists (NZAO) Executive Director Lesley Frederikson, says her organisation supports the introduction of publicly funded vision assessments for all children referred through vision screening.

"This change in policy would, at least provide parents with a clear diagnosis for their child," she says.


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