FocusFirst Program Helps Young Children to Focus First

Today’s blog is written by Sarah J. Umsted, SC State Director, Impact America

Imagine trying to learn your letters without your most valuable sense: sight. For some children, that sense is already failing them—and no one has noticed. FocusFirst provides a cost-effective direct response to the vision care problems of children who live in urban and rural communities. Impact America – South Carolina AmeriCorps Members provide free high-tech vision screenings to children six months to five years of age in childcare centers using technologically advanced digital screening cameras. All children who fail the screening receive follow-up care from local eye care providers, with individualized case management provided by our partner nonprofit, Sight Savers America. As a result, FocusFirst ensures that all children screened receive comprehensive vision care during their crucial formative years, helping them begin their education with the best vision medically possible.

Thousands of children across Spartanburg County suffer from poor vision each year, leading to reduced academic performance, a substandard education, and low self-esteem. We know 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, many preschool-age children are known to need eye care, but go without it. This is largely due to two things: poor public awareness about the importance of eye care in young children, and the inability of children to recognize their own vision problems. And for families from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, these problems are exacerbated by financial hardship and lack of access to appropriate medical care.

FocusFirst utilizes high-tech screening cameras that can detect a much wider range of problems in preschoolers. With the support of the Mary Black Foundation, FocusFirst provided vision screenings to 2,257 children at 62 childcare centers across Spartanburg County. 187 children (8.3%) failed the screening and have received or are receiving comprehensive, individualized follow-up care as needed in collaboration with Sight Savers America and local eye care providers.

A recent FocusFirst success story is Kaylynn, a four-year-old whom FocusFirst screened last spring. Kaylynn’s mom remembers getting the results from FocusFirst with the picture of Kaylynn’s eyes on it. She initially thought the results showed a slight vision problem but immediately went to see an eye doctor to be sure. At her appointment, Kaylynn was diagnosed with amblyopia, a degenerative vision problem that can result in permanent blindness if left untreated. Today, thanks to FocusFirst, Kaylynn wears glasses, patches her dominant left eye and attends visual training with an ophthalmologist. Her mother said that Kaylynn’s vision has already improved and expects her improvement to continue with treatment. A short film on Kaylynn’s story can be found here.

For more information about FocusFirst, please visit impactamerica.com/focusfirst.