Children’s Vision Screening Initiative

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The Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust has hired Karen Woodhouse as its children’s vision screening director. Her mission is to coordinate a statewide initiative to ensure all children have effective vision screening and the appropriate follow-up services. Woodhouse and Piper president and CEO Susan Pepin will discuss the new effort and how it can lead to better results in education and health for Arizona’s children.

Ted Simons:Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," find out about a new effort to approve vision screening for Arizona children. And best selling author James Rollins will talk about his new book, the bone labyrinth. Those stories next on "Arizona Horizon." "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of Arizona PBS, members of your PBS station. Thank you.

Good evening. Welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a lawsuit on a Arizona's ban on gender and race-based apportions saying they lacked standing to sue. The NAACP and the national Asian Pacific American women's forum argue that the law is unconstitutional because it targets black and Asian women but judges in the 9th circuit ruled the two groups suffered no personal injury and were not denied equal treatment. The ruling upholds a lower court ruling that dismissed the case.

A new poll shows that close to three out of four likely Arizona voters think investing in public schools and increasing teacher pay were top priorities when spending the state's budget surplus. The poll was conducted by the nonpartisan communications firm strategies 360. Other results showed support for giving law enforcement tools it needs to improve public safety, improving border security, spending more on foster kids, using the budget surplus on tax cuts, and using the surplus on funding the state's universities.

Ted Simons: The Virginia G. Piper charitable trust has a new children's vision screening director coordinating a statewide initiative to improve the eyesights of Arizona kids. Joining us is Karen Woodhouse and Piper president and CEO Susan Pepin. Thanks for joining us.

Karen Woodhouse: thank you.

Ted Simons: directing children's vision screening. What is going on? What are you going to do?

Karen Woodhouse: Well, first of all we can talk about why we're going to do it. Couple of reasons we can talk about. One is that we essentially have what we're calling a literacy crisis in Arizona. That is 42% of our kids, only 42% of our kids are reading at proficient level according to the most recent merit scores that came out about a week or week and a half ago. We know that vision is such a critical piece of helping kids learn how to read acquire reading skills and being successful readers. We also know that good vision is part of over -- it's good, healthy development for young kids. When kids are born born they use their vision to attach to their primary care-givers, their parents or someone else in their family. That's how they develop emotionally and socially with their piers. They learn by experience. So good vision is part of an over all healthy child development and health, so those are two key reasons why we want to get in this realm.

Ted Simons: and to have a new vision screening director and new push and new effort suggests that previous efforts may not have been up to snuff. What kind of vision screening goes on now?

Susan Pepin: it's a great question. Arizona's one of eight states, only eight, where vision screening isn't mandated even though hearing screening is. There's a lot of wonderful effort in the state but it's not coordinated and lots of piecemeal things are going on. Piper for a long time has been invested in success of early childhood development because our education needs don't just start with K-12, they start at a very young age, so Piper has invested with many, many wonderful partners in read on Arizona. As we get that effort off the ground and it's running well we're able now to start thinking about health determinants around early literacy. If you can't see, reading is quite a challenge. Until it's identified and addressed or special needs are taken care of and children don't complain. They don't tell you. Vision screening is hands down slam dunk that it's really important for childhood development. So we want to help facilitate the collaborations needed to make a statewide effort. Hence our new effort screening director.

Ted Simons: those collaborations, who are you going to work with, how?

Karen Woodhouse: we're going to work with medical providers, health professionals, because that's where a lot of screening happens for kids birth through age five. Then we want to work with people in the community already doing screening efforts, talk about the standards and how they are using the information to help kids get referred to an eye professional if it's necessary. We're also going to work with schools. That's a great place for kids kindergarten through grade 3, which is a time that we want to do more screening, that's where kids are. That's a great opportunity for us to reach a lot of kids.

Ted Simons: you mentioned how vision is important. To be able to read someone's emotions, to understand and see their exact reaction, not just reading the chalk board, computers are so prevalent right now. Is that impacting kids' vision? What's going on?

Karen Woodhouse: there are some studies and I can't say that I'm an expert in what that data looks like but I have heard anecdotally certainly rigorous studies have shown that kids who are spending so much of their day rather than outside playing they are spending a lot of their day screen time. Whether it's computer or gaming, whatever it is, so we know that is impacting probably their eye development and I would think that it's something that would impact potentially vision and sue as the expert and the M.D. with expertise this this area may have other information that can help us identify the impacts.

Susan Pepin: certainly there are impacts to how we're using our eyes. The critical point about vision screening is that about one in five children have a vision problem. Again, they may not complain about it because if it's from birth or they develop it the world is blurry to them. The really critical thing is if we intercede early before they reach 10 and older, we have an opportunity to impact their life forever. Because if we don't intercede sometimes we can't correct it later on. It's pretty critical that we do that. Our programs in the state really need to have that screening done and not just one time because kids aren't that easy to check their vision. Also changes occur so vision screening has to happen more than once and we need the data structure, infrastructure in place so children can be followed and follow-up can happen, not just getting screening. They need either to see an eye professional or to get glasses or to have more serious medical interventions depending on the problem.

Ted Simons: sounds like you're looking to try to equalize opportunities for these kids -- before they get to school or certainly in those early grades.

Susan Pepin: absolutely. This is so important in terms of opportunities that children have. Our 750,000 children all deserve vision screening so that they have an equal opportunity to thrive in school and really put their best foot forward.

Ted Simons: You have worked with the Department of Education previously.

Karen Woodhouse: in the past, yes.

Ted Simons: first things first as well. You've again in the arena to a certain degree. What are your plans? How are you going to get this done?

Karen Woodhouse: We're talking to a lot of folks already engaged in this effort. As sue mentioned there's a lot of stuff going on but it's not coordinated. We don't know how many kids are getting screened or how many kids aren't being screened. We don't know what's happening once they get screened and there's an issue found, we're knot sure how many kids are actually being referred. If we're screening that's great but if we're not doing the follow-up it's for naught. That's what we're trying to get a handle on and picture of, using that information to find the gaps. Where do we need to scale up? There are national and local standards and best practices related to screening and we want to make sure anyone doing the screening is using those best practice sos we get the very best screening possible and getting kids referred when they need to.

Ted Simons: and efforts are consistent across the board so you don't have X, Y, and Z techniques in different schools.

Susan Pepin: we want to look at the coordination. At least the best practices.

Ted Simons: so last question, timeline, when does this get started, when did it hit the road?

Susan Pepin: we're thrilled to have Karen join us. She has the background to coordinate these efforts. There's a lot of interested parties in the state, so she is headed out of the gate running and we look forward to planning in the next few months but over the next year and a half we plan on making an impact.

Ted Simons: even by the time kids get back to school after winter break?

Karen Woodhouse: We're still in our planning phase by then but in the next year we'll have a lot more on the ground and more impact.

Ted Simons: Good luck to you. Thank you both for being here. We appreciate it.

Susan Pepin: thank you very much.

Karen Woodhouse: Thank you.

Karen Woodhouse:children's vision screening director,Susan Pepin:Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust president and CEO

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