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Seeing Success: Kids Get Help for Vision Problems

February 7, 2013


We deliberately seek the kids caught between the cracks. If we can find a kid who needs glasses, we’ll get them.

Scott Bell


JVQ California

Joy and Cesar Vega of San Pablo noticed their children were having trouble reading and concentrating—and were falling behind in school. Then they got a letter from their children’s teacher, recommending eye exams—and with it, a flyer from JVQ California (now known as Children’s Vision First), an  organization that provides free exams and glasses.

After their children got glasses, Joy wrote a letter to the organization that said:

“My children have finally overcome their greatest disadvantage. Now, they have the tools they need to fully participate in class. My son said, ‘Mom, why do I see things clear and closer now?’ I told him it was the answer to our prayers.”

Studies show that children in low-income families are less likely to get glasses and eye exams when they need them. Children who have problems with their eyesight often have difficulty in school, sports and sometimes with self-esteem.

Even though children’s eye exams and glasses can be costly, parents will be pleased to know that these can be covered by free and low-cost state health insurance. Plus, nonprofits around California can help low-income families who don’t qualify.

Steps to better sight

The American Optometric Association recommends all children receive eye exams at ages 6 to 8 months, at 2 1/2 to 3 years, and every two years after.

Experts recommend that parents:

  • get a vision screening for their children at the school, clinic or pediatrician’s office;
  • contact a nonprofit vision program for information about free and low-cost eye exams and glasses;
  • take their child to an eye doctor to get treatment for any eye or vision problem;
  • take a prescription to an optician who participates in Medi-Cal and/or nonprofit vision programs.

Vision screening

Schools periodically test childrens’ vision at different ages in different districts. Parents should make sure kids are not absent that day so they won’t miss out on the opportunity.

If the screening reveals any eye or vision problems, schools will let parents know the child should get a full eye exam. The schools often include information on nonprofits that will help pay.

“We deliberately seek the kids caught between the cracks,” says Scott Bell, president of JVQ California. “If we can find a kid who needs glasses, we’ll get them.”

School nurses can also play a proactive role.

“We need more school nurses to follow up better and (make sure) every child that needs glasses gets them,” says Dee Apodaca, L.A. school nursing administrator.

Parents can also have a child’s vision screened at a clinic or their pediatrician’s office. Child care providers, case workers and other agencies can refer children to eye doctors.

Getting glasses

Even after parents learn that their child may have trouble seeing, vision problems may go uncorrected for several reasons:

  • “Invisible” problem: Parents seek medical care faster when they can see the problem, such as an injury, according to Maria Castro, pupil services and attendance counselor for L.A. Unified. But children with vision problems are “hurting in many invisible ways: socially, academically and physically,” she adds.
  • High cost: Low-income families may avoid getting needed vision care because it is expensive. But if children have Medi-Cal, they can get free or low-cost eye exams and glasses. If families don’t qualify and/or don’t have private insurance, nonprofits may be able to help.

“Our program targets the working poor who (can’t) afford insurance,” says Jason Vitaich, administrator for the California Vision Foundation.

  • Lack of eye doctors: In rural areas, there are many vision patients but not many doctors, Vitaich says. However, JVQ plans to start a mobile van to visit rural children.

“A kid will walk into the van with a problem seeing, and walk out with a pair of glasses on their face,” Bell says.

  • Immigrant status: Undocumented families may be afraid to approach organizations that could require filling out forms, asking for Social Security numbers. Also, families with some undocumented family members may not realize that kids born here may qualify for free or low-cost glasses under Medi-Cal — or that some nonprofits will help cover the costs for children who don’t qualify.

Originally written by Laura Bernell.