Currently, though attention to a child’s vision and eye health is critical to support learning and development, there is no statewide system for collecting information on vision screening, or data for surveillance, or to support case management activities. Establishing systems that inform public health interventions related to children’s vision health will provide opportunities, especially educational opportunities, that may otherwise go unrealized.
This amendment will establish a commission on children’s vision and eye health to monitor compliance with the Massachusetts school entry vision law which requires that all children receive eye examinations prior to entering kindergarten. An important next step for overseeing and improving the vision and eye health of the Commonwealth’s children, the commission will monitor treatment and appropriate preventative measures for vision impairment, and will develop recommendations for a children’s vision registry.
In November 2017, the MA Senate voted in favor of establishing a special commission to study and report on childhood vision and eye health in the Commonwealth.
We all know that Massachusetts is the national leader in children’s health. Ninety-eight percent of our young people have health care coverage. No other state comes close to that rate. We also know that healthy children are able to learn and succeed in school. However, there is a critical area that is holding children in Massachusetts back—their inability to see the blackboard or words on a page. Vision disorders are the most common disabling condition of childhood, about 1 in 20 preschoolers and 1 in 4 school age children have a vision problem. Many children start school with undetected vision problems. It can be difficult to determine which children have trouble seeing as often there are no physical signs. Teachers and parents don’t know which kids can’t see. Kids don’t know that their vision is impaired because they have only their own experience to compare it to and to them, their vision is ‘normal’, even when it is not.
Recent NIH funded research reports a significant correlation between the status of a young child’s vision and his/her success in acquiring early literacy skills—ones necessary for learning to read.
Assuring optimal vision for all children is a solvable problem. We need help from the Commonwealth’s legislators to close the significant gaps in access, resources and awareness in the current system of pediatric vision care in Massachusetts. Twelve years ago, we took steps to address this with the passage and enactment of Ch 181 of the Acts of 2004, An Act Relative to Eye Examinations for Children. Now we need to work together to build a public health system for vision that supports case management, surveillance and evaluation which will lead to better access and improved outcomes for children statewide.