Missing Kindergarten health check because of isolation could mean big problems later
A Canberra parent has expressed her concern about children with vision or hearing issues “falling through the cracks” as a result of missing the standard Kindergarten Health Check due to COVID-19 limitations.
The Kindergarten Health Check is conducted annually by the Canberra Health Service at all ACT schools. It involves a detailed questionnaire and a physical health check, but had been suspended for a period of time in 2020.
Speaking with local publication The Canberra Times, Executive Director for Women’s, Youth and Children’s Services Katrina Bracher said the questionnaire was completed at the beginning of the school year with results sent to the students’ GP if concerns were raised.
The physical health check, which involves a test of hearing, vision and weight, did not go ahead from April as planned when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Canberra Health Service staff were redeployed to frontline services and the education directorate pivoted to a remote learning model.
The service is now “playing catch up” with a targeted Kindergarten Health Check program with a focus on hearing and vision.
In the case of Vanessa Mainwaring, who spoke with The Canberra Times, her daughter Margot returned to school following a period of remote learning in line with social distancing requests in the ACT, and had trouble focusing on instructions given, and appeared to be unwilling to follow directions from her educators.
While the educators in question suggested there may be a behavioural issue, Ms Mainwaring followed up with hearing and vision tests, to rule out further issues, subsequently learning Margot has amblyopia, or lazy eye, a condition where there is a breakdown in the way the brain and eye work together. If not diagnosed early, it can cause permanent vision impairment by the age of eight.
Since her diagnosis, and wearing glasses, Margot’s issues have resolved, and she is back to her typical focused self.
Mrs Mainwaring told The Canberra Times that she was concerned that other children could be falling through the cracks as a result of the Health Check program being paused during the coronavirus pandemic.
Ms Bracher said that while the ACT health minister had announced Operation Reboot, allowing for some additional resources to conduct as “targeted catch up” for children with concerns, the service “won’t be able to go out to every school and see every child like it ordinarily would”.
Kindergarten parents have been directed to make a free appointment at the Children’s Hearing Service or book a Medicare-funded vision check at an optometrist, or, for those who have challenges accessing a GP appointment, they are able to make an appointment for a targeted Kindergarten Health Check clinic at the City Health Centre in Civic.
Ms Bracher said the kindergarten health check was a safety net and that most children would have had a more comprehensive check at the age of four before starting school.
To read the original coverage of this story, please see here.