FocusFirst provides a cost-effective direct response to the vision problems of children who live in urban and rural areas. Under the supervision of Impact staff, undergraduate and graduate students ensure that children, ages six months to five years, in Head Starts and lower-income daycares are screened for vision problems, using high-tech photo optic scan cameras, and receive subsidized follow-up care.

FocusFirst Accomplishments
Since beginning service in 2004, over 2,400 college students at more than twenty-three colleges and universities throughout Alabama have participated with FocusFirst.

These students have screened more than 189,000 children in all 67 counties across the sate, with approximately 11% of the children failing the screenings and receiving free follow-up care as necessary through Sight Savers America.

Community Partners
FocusFirst is a collaborative effort among the following partners: Vision Research Corporation, Sight Savers America, the Success by Six Program of the United Way of Central Alabama, the Alabama Head Start Association, and the Governor’s Office of School Readiness.

Vision Research Corporation specializes in the development of screening systems and the implementation of screening programs for the early detection of eye problems in children.  Vision Research staff members provide technical assistance to the FocusFirst program, including maintenance of screening equipment, analysis of screening materials, and delivery of results to project beneficiaries.

Sight Savers America, a nonprofit organization started in 1997, coordinates the activities of community organizations and eye care professionals in The Children’s Eye Care Network, providing comprehensive eye care and subsidized follow-up services for all children who fail the vision screenings conducted by FocusFirst staff and volunteers.

FocusFirst is an AmeriCorps program and is funded, in part, through Serve Alabama, the Governor’s Office of Faith-Based and Volunteer Service.  We love our State Commission!

The Need for FocusFirst

Poor vision adversely affects tens of thousands of children in our state each year, leading to a substandard education.  This is largely the result of poor public awareness about the importance of eye care in young children and the inability of children to recognize their own vision problems.  These problems are heightened in families from economically disadvantaged backgrounds by financial hardship and lack of access to appropriate medical care.  According to national and local research studies, “Thousands of Alabama’s children grow up in rural areas of the state, distant from any eye service providers, often with no means of transportation to obtain needed eye care” (Eye Health Needs Assessment for Alabama, April 2000, prepared for The Alabama Eye Institute).

Furthermore, it is well recognized 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, although many children in daycare, pre-K, and Head Start programs are known to need eye care, many go without it.  Despite the importance of early screening and detection, it is estimated that only 21% of preschool children receive comprehensive vision screenings.  Further exacerbating this situation, vision problems among children have been linked with behavioral risks, reduced academic performance, and low self-esteem (Johnson R. Division Screening of Academically and Behaviorally At-Risk Students:  Journal of Behavioral Optometry, p 7, copyright 1996).

Goals for the 2011-12 Screening Year
During the 2012-13 season, FocusFirst plans to screen 30,000+ children at 900+ daycare and Head Start centers in all 67 counties in Alabama.


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