Fears children could fall through cracks as coronavirus cancels Kindergarten Health Check

When school went back after the remote learning period, Vanessa Mainwaring was told her daughter, Margot, was not listening to her teacher and struggling to follow instructions in class.

Teachers suspected she could have a behavioural issue, but Mrs Mainwaring followed her instincts to get hearing and sight tests done.

Five-year-old Margot was diagnosed with 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.

"I am still reeling at the idea my beautiful girl may have had a different life story. If this had been my first child, I would absolutely not have had an inkling to get her tested to rule anything else out," Mrs Mainwaring said.

Mrs Mainwaring said she was concerned that other children could be falling through the cracks as a result of the ACT Government's Kindergarten Health Check program being paused during the coronavirus pandemic.

"I would have hated to be that mother two years from now who didn't get a health check and the issues had compounded," she said.

"It's painful looking at photos of my daughter of that time thinking how did I not know?"

 Margot Manwaring has dramatically improved at school since she got glasses. Picture: Karleen Minney

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.

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.

"With the Health Minister announcing the Operation Reboot there's some additional resources in there for us to do what we're calling targeted catch up for children that either the school or more particularly parents are worried about," Ms Bracher said.

"And so we won't be able to go out to every school and see every child like with 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.

Those who have challenges accessing a GP or other health professional can 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.

Mrs Mainwaring said she's seen a radical change in Margot's behaviour since she started wearing glasses and is now one of the first in the class to follow instructions. But she still wonders what could have happened if they had not done a simple eye test.

"It could have been terrifying."


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