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VECF Spotlight: Bringing vision and hearing screening to more Bennington kids

A two-year-old attending a hearing/vision screening with CIS/Early Intervention in Bennington, Vermont

Babies and toddlers in the Bennington region now have better access to vision and hearing screenings through the Children’s Integrated Services Early Intervention Program for the Bennington region. In January, Building Bright Futures (BBF) announced the recipients of grants from the Vermont Early Childhood Fund (VECF). Grantees work with BBF Regional Councils to improve the well-being of children (prenatal–age 8) and families, as well as the Vermont communities in which they live. One of the seven grant recipients for 2022 is the Southern Vermont Medical Center: Bennington County’s Children’s Integrated Services Early Intervention Program (CIS-EI). The Bennington Hearing and Vision Screening Project is aligned with the Bennington Regional Council’s 2022 priority, “Equitable Access to Services.”

The project seeks to fill a critical need in the community, as there is only one pediatrician in Bennington who uses vision and hearing equipment for ages 3 and under, and the Bennington County Head Start/Early Head Start program is the only area child care program that administers the screenings. The local Lions Club also provides vision screenings, but not hearing screenings. These screenings are important for early identification if a child has a vision or hearing loss. This is the first step to connecting them with the supports they need, such as glasses, hearing aids, or teaching methods that will support their learning and development.

Jennie Moon, program coordinator of Children’s Integrated Services Early Intervention Program for the Bennington region, recognized the urgent need for additional vision and hearing screening services for children 3 and under, and she decided to take action. 

“When we saw the BBF grant, we thought it would be a great opportunity to be able to purchase our own vision and hearing equipment,” Moon said. “The equipment just arrived a week ago, and I’ve already reached out to local child care centers to screen a group of children at each child care location. I’m also scheduling children who are at home, who have not been anywhere to receive screenings.” Reaching children under 3 who are unconnected to child care centers is an important part of CIS-EI’s outreach efforts, especially as the Covid-19 pandemic and Vermont’s early childhood workforce crisis have limited families’ access to child care.

The equipment that Children’s Integrated Services purchased is designed to be operated by early child care professionals and others without any medical training.  The hearing and vision screenings can each be administered in three to five seconds. If the screening determines that there is a need for further assessment, CIS provides the child’s family with options for referrals to a hearing or vision specialist, shares the test results with the child’s pediatrician, and follows up as needed—for example, by providing information on how to obtain glasses or by connecting the family with Vermont Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) or the Vermont Association for the Visually Impaired and Blind (VAVBI).

“We’re really excited to get this going,” Moon said. “We’re the first region in Vermont to get this grant to do vision and hearing screenings through the Early Intervention Program. We’re hoping that the data we share at the end of the year will lead Vermont’s other Early Intervention Programs or the state of Vermont to purchase this equipment for other regions.”

Across Vermont and the nation through the CDC’s “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” program, there is an effort to increase developmental screening for all children and, when necessary, connection to assessment and services. Equipping the Early Intervention team with these tools allows for direct connections and skips the need for a referral for the initial screening, creating a seamless process for families and reducing the number of children who are identified but do not receive services.

Do you want to learn more about child development and the importance of screening or connect with the Children’s Integrated Services (CIS) team in your area?

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