Meg Hillier backs charity RSBC to provide support to children with sight loss in Hackney

Meg Hillier, MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch, has pledged her support to improve the lives of blind and visually impaired children, young people and their families in Hackney. This follows a meeting with charity Royal Society for Blind Children (RSBC) who is behind a new campaign to increase awareness of the disproportionate number of families affected by sight loss in this part of the capital.

Local authority figures for 2017 show that there are 245 under 17s registered visually impaired in Hackney. This is almost five times greater than other comparable local authorities in London, such as Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest. What’s more, the real figure is likely to be greater still, as many families face barriers to registration. Registration of a child’s visual impairment is important because this is often when families become aware of the support that exists in their community to help them adjust to a diagnosis and understand the practical assistance available to them.

RSBC, which provides frontline, post diagnosis support to affected families in England and Wales and whose headquarters are in the borough, is very concerned about this prevalence of childhood sight loss, which is closely linked to the high rate of social and economic disadvantage in the area. The charity currently supports 48 families in Hackney and wants more people in the community affected by sight loss to know that help is available.

Hackney has one of the highest child poverty rates in England according to 2018 figures from the Child Poverty Action Group. Based on its expertise and long history of supporting families affected by sight loss RSBC has long understood that visually impaired children are more likely to come from a poor background than their sighted peers. However, with rapid and tailored post diagnosis support from its network of Family Support Workers, RSBC can equip families with the knowledge and support to live beyond the diagnosis, which can otherwise leave them feeling isolated and unable to see a future.

Commenting on her involvement in the campaign, Meg Hillier said, “Early diagnosis and support for blind and visually impaired children is vital. Without this their life chances fall way behind sighted children. I’m delighted that RSBC is now based in Hackney and is supporting so many Hackney children.”

Dr Tom Pey, Chief Executive at RSBC said, “We have a clear goal in Hackney, which is to ensure that every parent, irrespective of their back round, social or economic status, knows that we are here to provide tailored support, whether it be to provide emotional support, help with benefit applications, or introducing them to the many life changing activities we run for visually impaired young people. We’re confident that Meg Hillier’s involvement in our campaign will help raise awareness of this little known problem and ultimately improve the life chances of children growing up with sight loss.”

With the backing of Meg Hillier, RSBC wants every blind or visually impaired child in Hackney to get the best possible start in life. Every £500 raised for the charity supports another Hackney family in need.

Click here for more information on RSBC’s Hackney services and ways to support the campaign

Hackney Case Study

Single parent Janet and her son Nathan are currently receiving support from RSBC. Janet and Nathan live in Hackney in shared housing, where they have one room to themselves. Janet wants to work and be financially independent and is training to be a social worker. Life for the pair has been an uphill struggle, with no other family in the country to help out.

Janet struggles financially and has a tough time balancing the demands of looking after her visually impaired son and her full time studies.

Janet says, “Nathan has Nystagmus and high degree myopia which severely affects his sight. When he was born I was told that his sight would get worse in the future. I was completely devastated.”

“When Nathan was a baby, his condition didn’t really impact on us much, but now that he is nine and growing fast, his visual impairment is really affecting his behaviour at school and at home. I do find it very difficult to cope at times. Nathan is often bullied about his condition at school, which obviously makes him feel very sad and it’s heart-breaking. ”

“We live in temporary accommodation provided by the local authority, it’s very small and we live far away from the school. This means that Nathan feels isolated from his friends at school and he has nobody to play with locally. This whole situation is making us both feel very frustrated.

In January 2018, Janet was referred to RSBC by The Hackney Learning Trust. Crucially, Janet now has a dedicated expert to provide support to both of them.

Janet says, “Before I discovered RSBC, I had no one to talk to about my life with Nathan. Our Family Support Worker, Erick, has helped me with many aspects of my financial problems, including my housing benefit claim and our application to the local authority for more suitable accommodation.

Erick has also helped Nathan to get involved in some activities for blind and visually impaired children to help build his confidence and help him tackle some of the issues he is dealing with at school. He suggested that Nathan went along to some of RSBC’s fun activities, like robot making and climbing, which he has really enjoyed. Also I’m delighted that he has made a couple of friends and always comes home smiling.”

“Erick told me from the start that I can call him whenever there is something I need to talk about or sort out. It means a lot to me, it’s very important, it cheers me up. I don’t feel so alone these days.”