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When Emily Bartley, 21, and her fiancé, Joel May, 22, found out they were going to have a baby last November they were nervous, to say the least.
Like most first-time parents, they didn’t know what to expect.
However, their nerves were eased, somewhat, when they visited the Marion County Health Department and received information about the H.A.N.D.S. program. The Health Access Nurturing Development Services (H.A.N.D.S.) program is a voluntary home visitation program for new and expectant parents. Families begin by meeting with a H.A.N.D.S. Parent Visitor who will discuss any questions or concerns about pregnancy or a baby's first years. Based on the discussion, all families will receive information and learn about resources available in the community for new parents. Some families will receive further support through home visitation.
Bartley and May began meeting with Family Service Worker Donna Gordon when May was three months pregnant.
“We like to do that because there is so much that’s so important to do prenatally, as far as good nutrition,” Gordon said.
One of the goals of the program is to help mothers have a health pregnancy. The program also helps new and expectant parents create a safe and healthy home, care for their baby, bond with their child and deal with stress.
Bartley said the program definitely helped prepare her for labor and delivery.
“It helped out so much,” she said. “Because there was some stuff I was completely clueless about. Being scared and being a first time mom, it really helped out.”
After 12 hours of “easy” labor, Bartley gave birth to a baby girl, Brylee, on July 3.
Since Brylee’s arrival, Gordon has continued to meet with Bartley and May weekly at their home on Bradfordsville Road to help them care for their baby and make sure she’s developing appropriately. One thing she has focused on with them is making sure Brylee gets plenty of tummy time.
“I encourage them as soon as that belly button is off, put them on their bellies and let them have belly time,” Gordon said. “It helps them develop.”
May said that’s something they probably wouldn’t have done if they hadn’t been educated to do it because, initially, Brylee didn’t like belly time. But now, at 5 months old, she loves it and she’s thriving. She’s gaining weight, rolling over and sitting up with some assistance.
But, Brylee isn’t the only person who has benefitted from the H.A.N.D.S. program. Her parents have, too. Having someone like Gordon to lean on and talk to weekly has been helpful for both Bartley and May. Bartley stays home with Brylee during the day while May works at Cedars of Lebanon Nursing Home, and she admits it’s been a relief to have someone to vent to occasionally.
Gordon has also spent some time with May discussing what makes a good dad.
“We have had a couple of sessions about how to be a good dad,” Gordon said. “Joel and I have had some good conversations.”
Together, they also set family goals and discussed what makes a family strong.
Bartley and May will continue meeting with Gordon until Brylee is 2 years old, which is when she will become an official H.A.N.D.S. program graduate.
“I love this program,” Bartley said. “It has helped us so much.”
In Marion County, the H.A.N.D.S. program recently received a grant so that it can expand its program to families who have more than one child. Marion County was one of very few counties in the state to receive grant money because of its rate of teen pregnancy, low birth weight babies and the high percentage of mothers who smoke while pregnant.
“There is a greater need in Marion County for this service and the grant money will allow us to serve more families,” Shelly Greenwell, director of the H.A.N.D.S. Program for the Lincoln Trail District, said.
The program is free to families, but Greenwell and Wendy Keown, director of school health services for the Lincoln Trail District, said they are not giving handouts.
“We are helping give families the resources they need,” Keown said. “One of the goals is for families to be self-sufficient. We’re not a program that goes in and tells people how to parent. We provide curriculum-based education so they gain the knowledge of what to do better with their child.”
The program breaks things down into very achievable goals for families, and helps empower families.
“One of the core beliefs of the H.A.N.D.S. program is that every parent wants to be a good parent,” Keown said. “It helps build up people’s self-esteem. It helps them believe that they can be the parent they want to be.”
Kentucky’s HANDS - Every parent needs a second pair of H.A.N.D.S.
What can parents expect?
All families will receive information and learn about community resources for new parents. Some families will receive further support through home visitation. Right in their home, these families will engage in fun activities to learn more about:
• Having a healthy pregnancy
• Caring for their baby
• How to bond with their child
• How to provide their child with enriching learning experiences
• Creating a safe and healthy home
• Community resources
• Child development
• Dealing with stress
Who can participate?
Any first-time or expectant parent (mom or dad).
No longer just for first time families. Also available for new or expectant parents who are parenting other children.
When can participation begin?
Participation in H.A.N.D.S. can begin during pregnancy or anytime before a child is 3 months old.
How has H.A.N.D.S. improved Kentucky families’ lives?
• Fewer premature infants
• Fewer low birth weight babies
• Fewer developmental delays
Studies have shown that families who participate in H.A.N.D.S. in the first trimester of pregnancy experience even fewer incidence of the above (compared to families who did not participate).
Parents also reported improvements in their:
- Home’s safety
- Support system
- Discipline techniques
- Anger management skills
- Coping skills
- Amount of stress
This program is provided at no cost to the families. If you are interested in participating in the program, or know someone who might benefit from it, contact the Marion County Health Department at 270-692-3393 or email Hands.email@example.com.