New Parents Find Confidence with HANDS Program

HANDSlogoBabies don’t come with instruction manuals. Monika Shields, team leader for the HANDS Program, knows that and wants to help first-time parents feel more capable with their children.

HANDS stands for Health Access Nurturing Development Services. The program began in the late 90’s using Lexington as a test site. It has since spread to all Kentucky counties.

“We support families and help them to be capable, confident parents who can enrich their child’s learning and development,” said Shields.

HANDS is designed for first-time parents. That can be both parents, or just a mom or dad even if their partner has other children. During the pregnancy, parents will receive information on topics like prenatal health, childbirth classes and labor.

Once the baby arrives, families can expect regular in-home visits from a HANDS worker. All workers have state training and work with parents using a national curriculum.

Shields said workers focus on the child’s social and emotional development. They work with parents on educational exercises to practice with the child.

“Something as simple as reading to the baby, parents might not know the importance,” she said. “But the infant hearing your words and your voice starts that brain development.”

A nurse or social worker also does a quarterly visit with the family for a more medical visit. Shields said this is a time to address concerns about issues like feeding, bonding or physical development. All in-home visits are made to be as convenient as possible.

“We want parents to stay engaged in the program so we are very flexible with work and school schedules,” she said.

Many first-time parents think their experience with friend or family member’s baby is enough to get by with their own infant.

“There is a perception that you’ve been around a new baby before so you think you know it all,” Shields said. “That preconceived notion of knowing it all couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Besides being taught educational exercises, parents learn about child-proofing safety, child discipline, and coping skills. Shields said educating about Shaken Baby Syndrome is a priority, because a new baby can raises stress levels in even the calmest of people.

“It’s common for parents to feel frustrated,” she said. “We’re educating them that it will get better and we help parents learn to deal with the crying.”

There is no income limit for the program. Participation is decided after a screening that considers the stability of the home, parent’s personal history and other qualifying issues.

Parents can apply at anytime in a pregnancy, but must start in the program before their child is 3 months old. Workers typically stop routine visits by the time the child turn 3 years old.

Shields believes HANDS is about parents learning to help themselves. With a little guidance, moms and dads will realize they have the skills to be good parents.

“We are a resource liaison to help parents locate help, but also we want to instill independence so they can do it all themselves later on,” she said. “It’s about problem-solving with them so they’ll be able to handle their next pregnancy better.”

Anyone interested in the HANDS Program can call 288-2338 or visit their local health department for more information. Read more about the HANDS Program online here.