SHEPHERDSVILLE - When it comes to raising newborns and infants, the more hands involved the better.
New Bullitt County parents have had that extra help available courtesy of the Health Access Nurturing Development Services (HANDS) Program, provided through the Bullitt County Health Department.
Established locally in 2001, HANDS has assisted hundreds of first-time parents and families, according to program coordinator Marci Flechler. She referred to HANDS as a “strength-based approach” for new parents.
“We look at what parents already know, we set goals and then help support them to achieve,” she said.
HANDS primary goals include healthy pregnancies and births, healthy child growth and development, healthy and safe homes and self-sufficient families.
Potential HANDS parents are first referred to the program. Flechler said doctors, churches, the Health Department, the Riverview High School Teenage Parenting Program or family acquaintances and friends could offer referrals.
Once referred, Flechler said HANDS officials contacted parents to establish needs and interest.
“Anybody that is a first-time parent can participate,” she said. “(The program) is not income-based. We have parents from teens into their 40s, with vast backgrounds. Any first-time parent can benefit from the program.”
A HANDS family service worker is assigned to each family. The FSW acts as family case manager throughout the program beginning with an initial family assessment to determine needs.
Flechler said HANDS FSWs are para-professionals trained in both HANDS core training and the Growing Great Kids curriculum. She said FSWs were either nurses or social workers.
The FSWs begin visiting the family’s home on a weekly basis. The program also offers quarterly nurse visits to discuss health issues and medical concerns. Mary Onders, RN with the Health Department, has assisted with the visits.
HANDS FSWs include Onders, Ida Butterworth, Carolyn Caudill, Joan Neace and Jennifer Tabor.
The Tabor Family was one of the first HANDS program participants. Tabor’s son, Josh, was among the first HANDS graduates.
Tabor first learned of HANDS while she was pregnant.
“I just came into the Health Department and they told me about it,” she said. “Joan (Neace) worked with us.”
Tabor’s husband, Chad, may have benefited most from the program. He admitted having little parental knowledge prior to Josh’s birth.
“I didn’t know hardly anything and I was scared,” Chad admitted. “But I wasn’t scared to ask Joan questions and Joan wasn’t scared to answer them.”
Following Josh’s birth, Chad said he was capable of being a stay-at-home father over the next five years.
“I got through it,” he said.
The Tabors said Neace supplied a great deal of helpful resource information, including informational books specifically for the father and for the entire family.
Tabor has worked with the Health Department for over four years, the last year as a HANDS FSW. The Tabors have three children, including Josh (now 6), Katie (3) and Nick (6 months).
“Working with HANDS helps me out now with Nick,” Tabor said.
Tabor recommended HANDS to all new parents and was happy she could give back to the program that helped her family.
“I wanted to be that person for a family that Joan was for us,” she said.
The Tabors were among many families celebrating HANDS’ first graduates’ reunion to commemorate the five-year anniversary of the first graduating HANDS class. Children graduate from the program at age 2.
Anna Loudermilk attended the event with her recent graduate, Robert, who is now 3. Anna and husband Robert, Sr., also have another son, Jacob (2), and a daughter, Brianna (2 months).
Loudermilk said she benefited from pre-natal FSW visits the family received from Butterworth. Loudermilk first learned of the HANDS program from her mother, who worked for a similar program.
“The main thing was the visits and the many resources,” said Loudermilk. “They always came out with information. It’s been very helpful with the other children.”
Along with visits, Loudermilk praised the program for continuous support at all times.
“We could call anytime day or night with questions,” she said.
Loudermilk said the family still misses regularly scheduled visits Butterworth made to their home.
“She always took time and played with the kids, I liked that,” Loudermilk said. “I really wish (HANDS) wasn’t just for first time parents.”
Flechler said a new program was being created to transition families and children between HANDS and the Head Start Program, which children are eligible for at age 3. The new program, “Families Building on Success,” was designed as a continuation of the HANDS program.
According to Flechler, program participants would meet on a monthly basis rather than weekly. Also, meetings would be held as group sessions with other participating families.
“We’ll be doing the same curriculum but in a group setting,” she said. “They bring their children here whereas we normally visit them at their house.”
Flechler said the new program could begin as early as January.
In its seventh year, the first HANDS children are now elementary students. Flechler said data was being tracked to determine the students’ current school success in comparison with other students.
HANDS is a statewide program offered through the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to first time parents from pregnancy to three months of age. For more information call 955-5668 or visit chfs.ky.gov/dph/ach/ecd/hands.htm.