Megan Fleming was nervous when she found out she was pregnant.
She went into preterm labor twice. Fleming found comfort with the help of the HANDS program.
Fleming had her son, Elijah Downey, at 18. Fleming found out about the HANDS program before he was born and doesn’t regret signing up.
“I’ve learned a lot from them. I’ve learned the vaccination charts for kids, different methods for correcting him other than just saying no and I can call them anytime,” Fleming said. “It’s great because you don’t have to go to an office they come to your home and they help with everything from sleep schedules to feeding.”
The HANDS program — Health Access Nurturing Development Series — is a program designed to help first time parents. Connie Meyer, HANDS Director for North Central Health District, said the program helps families succeed.
“We have a curriculum that we follow for everything from medical, social and emotional development,” Meyer said. “Children learn coping skills and communication skills at a very young age. There
are so many things parents want for their children and we support them by making them the best teachers for their children.”
The program puts parents in touch with local resources they may need; since every household has different needs, care is customized.
“It’s a very individualized service. The family support workers can be nurses, paraprofessionals or people with a strong history of child care development that don’t necessarily have a two or four year degree,” Meyer said. “They build trust with the parents and we help with the temperament of the child. We want them to be in happy, safe homes and go on to succeed when they go to school.”
The HANDS program can offer services to first time parents from prenatal care or before a child is three months old. The program reduces family stress and improves the home environment, Meyer said.
“We focus on parent-child interaction and help with brain development,” Meyer said. “We help families make learning fun. Playing is a powerful tool in the development of a child and we give them different forms of activity.”
Elijah played with large colorful buttons with butterflies and other characters on them. He put the buttons into a plastic container made from a used large plastic coffee container with a slot on top of it.
“This teaches him about shapes, what fits in the slot and how they are contained in it,” Meyer said. “He can roll it around to understand the space around him. These are inexpensive things parents can have for their children to play with as part of their development.”
Fleming said the trust she has built with her family support worker has been an educational experience.
“They need to have a lot more vaccinations than I did as a child,” said Fleming. “I know what to do when my baby has a fever, and I know how much fruits and vegetables to feed him, and since his dad works all the time they’ve helped me figure out how to include him in Eli’s development.”
Polly Fleming thinks the experience has been positive for her granddaughter.
“I think it’s wonderful when she has questions with medication or a teething they give her support,” Fleming said. “She can ask them anything without having to worry about being embarrassed. They give her the support that moms and grandmothers may not be able to.”
Meyer said the Health Department has 20 families in the HANDS program and will have more when the department increases its staff.
“We help children up until they are 2-years-old. We help make families self-sufficient,” Meyer said. “The program helps parents understand that they are the most important people in their baby’s life. Parents are the first and most important teachers a child will ever have.”
Meyer said anyone can make a referral for a family, or families can apply at no cost to themselves, and will be screened for approval.
“I would tell anyone to do it,” Fleming said. “I’ve learned so much from them and they come and help me in my home. It has helped me and helps me put my fiancée at ease when Eli needs to have daddy time.”
For more information about the HANDS program call: (502) 845-2882. The program is funded by Federal Medicaid and the Phase I Tobacco Settlement.