Donaldson

Contrary to what some may believe, even the best mother's intuition may not provide all the answers for a new parent. But that is where Pennyrile District Health Department can step in with helping HANDS.

Health, Access, Nurturing and Development Services, or HANDS, is a free program through Kentucky public health departments. It is a voluntary home visitation program for moms, dads and families, providing parents with answers and support in developing a parent-child relationship.

"Sometimes, they think they have it all together, and when they have the baby, they realize they maybe didn't," said Kim Donaldson, a registered nurse and HANDS parent visitor. "Not everyone has that instinct."

Through HANDS, all participating families receive valuable information and learn about community resources available to them.

Some will receive further support through home visitations, engaging in fun activities in the home to learn more about raising a child. Topics include having a healthy pregnancy, caring for the baby and creating a safe and healthy home, bonding with the child, providing the child with enriching learning experiences, child development and handling stress.

"We're not there to criticize, but to help," said Donaldson. "We don't care if your floor is messy."

If the parents choose, a family support worker will visit the home every week until the child turns 2. The in-home parent visitors are employees of the public health department and come highly qualified. Many, like Donaldson, are RNs or have early childhood care degrees and other extensive training.

The program is available to any parent, male or female, but families must be enrolled prenatally or before the child is 90 days old. Parents can be single or married, and age or income does not matter. However, families can be enrolled no more than twice.

The program can be especially valuable for first-time mothers who may have no idea what to expect and little to no support.

"We're going to let her know what might happen, how she might feel," Donaldson said, adding that depression can creep into a lot of women's lives during or after the pregnancy.

Donaldson said HANDS, which has about two dozen families enrolled from Lyon County and 100 in the district, goes beyond education and services. Support and encouragement are also part of the program.

"We figure out what you're doing well and build on that," she said. "A lot of women we serve may have not had anyone say anything positive to them."

Donaldson said that while HANDS is relatively unknown to many in the community, the program is in all 120 counties in Kentucky and has been around for 20 years.

"It's not going to go away," she assured, despite the financial struggles of many public health departments in the state due to increased pension obligations. "There's no limit to the people we can take in. We are constantly getting new referrals."

Anyone interested in learning more about HANDS or enrolling can call Pennyrile District Health Department at 270-388-9747 or stop by their respective health department in the five counties of the district -- Lyon, Caldwell, Crittenden, Livingston and Trigg.

More information can also be found online at KyHANDS.com.