The pregnant woman was feeling lost and overwhelmed.

She was soon to become a mother for the first time and she was doing it alone. The woman was estranged from her parents and had only a couple of friends in the community she was living in.

She wanted to be the best parent for her child, but she did not know where to start. The woman brought up her worries to her obstetrician, who told her about a Kentucky state program that could help.

A woman’s pregnancy and the first couple of years of a child’s life can set the stage for a child’s future success. A chaotic and tumultuous upbringing can be disastrous.

This is why Kentucky set up the Health Access Nurturing Development Services (HANDS) program. It is a free voluntary program which is available to first-time parents. It provides support during the mother’s pregnancy and the child’s first two years.

There are several beliefs espoused by the HANDS program centering on the role of the family and the community in children’s lives.

This includes the belief that all families have strengths and that they are responsible for and the primary decision makers regarding their children. In addition, there is the belief that communities recognize their role in children’s lives and that children must succeed.

A final belief is in prevention and early intervention improving community well-being.

Based on these beliefs, the HANDS program actively reaches out to others to identify new expectant parents who could benefit from some extra support and guidance.

The program provides an educator who meets with the parents to discuss any questions they might have about pregnancy or the baby’s first couple of years. The HANDS educator also reviews ten topic areas that help link parents with community services that are going to best fit the family’s strengths, values, and individual needs.

The goal is to empower parents to be able to make their own decisions in the best interest of their child.

There are some parents who are encountering a variety of significant challenges like single parenthood, poverty, substance abuse, or issues of abuse and domestic violence.

For those parents, HANDS is able to offer home visits.

They can provide advice on how to make the home safer and effectively care for the baby. The educators can also show parents activities they can enjoy doing together with the baby that can stimulate the child’s brain development.

There are no restrictions on who can be referred or utilize the HANDS program as long as enrollment occurs either during the pregnancy or up until the child is three months old. This is a voluntary program where parents can choose whether to participate and they can leave the program at any time.

There are many government programs, and it can be easy to overlook ones like the HANDS program.

However, any parent can remember how overwhelming it was with their first child and how nice it was to receive support from someone. This can ensure that new parents receive the supports they need and that young children get off to an excellent start in life.

Dan Florell, Ph.D., is a professor at Eastern Kentucky University and has a private practice, MindPsi (www.mindpsi.net). Praveena Salins, M.D., is a pediatrician at Madison Pediatric Associates (www.madisonpeds.com).

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