By R. Scott Belzer
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Every new or expecting parent’s dream is to have an extra set of hands available for a baby’s arrival — especially when already overwhelmed and stressed by the holidays.
Luckily, London parents have that very thing available through the Laurel County Health Department’s support program Health Access Nurturing Development Services, or HANDS. Through HANDS, parents can get the answers to essential questions about childcare, such as what sort of physical changes are expected during pregnancy or how important a father’s role is during child development. Participants are also given community resources specifically tailored for new parents, such as referrals to basic utilities or other programs run by the Health Department. In all cases, HANDS will even extend their support to home visitation.
“We try to be as accommodating as we can,” said Beth Smith, HANDS coordinator at the Laurel County Health Department. “The program is completely voluntary. Under no circumstances do we tell parents what to do — we encourage them. We’re all about self-sufficiency and goal setting.”
Smith and two other employees at the Health Department serve approximately 50 families in Laurel County. With funding from Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home (MIECHV) grants and Federal Medicaid, the program extends throughout the state. Any recent or expectant parent is able to join HANDS free of charge. Participation can begin at any point of pregnancy or before a child is 3 months old.
Statewide, HANDS participants are given the option of taking part in the Growing Great Kids curriculum, a training course that offers modules specific to every possible home or financial situation. For example, if a single father on a low, fixed income needed assistance from HANDS, there’s a set of suggestions available just for him.
“A lot of our programs are very Dad oriented and Dad inclusive,” Smith said.
Bryon and Brittany Eversole and their daughter, Brielle, are shining examples of what HANDS has to offer. The Eversoles have been a part of HANDS for the past two years, joining when daughter, Brielle, was just four weeks old. The family received home visitations from Kathy Hass, one of the two aids assigned to Laurel County, and have only recently graduated from the program.
“We learned new things every day,” Brittany Eversole said. “It’s been such an awesome, positive experience for us.”
Eversole specifically mentioned the Empathy Parenting, or E-Parenting tool that HANDS offers to parents. The strategy suggests that parents find ways to empathize with their child during emotional outbursts. If done correctly, E-Parenting helps a child become more socialized, even aiding a child’s social and emotional development.
“Brielle still has temper tantrums,” Eversole said. “But the more we empathize with what she’s going through, the faster she gets over it.”
Though the Eversoles have graduated from HANDS, Smith claims that HANDS is always available for help.
“Once a HANDS family, always a HANDS family,” Smith said. “We’re always available for referrals, recommendations and suggestions.”
Those interested in HANDS should call Beth Smith at (606) 864-5244 or visit the Laurel County Health Department at 525 Whitley St., London, Ky.