New parents can get helping HANDS

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By Jamie Baker-Nantz

What parent couldn’t use an extra set of hands when welcoming home a new baby?
For first time parent, Christina Hammer, she was more than happy to have some help in the form of a program offered through the Northern Kentucky Health Department called HANDS or Health Access Nurturing Development Services.

Hammer and her son, Cody, receive a weekly visit from a health professional who helps work on physical and brain development, social skills and problem solving skills.
“What I love most about the program is that it is for anyone,” Hammer said. “It is not income driven.”
On this visit, Deborah Simpson, a registered community health nurse with the health department, is working with Christina and Cody on making some toys from common household items including a formula or coffee can and jar lids of various sizes.

Christina covered the coffee can in colorful duct tape, as well as each lid.

When she was finished, Cody grabbed at the can, which made noise when the lids were placed inside. When the lids were taken out of the can, he worked to stick them back through a hole in the top.
“I like it because it’s a brain builder, but it uses household products so it’s also ‘green’ and I like that too,” Christina said.

The HANDS program is open to parents who are expecting their first child or who have recently had a baby. It’s a voluntary home visiting program for all new and expectant parents in Kentucky.

The program can provide information on how to make your home safer, how to care for a baby and ways to tell if a child is growing and developing in a healthy way. It also offers activities for parents to stimulate brain development and can refer families to other family services if needed.

For new mom Christina, who relocated to Dry Ridge for her husband’s work, HANDS is a resource because she has no family living nearby. It’s also been instrumental in helping her deal with some issues Cody faced after he literally ran out of room inside the womb and was born with a flat head.

For the first few months of his life, he wore a helmet to protect his brain.
“This is one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever done and it’s nice to have someone like Debbie to come and visit once a week because we are so far away from family,” Christina said.

Simpson has worked for the health department for 23 years. She’s spent the last six years working with the HANDS program. In addition to the home visits, she also works at St. Elizabeth Hospital to help new mothers learn the art of breastfeeding.

“Our goal with HANDS is to create a safe and healthy home atmosphere,” Simpson said.
In addition to the toys and being read to that Cody enjoys, he’s also being taught sign language.

“This will help him learn verbal skills earlier,” Simpson said.
Christina knew the program was a success when he recently signed that he wanted milk.

“That was so exciting,” Christina said. “I felt like I was getting good at being a mom because that’s my job. To be the best mom I can be. This is the most important thing I’ll ever do, so I’ve set my goals pretty high.”

As part of the program, Christina fills out a family goal sheet. She makes sure that she and Cody complete a daily brain building exercise and she reads to him at least two to three books every day.
“I started reading to him when I was pregnant,” she said.
She learned of the HANDS program after attending a free class on parenting offered by Care Net Pregnancy Center.

For Christina, getting her baby a head start by becoming a better mother was all the motivation she needed to sign up for the program.
“HANDS provides so many referrals and so many resources on a variety of topics. I really appreciate the tools the program provides me to be a better mom,” Christina said.
Simpson said she understands that some parents may feel like they are being judged, especially because the HANDS program involves home visits.

“We believe most people want to be good parents, but for many they just need a model of how to go about it,” Simpson said.
She pointed out that raising children can be expensive, but this program can also save money by using items commonly found around the house, but that are all a child needs to stimulate their brain.

Simpson will continue to see Cody and Christina until he’s 2 years old.

In Grant County, 38 families are participating in the HANDS program, but there’s room for more.
Simpson said she hopes more people will learn about the program so that they can take advantage of the free service.
For Christina, it’s about wanting the best for her son.
“I feel like if I keep feeding his brain then maybe he’ll be the smartest kid in the world and I want the absolute best for him,” Christina said.

What is HANDS?
• A home visit program offered through the Northern Kentucky Independent Health District.
• The program is free and participation is not based on income level.
• It is open to expecting parents or new parents.
• For more information, go to nkyhealth.org or call 859-344-5470