LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Recent studies show a Kentucky program that has traditionally worked with first-time parents improves the health and development of their children.
Health Access Nurturing Development Services, or HANDS, started as a pilot program in 1998 as a way to combat child abuse.
Now the program is in all 120 Kentucky counties and has served more than 60,000 families since 2000.
The Lexington Herald-Leader reports (http://bit.ly/ViIJQY) research at the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville has found that HANDS participants have 32 percent fewer pre-term births than similar populations. They also have a 70 percent lower overall infant mortality and 50 percent fewer emergency room visits.
Babies in the program have fewer developmental delays. And mothers are more likely to complete or further their education and to breast-feed their babies.
Cuban immigrant Tocado Conception signed up to participate in the program in Lexington when she became pregnant more than two years ago. Since then, Ada Hildago has been a regular visitor with the family. Conception says with few family members in the area, Hildago provided needed advice.
"She's like our grandmother," she said. "I would recommend it to anyone."
The program has been so successful that it was recently expanded to non-first-time parents.
A UK study showed that some health outcomes, such as premature births, improve after a HANDS worker visits just once.
"The fact that we show positive outcomes with just one or more visits is a strength in itself," said Dr. Ruth Ann Shepherd, director of Maternal and Child Health for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
The overall goal is "to have a healthy, safe and nurturing environment," Shepherd said. "This is the most critical time in a child's life, and it will set the stage for the rest of that child's life."
HANDS program director Brenda English says HANDS workers visit once a week until a child turns one, then visits once or twice a month for another year. The voluntary program is free for participants.
"The first 1,000 days lays the foundation for their life," English said. "We talk about everything from prenatal care, to care after the baby's born, feeding, nutrition, home safety and attachment and bonding, which is one of the most critical things for a parent and a child."
Moni Shields, a team leader with HANDS for the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department, said workers follow an early-childhood development curriculum, but often are called on to help with a multitude of issues, including finding appropriate child care and car seats.
"What we say is that every parent needs a second set of hands and that really is true," Shields said. "We act as a support."
Information from: Lexington Herald-Leader, http://www.kentucky.com