A statewide program that provides home visits to new and expectant parents received $7.5 million from the federal government, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services announced on Friday.
Kentucky’s Health Access Nurturing Development Services (HANDS), is part of a national program that helps parents create safe and healthy environments for their children. It operates in 28 rural Kentucky counties — mostly in eastern Kentucky — and on "non-rural" county: McLean County.
Jana McGlone, the program coordinator in Carter County, explained in an interview last year that the program is open to any parent that has a child under age three. A parent goes through an initial questionnaire with a family worker to determine what kind of support the parent needs.
"We talk about their discipline plans, how did they feel when they found out they were pregnant, how do they feel about their finances," McGlone said. "It's a very in-depth intake assessment, and that's what we base our visits on, what their needs are."
The program is pretty straightforward: one family support worker is assigned per family, and parents get a home visit every other week for the first three years of the baby’s life.
"We are grateful to [the Health Resources and Services Administration] for supporting our ongoing commitment to the health and well-being of Kentucky’s children and families by awarding the state this much needed funding," said Jeffrey Howard, commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Public Health, in a press release. "These funds will allow Kentucky to continue to provide voluntary, evidence-based home visiting services to women during pregnancy and to parents with young children up to kindergarten age."
In fiscal year 2017, Kentucky’s HANDS program had about 4,040 children and caregivers in 2,323 households, according to the Cabinet. About 81.7% of households enrolled had caregivers with low-incomes, 56.7% of households included someone who used tobacco products in the home and 32.4% of households included someone with low student achievement.
Last year, McGlone said going into the homes of some of the families is a humbling experience, even with her experience as a former school nurse.
"Even though I was emphatic with the students [as a school nurse], I'd be even more now. Because I see how they live," McGlone said. "Maybe they may have several people in their household, and even if they do have a job, or draw a check, it's still not adequate. And there are times when they don’t have enough food at the end of the month."
McGlone said in addition to providing support to families and going over developmental milestones to spot potential issues before they develop, HANDS workers will often refer families to food pantries and other food assistance.