A baby yawning

How philanthropists can help maternity services adapt

Case study

Even before the lockdown, social distancing and the strain on our NHS was putting many health-related charities under severe pressure. Parenting and maternity are no different. With 2,000 babies born every day in Britain, the challenge of safely adapting maternity support to the new realities of Covid-19 is mammoth.

In this case study, our Systems Change Principal, Seth Reynolds, interviews (virtually) Vicky Fobel, Public Affairs and Campaigns Manager at NCT, to learn how they’re adapting and what philanthropists can do to help parenting charities. For more on how philanthropists can respond to coronavirus, read our full guide at thinkNPC.org/coronavirus.


How are your beneficiaries affected by Covid-19?

Social distancing and overwhelmed health services are compounding the already huge challenges of pregnancy and the postnatal period. Expectant and new parents are gravely concerned about missing out on support during pregnancy, the safety of giving birth in hospital, catching coronavirus whilst breastfeeding, or being asked to leave hospital before they are ready.

Restrictions on daily life are felt hardest by people who are already vulnerable. NCT’s peer-support projects support parents with challenging home lives, many of whom are single, do not have English as a first language or have no family close by. Many do not have access to online resources or smartphones. These families are often isolated. They may have mental health problems. Lack of digital makes social distancing even more difficult.

Vital services like health visiting, social work and specialist mental health services have retreated, as social distancing and redeployment to frontline services obliterate capacity for community support for vulnerable families.

NCT’s peer-supporters report that the combination of social distancing and reduced access is already translating into safeguarding risks for parents and children. They are noticing a rise in food poverty and mental illness and an increased risk of domestic violence.

How is Covid-19 changing service delivery? What innovations has NCT developed? What works and what doesn’t?

We normally deliver NCT services in-person to build connection and trust. We have had to go digital for courses and peer-support, but it’s hard to explain the offer to parents. Many of the most vulnerable families do not have the same access to smartphones, computers and a stable internet connection that others take for granted.

Volunteer-led peer support was already a cost-effective way to support vulnerable families. In response to the emergency, NCT has taken our trusted, evidence-based information and groups online, so we can continue to support and connect pregnant women and new parents during the crisis.

This includes antenatal classes and groups, which are now offered as a live online course. We’ve also set up a dedicated coronavirus response team and we’re scaling up our Infant Feeding Support Line. NCT’s peer-support projects are delivering group support through WhatsApp and connecting parents without access to digital tools, for example by funding smartphones.

Breastfeeding peer support has adapted and expanded from in-person support on hospital wards and groups to virtual zoom groups, support via Facebook messenger and telephone support. Within a week, we transferred bookings and started delivering online courses via Zoom with enhanced practitioner support via WhatsApp.

Our volunteer-led branches are playing a vital role disseminating local hospital guidance to expectant and new parents. Volunteers are using Zoom or similar platforms to offer virtual Bumps and Babies groups and parent social events. Volunteers are using closed social media groups on Facebook and WhatsApp to build virtual communities. Practitioners are working with branches to support discussion topics on Facebook to help support and reduce the pressure on midwives and health visitors.

What impact is coronavirus having internally for your organisation?

Staff are being redeployed to tackle the most urgent and pressing issues, but just as services are most acutely needed, funding is under threat and we are having to scale services back. The social distancing rules and the economic shock have resulted in a roughly 80% reduction in NCT’s income. This has meant that NCT has had to furlough 50% of staff and reduce remaining staff hours. It will hugely jeopardise the level of service NCT can provide to new and expectant parents.

How can philanthropists help? Both now and in the long-term?

  1. Funding – The biggest challenge is income. The massive shock to income has made service-delivery unsustainable. Staff and services are being cut back by 70-80%.
    • Be innovative. Blended funding models can fund development and innovation whilst co-funding paid-for services.
    • Extend or renew expiring grants to give charities a breathing-space to focus on service-delivery and plan future services. Short-term grants have always been a significant barrier to resilience.
    • Give clarity on future priorities. This is vital for the decisions being made now.
  2. Digital resources for beneficiaries – The most vulnerable beneficiaries are those most likely to be excluded by the digital delivery model, which are only accessible by families who have regular and stable access to digital devices and the internet.
  3. Marketing and communications – Online services and virtual groups appear to be more difficult to promote to new audiences, as it is harder to understand the benefits of an unfamiliar delivery model. Similarly, communicating with local hospital trusts is difficult, which makes offering our live online courses to commissioners very resource intensive.

What has coronavirus revealed about the state of the sector?

This crisis has exposed the sector’s significant vulnerabilities, particularly the reliance on highly dependent single-source funding streams. It has also revealed the extent to which our health and social care system is dependent on charities to deliver health and social provision. Philanthropists, government and society need to know that if charities go under, our NHS suffers.


Do you have a case study to share? Get in touch at info@thinkNPC.org. For more of our work on advising philanthropists on how to keep charities serving through coronavirus, visit thinkNPC.org/coronavirus.


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