ourNCTservices moves towards the next phase

Caroline Star, Portfolio Review Manager

We said at the start of the ourNCTservices project we were going to do this properly. And my goodness we’ve stayed true to that. After hearing from 130 parents during interviews and focus groups and holding 70 workshops with volunteers, practitioners and staff there have been times over the last few weeks where I’ve suffered serious evidence overload. So I am incredibly excited to finally be on the road sharing findings and discussing the next steps at the #ourNCTstory events.

ourNCTservices is a systematic review to understand how, over the decade ahead, we ensure our NCT services are as relevant, accessible and impactful for parents as possible. We are going to focus first on strengthening our existing core services across breastfeeding, postnatal support and antenatal education. And, we are going to start to lay the foundations for increasing our reach and expanding postnatal support. It will consider what we need to stop, start, continue and adapt to ensure that more parents benefit from our existing core services and enable the space and resources to invest in increasing reach and expanding scope in future.

Since the beginning of the year we’ve been gathering evidence from parents, from practitioners, volunteers and staff and from NCT data. My challenge over the last few weeks has been to distil months of work and hundreds of pages of fascinating research into no more than ten key pieces of evidence for antenatal, breastfeeding and postnatal.

One of the things we’ve heard loud and clear from all of you is that we can make things very complicated at NCT. This is a problem because it gets in the way of meeting parents’ needs and costs us a lot of time and money. You’ve told us that we just need to make it simpler to use our skills and expertise to do better for parents.

On antenatal we heard that parents don’t understand the difference between our antenatal courses and people who don’t do NCT simply don’t understand the value of the knowledge and networks above NHS classes and family/friends. Those who do our antenatal courses like it at the time and see the peer groups as a complete lifesaver. But in hindsight they feel unprepared for the realities and are in need of continued support after birth.

We heard that breastfeeding support is a big area of need for all parents but many aren’t getting the right support at the right time – for a whole complicated web of reasons and emotions. Many parents feel judged, pressured and totally unprepared for the challenges. Some report that we’re contributing to these issues.

Postnatal support is vitally important to all parents, in the early weeks but also as they are finding their feet and establishing their new life as a parent. Peer networks aren’t enough and they still need our support. Yet the uncertainties of postnatal life make it harder to get people through the door.  We’re not giving up but we’ll need to do things differently to thrive and make the most of our unique skills and expertise in this space.

We were worried it might all sound a bit obvious. But in the first nine events you’ve told us that it’s incredibly useful to see challenges acknowledged and also to see all the different pieces of the jigsaw brought together for the first time. We’ve learnt a lot that is new about why parents do and don’t engage with services. We’ve revealed new insights on the impact, reach and cost of our services.  We’ve learnt from you about what’s getting in the way. And we’ve also knocked some long-held assumptions off the list of things to worry about. For example:

  • people do still bond and form networks on intensive courses
  • parents thinking about antenatal classes don’t hold a perception that we’re all a bunch of natural birth and breastfeeding zealots
  • the slightly lower income group we spoke to didn’t see any need for antenatal classes whatever the price

Now what do we do with our services as a result of what we’ve heard? That’s the hard bit. It is clear from the #ourNCTstory events so far that there are some areas which many people feel are pretty obvious next steps. Such as moving to one antenatal course and testing out paid-for breastfeeding support alongside the free services we already offer. However, many weeks and months of work lie ahead to figure out how we would actually do this in reality and make a success of it. There are other areas causing more debate – like exactly how to describe and shape our postnatal services and whether they should be pay-as-you-go or booked in a block.

We’ll be collating every single post-it note and feedback comment made at these events during June. We will use these alongside the evidence to identify the service changes with the highest potential to serve parents better and make things easier. In the second half of the year we’ll be exploring what it would take to make a success of these service developments. Proposals will then be discussed with our Board in December. This will ensure that when decisions are made they are based on a good understanding of the time, the people and the resources it would take to put them into action.

I’m about halfway through and I can’t wait to jump on the next train and get on with the second half of the #ourNCTstory events. The conversations I’m having make me really excited about how we can do better for parents and make better use of the amazing skills, expertise and empathy in the NCT movement.

If you’d like to discuss ourNCTservices further please do contact Caroline any time at caroline.star@nct.org.uk or on 020 8752 9190.

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