The National Childbirth Trust stands accused of racial discrimination by some of its own practitioners, after a union said that some were being “bullied” by the trust’s quality assurance procedures.
Ahead of a parliamentary debate next week about racial disparities in maternal mortality rates in the UK, practitioners at the UK’s biggest parenting charity have started a petition pressuring the organisation to change its “racially discriminatory” practices.
The charities branch of the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) said that, following the withdrawal of assessments by trained peers – something denied by NCT – client feedback is now “the only measure of quality” of the sessions, for example antenatal and postnatal classes, that practitioners deliver.
“A practitioner could teach 1,000 people a year and 30 of them rate the course negatively,” outlines the petition. “This leads to humiliating and threatening monitoring practices which in some cases go on for a period of a year or more. These processes are damaging practitioners’ mental health and wellbeing.”
Racism in the workplace
IWGB claims this process is disproportionately affecting black and brown practitioners, who are likely to receive more negative feedback than their white counterparts.
“When practitioners should be protected from racist clients, they are instead seeing racially biased feedback being used as a means of excessive monitoring and even threats to have their licence to practise removed,” said the union.
It called on NCT management to:
- End ongoing discriminatory assessments and monitoring of practitioners of colour
- End all discriminatory practices including keeping things on file for an unspecified amount of time, and
- Stop the use of client feedback as part of the quality control process.
The NCT has over 750 practitioners who provide practical and emotional support for expectant and new parents.
One practitioner, who IWGB said has endured years of disciplinary processes by the NCT, said: “They refused to accept my excellent ratings from professional assessors and kept moving the goalposts to keep my licence to practise. When I encountered racist clients, they sided with them and did not protect me. Instead they threatened to take away my licence to practise. They put so much pressure on me. When I told my ‘mentor’ I was suicidal she told me not to behave like a child.”
The NCT denied removing practitioners’ licences to practice, saying it had not removed a single licence in three years.
Ajmal Waqif, IWGB branch BAME officer, said: “Charities are supposed to hold themselves to high standards of ethics and social responsibility. However, the IWGB Charity Workers’ Branch deals with so many cases where charities have failed to live up to these standards when it comes to the treatment of their own workers.
“The NCT’s treatment of our members, and their inability to see the discrimination built into their procedures, shows that when it comes to systemic racism experienced by workers in the sector, many charities still have a very long way to go.”
NCT said 88% of parents rated their experience with NCT as good or excellent in the last year and that, as a member of the racial equality taskforce launched by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, it was committed to working closely with others on the issue of racial disparity in maternal outcomes.
A spokesperson said it has zero tolerance for bullying, harassment, racism or any other form of discrimination.
“We would encourage anyone who has experienced any such behaviour or practice to get in touch, so that we can work together to investigate, identify actions, learn from experiences and find positive resolution,” they said.
“Our mission is to support all parents through the first 1,000 days to have the best possible experience of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood. We are committed to providing the best experience for new parents at this critical time. As a consequence, we regularly evaluate, review and report parents’ feedback to ensure the highest levels of service and support to parents.
“At NCT we are committed to raising awareness and tackling the critical issue of racial inequality in maternal outcomes. We are involved in a range of community and campaigning activity to support change for women on this very important issue.”
It added that the mental health and wellbeing of practitioners is of the utmost importance. It has a dedicated team to support practitioners and that, in response to the pandemic, over the past year it has trained more mental health first aiders.