24 Feb

Black Lives Matter: how the Breastfeeding Network is working to tackle racial inequality

In June 2020, against the backdrop of the worldwide protests advocating for an end to racial inequality on a mass scale, the Breastfeeding Network shared a statement on Black Lives Matter in solidarity against racism. It felt especially relevant for BfN to do this given our work with all mothers and our knowledge of the deep inequalities that exist for Black and Asian women in our maternity services highlighted in the MBRRACE report.

Here is that statement again:


Black breastfeeding matters

We stand alongside all Black mothers and families, and are willing to do anything we can to ensure mothers and babies get real change for the better.

At the heart of BfN’s values is empowerment of women, and none of us can feel empowered if we are raising our children with threat from racism.

As a charity we have always believed in social justice for mothers and babies, but often we have felt limited in what to do, in part due to our own ignorance – which is our responsibility to correct.

We hear our fellow Black mothers and families and we are committed to doing more – using our core values of empowerment, empathy and actively listening.

We are committed to learning and educating ourselves.

We will share and amplify Black women’s voices. We are here for you.


Since we made that statement, what have we done?

We have made the commitment publicly to push for anti-racism within infant feeding and across maternity and the early years agenda. We have done this through becoming a more visible ally to the people and organisations who give voice to anti-racism, including providing monetary support for Black Breastfeeding Week and promotion and awareness raising of the FIVEXMORE campaign in our communications.

Across the charity we have questioned ourselves and heard from others to understand our responsibilities to drive up equality and eliminate racist behaviour. While we, like many other breastfeeding support organisations, don’t consider ourselves to be racist, by virtue of the UK’s shocking inequalities we recognise that by remaining passive on these issues we perpetuate the same behaviours that allow racism to flourish. We all need to do more and given what we know about the inequalities that persist within breastfeeding we in particular actually need to do more than most to help correct this. We aim to drive up racial equality in breastfeeding by further committing to supporting ALL families to feel comfortable accessing our support, training, volunteering and working for us. This is at the heart of our work and we know that we can only truly achieve it by becoming a more representative and diverse charity.

So, informed by early work undertaken by volunteers on a working group in 2018/19, we have been asking ourselves …

  • What are the changes that we need to make?

Last summer we heard from many of our peer supporters out in communities who knew more than we did to understand how we can implement a lasting inclusion and diversity action plan for the charity.

  • Where we are now and, and what actions must we take?

Guided by the insights from the volunteer working group, Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority peer supporters from BfN, and colleagues from BRAP, we have mapped the areas and actions that we want to work on. Our Board-approved Inclusion and Diversity Action Plan will document change in the following areas:-

People we support

We have always recognised that some women face higher barriers to breastfeeding support. This is why we have and will continue to keep our training for mothers free. We have also always targeted our work in areas where breastfeeding rates are at their lowest. We routinely collect ethnicity data on our helplines and across our commissioned services but we don’t have a complete picture for our volunteers across the charity. We believe that increasing access to our training is key to building a more diverse charity. However, we recognise that even the act of volunteering is problematic for individuals and communities who are not able to afford to volunteer.

We provide a universal service meeting mothers on-wards, and we know that our home visits reach a diverse community, but many services are based at our community groups and attendance at groups is not representative. Through our action plan we are seeking partnerships with others to help us build representation across our community groups and drop-ins. We recognise that with a few exceptions the majority of the people we support across our helplines and in our commissioned services are white and we want to change this through encouraging wider access to our training. The charity has a tradition of offering minority language lines. We proactively maintain specific helpline support for Welsh, Polish, Bengali/Syheti women and families – and are able also to offer helpline support in various other languages, because of the diversity and strength in languages that our networks possess. While we see this as a strength it can also be a practical weakness as language lines rely on volunteers. We will proactively report on the take-up of our language lines and develop less volunteer-reliant ways of supporting families who require support in a different language. 

Board

While progress had been made to engage younger mothers with lived experience of breastfeeding on the Board as Directors there has been a clear lack of diverse ethnic representation on our Board of Directors for some time. In November 2020 we were pleased to welcome two new board members and there is an ongoing commitment to ensure strong representation on the Board to support effective decision-making.

Workforce and volunteers

BfN attracts a diverse range of candidates for jobs but we need to do more work to see if the people who get offered jobs are also representative and diverse. We commit to doing an employee survey in 2021 and benchmarking with other appropriate organisations.

We will also explicitly recruit staff from diverse backgrounds for a range of specialist and skilled roles across the organisation.

Training and Supervision

We are working with a partner to undertake a review of our Helper training and resources to ensure equality, diversity, inclusion and accessibility. This will be complete by February 2021 and then we will look to extend the review across the rest of our training resources over the course of the year.

Our commissioned work in Cheshire and Merseyside, where some trainees were recruited through the Black Mum Magic Project, will provide invaluable ongoing learning for our training. As the vast majority of our trainees are white, attracting, training and retaining women from more diverse ethnic backgrounds is a key focus of our work in many communities. We intend to offer targeted training to these communities independently or in collaboration with a partner. 

Internal Culture

We recognise that we have not done enough to help our workforce adopt and implement inclusive and diverse practices and to build knowledge and cultural sensitivity. In early 2021 we are training our tutors and supervisors in inclusion and diversity, we are doing this with two external providers – BRAP, an equality charity, and Vanisha Virgo, Mama and Me, who has trained with BfN. We will extend training on inclusion and diversity to all staff by the end of 2021.

We have reviewed our mandatory training requirements to cover training that is important to our volunteers and staff and this now includes inclusion and diversity training.

We are committed to diversity and inclusion being on all agendas – wherever we meet we will actively discuss and invite feedback and learning on diversity and inclusion. This includes our Board, manager meetings and meetings of our project leads, tutors and supervisors.

We are collecting and updating resources, policies and documents on inclusion and diversity and we will make these available for all staff and volunteers as part of the induction process.

Website

The working group in 2019 guided us on changes that have largely been implemented but we want to do more. Our website requires an overhaul both in design, images and content and this is a goal to achieve in 2021/22.

Marketing and Communications

Our communications team do and will continue to ensure that our values around diversity and inclusivity are publicly demonstrated.  This covers our newsletters, all social media channels, blogs, campaigns and printed materials.

Next Steps …

We are committed to taking lasting and ongoing action and progressing our plans publicly. We will share progress. We have dedicated resources within our team and a commitment from the charity to implement real change. We will work with partners and agencies to help guide us as we bring on these changes to ensure that the impact of the changes we make is evaluated and prove to be effective.

We are grateful to the many peer supporters in BfN from Black, Asian and other Minority Ethnic backgrounds who took the time to talk with us about their lived experience of our support, training and volunteering. BfN at its heart is a listening organisation and we believe that it is really only through listening that we can fully understand the needs of the women and families whom we serve.  However, it is through action that we can really build trust and confidence. We welcome any other feedback, especially where you think we could do better. Please contact us ceo@breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk