Wanted: Caring Men

The CWDC Survey

Parents in England – and single mothers in particular – are calling for more males to work in early years settings to ensure that children have contact with men in caring roles. According to research conducted by the Children’s Workforce Development Council (CWDC), 55 per cent of parents say they want a male childcare worker for their nursery-aged children, with 66 per cent of lone parent mothers saying they would like a man involved in the care and development of their young children.

Early years settings can provide children with access to a male role model. Currently 17 per cent of children from lone parent female families have fewer than two hours a week contact time with a man, while 36 per cent have under six hours. Male early years workers can perform a vital role in ensuring many of these young children have quality contact time with men. Offering someone for the boys to look up to was seen as important for 37 per cent of parents, who say that it sets boys a good example, while a quarter say they believe boys will behave better with a man.

But it’s not just boys who stand to benefit. Fifty-seven per cent of parents recognised the fact that men and women have different skills to offer young children, while 52 per cent simply said that a nursery setting should better reflect the real gender mix of the world.

Yet despite the high demand for male workers, there are very few men currently working in this field. More than half of parents (59 per cent) say their childcare provision doesn’t currently have a male worker.

To try and tackle this dramatic gender imbalance, CWDC is calling on more men to consider working in early years. Thom Crabbe, National Development Manager for Early Years at the Children’s Workforce Development Council, said, “Parents are right to want to see more men working in early years. It is important that during the crucial first five years of a child’s life they have quality contact with both male and female role models”.

The View of Voice

Voice, a trade union for education professionals, including nursery nurses and other childcare staff, has welcomed the findings. Senior Professional Officer (Childcare) Tricia Pritchard said, “Childcare is a professionally rewarding career for both men and women. Children need male as well as female role models, so I hope this will encourage more men to consider childcare as a career.

“There are far more children nowadays who come from one parent families and, generally speaking, those one parent families have a female parent rather than a male parent, so children aren’t getting a male role model at home, and at nursery and in school, because of the predominantly female workforce, they aren’t getting a male role model there either. They aren’t seeing how adult men and women behave and react towards each other.

“However, unless more is done to improve the pay, working conditions, training, career development and status of nursery staff, I fear that men – and, increasingly, women – will not be attracted to childcare as a profession.

“I also think that there is still work to be done to change public perceptions of what has traditionally been seen as a ‘female’ role. The problem is self-perpetuating. As children go through nurseries with predominantly female staff, they’ve grown up perceiving it as a female profession, so when young men come to choose their own career, they don’t tend to think of childcare because they see it as ‘female’.

“There should be procedures in place in all nurseries to ensure that all staff are treated equally and to safeguard both children and staff. If staff and parents know, and are happy with, for example, policies on toilet procedures or nappy changing, any prejudicial attitudes or concerns can be addressed and a positive atmosphere created that will enhance recruitment.

“There isn’t an instant answer to this. It’s like slowing down an oil tanker and turning it round. There’s a marketing job to be done to encourage people to understand that being a childcarer is an appropriate role for a man. One day, I hope that nobody will give a second thought to men working in nurseries.”

The Broader Scene

The CWDC survey focused primarily on services for young children, but the same arguments apply in every other child care settings, for children and young people of all ages. The attempt to attract more men to caring roles is a battle which has been fought continuously for decades. In the 1970s, for example, there was an influx of men into residential child care, overturning the historical model of single women running group homes almost as if they were foster placements.

The problem is that from time to time male carers (more than women) have abused children in their care, and at times they have been vulnerable to false allegations of abuse. Tricia Pritchard’s emphasis on having the proper procedures in place is therefore important, to ensure that the children are safe, that the careers of male child care workers are not jeopardised by false allegations, and that the profession’s image does not put off possible recruits.

Both boys and girls need to relate to good male and female role models. Nurseries, foster care, children’s homes and other settings give the opportunity for children to see both men and women in positive, concerned roles, relating well to each other as well as to the children. Children who have experienced good parenting will then have their understanding of adults confirmed. Those who have suffered poor parenting or the absence of a parent can see that there are alternatives.

Obviously, there is a distinction between the roles of professionals and those of parents, but it is a fuzzy boundary. Child care workers frequently have to offer elements of care which parents are expected to provide. Care has to be taken not to undermine the roles of parents, of course, but it is more important to overlap the roles than for staff to stand back and leave children without their needs for parenting being met. Each child, each parent and each situation is different – and that is what makes the work so fascinating. Let us hope that more men take up the challenge.

For more information about the CWDC research, see http://www.cwdcouncil.org.uk/.

For further information from Voice, see www.voicetheunion.org.uk.

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