Editorial : Shaping the Workforce

Apparently the child care workforce is becoming steadily more female. There always has been an imbalance, with more women in caring roles than men, and there have been moves in the past to try to recruit more men, but the current trend is presumably the result of thousands of decisions by men and women about their career choices, rather than some Government policy. If the trend is to be reversed, therefore, it will entail changes of attitude on the part of the community. The Government may be able to trigger such changes, but the outcome will depend in the end upon the opinions of potential applicants for jobs.

Taking a look at history, it always was the pattern that nurseries and children’s homes were staffed by women. Sometimes there was a man as the overall head of large homes, such as cottage complexes with several units on a campus. In small group homes, the woman was at times supported by her husband, who got an allowance and his board and lodging for 15 hours work per week. Approved schools for boys were largely staffed by men, supported by their wives as matrons and housemothers. Girls’ approved school were staffed by women, sometimes with male heads.

Then, in the 1970s, with the introduction of community homes and the assertion that residential child care was a form of social work, there was a move to appoint a more balanced workforce so that children could have both male and female role models. This happened in all types of residential care. More investment was put into training, there was more scope for promotion, and although women still predominated, there was a more even gender balance over all.

What has led to the reversal of this trend? Is it the influence of factors in the wider job market, such as full employment or higher rates of pay for men? Or is it the impact of scandals? Are men more wary about taking up jobs where they may be subject to allegations of abuse – whether unfounded or not?

The rationale for a balanced workforce was clear, but does it matter? Do we simply wish to let the trend continue? Or do we wish to engineer a particular shape to the make-up of the workforce? Does the age of staff matter, for instance? Valerie Jackson has pointed out the contribution which older people could make in child care, but they are totally unrepresented in residential care. Does the ethnic background of staff matter, perhaps in enabling the children they work with to identify with them, or should we preach diversity by the nature of staff teams

If none of this matters, then the gender trend does not matter. If however, we want the workforce to have a particular profile in order to meet children’s needs, then we need to understand the causes of this trend before we can know what to do about it. If history is anything to go by, the services will be influenced by external factors, trying to keep going despite the impact of the job market, immigration and other factors. In the past, little has been done to design the workforce to meet children’s needs, but maybe, now that we have a Children’s Workforce Development Council, these questions will be addressed.

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