Men Can Care
Neil McMillan introduces a Scottish project on rediscovering the role of men in child and youth care work
hanging work patterns, the breaking down of traditional family roles and the emergence of the “new man” have seen fathers become involved with their children at a level not previously known. Men are beginning to realise the important role they are able to play in the lives of their children and increasingly fathers are opting to be the primary carer in families. During evenings and weekends throughout the world, many men are involved in running the local sports team, youth group or Scout pack attended often by their own children.
Despite this increased positive informal involvement with children, we know that men continue to remain significantly under-represented in child care as a career. In the past, professional child care was seen as the domain of women and gender inequalities saw this as a relatively low paid occupation. In this context, the centrality of the breadwinner ethic for men’s self image and other beliefs about masculinity and men’s roles have been important determining factors within the career decision making process. Perhaps more recently, emerging revelations about the abuse of children in formal care settings where the perpetrators have primarily been men has led to a culture of suspicion around the place of men in child care further alienating them within and discouraging them from this area of work.
Entrenched attitudes about what men can and can’t do in the face of a changing labour market have limited their career opportunities and continued to impoverish men on many levels. These attitudes are not impervious to reform and 145 years of providing services to children at risk and developing professionalism in the field of child and youth care here at Kibble ( www.kibble.org ) has allowed us to say authoritatively that men can care! Not only can they care, but they are in fact extremely good at it. They offer more than just the compensatory father model for the many children of absent fathers we look after, and do more than provide a natural balanced team of workers or offer apparently ‘natural masculine abilities’ as advocated by essentialist approaches to gender discourse.
Kibble is one of Scotland’s most progressive, forward-thinking charities and social enterprises, providing a comprehensive range of special education, youth training and social welfare services to over 100 young people at risk from across Scotland. Founded in 1859, the centre operates on its original site in Paisley, and today aims to be at the forefront of effective and innovative specialist services for young people with a complex mix of social, emotional, educational and behavioural difficulties. We feel so strongly about the important role men can play in professional child care and are also so concerned about their limited numbers in this area of work that we have established a project partly supported by the European Social Fund offering a life changing opportunity to 34 men who wish to pursue a career in child care.