Young unemployed men should be rigorously screened before being accepted to work with after-school clubs, the Scottish Office is being urged by men themselves.
The advice comes from Men and Childcare Scotland, a consortium of voluntary organisations set up to promote men as childcare workers. It says young unemployed males recruited through the Government's New Deal must be suitable for the job.
The New Deal for unemployed 18 to 24-year-olds begins in April and more than 11,000 young men will be potential candidates for childcare placements. Men and Childcare Scotland estimates that only 15 per cent of workers in after-school clubs are men. According to Labour Force Survey figures, only 2.1 per cent of those working in all sectors of child care are male.
Ian Maxwell, a spokesman for the consortium, said: "We know from men already working in child care that they can feel alone and isolated. They are in a female-dominated environment and can be afraid of prejudices and allegations about child abuse. In order that their work be successful they will need encouragement and support, perhaps from experienced male carers who can act as role models."
But Mr Maxwell warns against men being dragooned into child care. A voluntary sector placement will be one of the four options within the scheme.
"The motivation of men working in child care at the moment is high. But to have recruits drafted in as a way of keeping them off the streets would be a recipe for disaster," he said. You are talking about parents trusting other people to look after their children. If these people don't want to be there, it is an unhappy situation for everyone."
Mr Maxwell said strict checks were essential. "Rigorous screening procedures will have to be used for all applicants. Abuse can take place at the hands of either sex, but its incidence is higher at the hands of men."
The Scottish Office has already given an assurance to the Out of School Care Network that record checks will be carried out on prospective trainees during the "gateway" induction period. Unsuitable applicants would not be forced on childcare groups, the network has been told by officials.
The consortium welcomes moves to bring more men into child care. "It makes sense in terms of equal opportunities and in terms of providing children, especially those from single-parent families, with suitable role models," Mr Maxwell said.
Colin Agnew, manager of out-of-school services at the One Stop Child Care Agency in Wester Hailes, Edinburgh, said: "You want men coming into this line of work because they are enthusiastic and not because there is little option." The agency has four men in a staff of 12.
Mr Agnew said that New Deal organisers should promote involvement in child care to men, as well as to after school-club management committees and to parents who may have "prejudices against men".