Duty of care

20th April 2007 at 01:00
Some men are put off becoming care workers because of bias and suspicion

THE TRADITIONAL image of the hard-working, emotionally inexpressive Scottish male is preventing men from realising an ambition to enter the care profession.

The finding emerges from an evaluation of a west of Scotland initiative aimed at boosting the number of men employed in residential child care.

Mark Smith of Edinburgh Uni-versity debunks the notion that men are generally not interested in care work. He finds it is an area of work to which many men aspire, only to be discouraged for a complex mix of reasons.

The sheer number of applicants to the programme provides evidence of men's interest: there were 1,253 requests for applications and 660 submitted, creating intense competition for the 34 places. But many regretted that they had not gone into this area earlier in life.

The men, aged 21 to 59, were asked to keep diaries recording their thoughts as they went through their training. This showed that they found the training intensely fulfilling, but also gave insights into why many had not moved into the profession earlier. "A lot of them did not see the way in,"

said Mr Smith, who presented his research at Strathclyde University's Trans-forming Transitions international conference last week.

One man said: "It's been a major life-changing experience... I don't know how anyone can't be blown away by the whole thing." Another said: "I'm actually loving the studyI. It captures my imagination. I wish I'd done it years ago."

The study provided evidence that many of the men were straitjacketed by the image of the west of Scotland male as the hardened breadwinner who left parenting to his partner. Many of the men came from years of working in warehouses and factories - although some had been in sectors such as banking - where they had been unhappy, yet still did not make the move into care.

Mr Smith suggested that the problem was with society's images of care more than the men themselves. "We are a long way off in terms of thinking men might have a role to play in caring for other people's children." This, he stressed, was especially true for early years care, where men made up about 2 per cent of carers.

He said there was a feeling that women "speak the language of care" better than men, and that equated to mothering. He added that men were aware of "an image of men as abusers", and suspicion might be cast on them if they entered care work. "Many were stuck in other people's views of what it was to be a man," said Mr Smith.

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