Abuse stigma puts men off child care

Just three per cent of Britain's nannies are male. Now a new campaign is aiming to increase their number

A growing number of British men would like to work as nannies and childminders but fear they would be branded as paedophiles, according to a new study.

An overwhelming majority of parents and non-parents want more men to join the child care profession, research to be published this week shows. Only one in 10 parents said they would be unwilling to place their children with a male carer.

In the run-up to Fathers' Day next Sunday, the Daycare Trust, the national childcare charity, is launching a campaign to get more men into the child care industry. Currently just 3 per cent are men.

Their campaign is supported by famous fathers, including TV presenter Chris Tarrant, PR guru Max Clifford, celebrity chef Antony Worrall Thompson, designer Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen and schools watchdog David Bell.

It argues that a mixed-gender environment and positive male role models for children are the key benefits of men working in child care.

To launch the campaign, the Daycare Trust commissioned new research from MORI, which highlights the willingness of parents to trust their child to a man.

According to the survey, almost eight in 10 people are in favour of men working in child care, though opposition was apparent among older people - 19 per cent of over 55s thought it was a bad idea.

Seven in 10 people felt there should be a higher proportion of men working in child care. But since 1991, the figures have remained static. One in three men under 55 said they would consider a career in child care. But in fact few do.

Men blame their reluctance on several factors: the fear that they would meet hostility because of the risks of paedophiles working with children; a sense that parents wouldn't want their children looked after by a man; low pay; and embarrassment.

To coincide with the survey results and the start of National Childcare Week tomorrow, the Daycare Trust is also to publish Men's Work?, a report by Charlie Owen at the University of London, which argues for a national strategy to increase the numbers of men working in child care. The report calls for the issues of pay, image, training, recruitment and support to be addressed.

"Increasing the number of men working in child care is not easy," Mr Owen says. "It can disrupt strongly held views about masculinity and femininity. Challenging those views might make people uncomfortable."

'I get some funny looks, but I can take the criticism'

Mick Godber from Clifton, Nottingham, has been a professional child carer since he gave up his job as a medical electronics engineer 15 years ago. He currently looks after 14 different children at different times during the week, as well as his teenage son and two teenage step-children.

"It's not exactly a macho job," admits Mr Godber, 39. "Things are getting a bit better now, but it's always been a female-dominated career, and that annoys me. As far as I'm concerned, we're all equal. In fact, a lot of single mothers prefer male child carers because they are looking for a male role model for their kid.

"I've been told lots of times that there's got to be something wrong with me to do this, but I don't give a monkey's what other people think. In the last seven years I've never had a single vacancy. I do before school, after school and odd days. The youngest I look after is a year old, and the oldest is 12.

"I do get a lot of funny looks, and people talking when I walk along the street with, say, two little girls and a little boy, but ultimately I chose to do this for a living, and I'm strong enough to take the criticism.

"For me, it's about watching the kids grow, and the smile on their faces when we do something fun: that's why I do it. It's the best medicine anyone could ask for."

Mr Godber is also a motorbike enthusiast who rides a Honda Goldwing. "As the weekend comes, the Goldwing comes out and I go partying with all the lads from the bike club."

One of Mr Godber's clients is Linda Walker, 34, who regularly employs him to look after her two-year-old son, Charlie.

"Mick's brilliant with kids," says Ms Walker, who also lives in Clifton. "We use to have a female childminder for Charlie, but she was too busy running her house and looking after her own kids.

"Mick's not like that at all. He's committed to his job, and nothing else gets in the way. Mick's fantastic and Charlie loves him to bits. He goes there a happy child and comes home a happy child."

Jonathan Thompson

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