This blog post was contributed by Gracjana Woźniak (Comenius Institute).
Do young children really need male caregivers? Or perhaps men pose a threat to children?
I am lucky to work in an institution where many men are employed – educators, group assistants, speech language pathologist, disabled children’s assistants. Children adore Mr. Franco, who hugs those of them who have trouble parting with their parents every morning. Parents appreciate his creativity, sense of humour, warmth and ability to play the guitar. However, some parents comment that hiring men in early childcare education facilities can be dangerous…
Male role models
Are male caregivers really needed? Dr. Jan Peeters, Director of VBJK, Centre for Innovation in the Early Years, at Ghent University Belgium presents arguments for increasing employment of men in the ECEC facilities :
- Male caregivers serve as an example to parents, thereby proving that caring for children is not just a women’s issue. A man-caregiver is a good example these days.
- Crèches and nurseries are feminized settings where fathers coming to collect their children may feel uncomfortable. Thanks to the presence of male caregivers, it is easier for fathers (especially young ones) to establish contact with the staff.
- Men have a different approach to children and cooperation with their parents than women – the mixed-gender care team allows participants to learn from each other, to create a new culture of childcare where women and men share tasks equally. This is an important step towards equal opportunities for employment in the ECEC sector.
- The presence of male caregivers significantly increases the spectrum of children’s social experiences. Male educators have their own work style, which provides the children with a greater variety of opportunities.
Studies show that even 9-month-old infants distinguish between pictures and voices of women and men (Martin, Ruble, 2004) . Before a child turns 18 months old, he/she chooses toys and games based on stereotypical preferences. 2-year-olds can identify their own gender and that of other people, while 2.5-year-olds associate toys, tools, professions and even colours with a specific gender (Berk, 1997) . Therefore, it is important for young children to have contact with adult carers of both genders so that they can learn social roles that differ from the stereotype .
Careful – a man!
When a male babysitter took care of my children a few years ago, some friends asked me if I wasn’t afraid… Now let’s look at the dangers of hiring male babysitters.
- Male caregivers need to be more careful than women because it is easier for them to deal with accusations of paedophile inclinations (especially after media coverage of paedophilia scandals). Men surveyed by Dr. Peeters in Flanders (with the exception of one) have not encountered any prejudice against sexual abuse, but about 20% of them consider that they “must be on guard”. . My colleagues in the institution where I work are of the same opinion (e.g. they do not massage children). Parents perceive the touch or hugs from female caregivers as normal, but a man who does the same seems to be suspicious.
- Men have to repeatedly prove their childcare competence. In a study by Dr. Peeters, one of the mothers expressed doubts whether a certified male caregiver was able to measure the temperature of her sick child. Also, people from immigrant backgrounds need more time to accept a man as a caregiver (cultural differences).
- In certain environments/families, a man’s choice to work in a crèche can be subject to severe social judgment. It is often said that a man “should” rather be teaching older children, e.g. starting from the 6th grade of primary school or high school, rather than professionally changing babies’ nappies! And this is not a “manly” job according to a gender stereotype pattern.
- Fear about the future – men, often as “the main breadwinners”, stereotypically seen, have to look for a well-paid job, and working in a crèche cannot always guarantee this. Moreover, among the male caregivers surveyed by Dr. Peeters there were fears that they would have to look for another job when they grow older: “People will not accept an older man as a guardian of small children. That’s not fair, but it is so.” .
These arguments were well summed up by Josip Šimić, a teacher from Medvescak kindergarten in Zagreb: “The dominance of one sex in some professions must be ended. This is especially important in the field of education and not only for the practical implementation of the principle of equality. It is about creating a new person, free from patriarchal limitations”. 
My experience shows that despite some initial concerns male childcare professionals are very well received by most families. A careful caregiver can help the child to become who he or she wants to be, to accept himself or herself and to develop his or her abilities. Whether the educator is male or female.
Gentlemen, to work!
Do you have men working in your ECEC facilities? How can you encourage men to work in a crèche?
References: Peeters, J. 2012. Uwaga – mężczyźni, Dzieci w Europie, Nr 23(11), 2012  Martin, C. L., Ruble, D. N. 2004. Children’s search for gender cues: Cognitive perspectives on gender development. Current directions in psychological science, 13, 67-70.  Berk, L.A. 1997. Child development. Boston: Allyn and Bacon  Röhrborn B. 2012. Dużo mówić i lubić pomagać tacie, Dzieci w Europie, Nr 23(11), 2012  Burić, H. 2012. Co wnoszą mężczyźni do pracy z małymi dziećmi?, Dzieci w Europie, Nr 23(11), 2012