Monday, December 5, 2011

The other 1%

Childcare worker Damien Walshe with Bobby Hogan and Jack Keely (credit Matt Kavanagh)
- 99% of childcare workers are female
By Conor Hogan

It is strange that while completely normal for a man to take care of his own children, those who wish to make a career out of childcare are often greeted with suspicion.

“The question is sometimes asked - ‘Why would a man want to be in a room with children?’ – but the same would never be posed about a woman,” says Andrew Doherty of the Waterford County Childcare Community.

While this is one of the reasons for the low participation rate by men in childcare, it doesn’t quite explain the especially low rate in Ireland, estimated at less than 1% of staff – the worst in the EU. Compare this to the higher than 20% participation rate in Norway and Denmark. 

So, is there any immediate difference between Ireland and these countries that could explain this disparity?
For starters, there is a generally different emphasis on what activities the children are involved in. 

MEN IN CHILDCARE IN NORWAY

“In Norway,” said Mr Doherty, “children spend 60% of their time outdoors doing activities such as fishing and gathering timber. These are the kind of things that would attract a man into that kind of a position.

"In Ireland, we spend a lot more time indoors. Another cause would be the poor paying conditions. There is a certain expectation on men here to be the breadwinners – that it’s okay for the woman to do it, if she is not the main wage-earner in the house.”

Damien Walshe is one of that rare breed of pre-school carers, though it wasn’t a job he originally planned on doing for a living.

PARENTS “A BIT SHOCKED”

“After I finished my Leaving Cert in ’07,” he told us, “I didn’t have the honours Irish, so I decided to do the B.A. in Early Childhood Studies in Waterford I.T. as an alternative way of getting into primary school teaching. I went out on placement in the Clonmel Community Resource Centre and discovered that early years really suited me.”

His experiences since he started have been positive; however the rarity of men working in the sector took some people a little aback: “My manager had never even come across another man who applied for the position before. The parents, as well, were initially a bit shocked. Once they got over that, though, they were very welcoming and supportive.”

Mr Walshe is now in the second year of an MA in Social Studies in WIT and his thesis is focussed on “the influence male role models can have on the children of lone parent families.” Ireland currently has the highest of single-parent families in the EU at 23%.
Coupled with the lack of men in childcare, many children are growing up without a positive male role model.

Men In Childcare network

In 2004, the ‘Men In Childcare Network’ was established to support men working in crèches and Montessori, while raising awareness about the importance of increasing the number of men involved. They have also helped create a pan-European network of other male childcare workers across the EU. Their aim is to increase the male participation rate to 5% by the year 2020.

“We have to normalize the idea that men can be involved in Childcare,” Doherty said, “and what is very important is that we get the media interested in the topic”.
On November 19th, the network held a conference in Dublin entitled ‘Reimagining Childhood Care and Education.’

The Men In Childcare network receives support from Pobal.

T: 087-2299208.
E: menicirl@gmail.com
F: facebook.com/meninchildcare

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