Men are desperately needed in Scotland's childcare workforce. In Childminding Week 2017, TOM MATHIESON shares the joys and frustrations of being a male childminder in a female-dominated sector.
WHAT conclusions do our children draw about men when those who look after them outside the family are almost exclusively female?
It’s a topic close to the heart of Tom Mathieson, one of the tiny handful of male childminders in Scotland. An experienced father & foster parent long before he registered in the childminding sector, he is determined to overturn stereotypes and show that men and women are equally good at caring.
“I’m happy and proud to be a childminder,” says Tom, who takes lead role in the service he runs with his wife at their home village near Alness in the Highlands. “I do understand why a parent could be a little wary at first, as a male childminder is not that common. But once the child settles in and starts to mix with the other children they’re fine.”
Only 4 per cent of the nursery sector workforce and a statistically negligible handful (0%) of childminders are male, according to ‘An Independent Review of the Scottish Early Learning and Childcare Workforce and Out of School Care Workforce’, conducted in 2015 by Professor Iram Siraj.
The Scottish Government is therefore keen to attract more men into the childcare workforce to promote gender-equality and more men to act as positive role-models for boys, especially if other ‘father figures’ are absent.
The message is writ large at the moment in Childminding Week, which runs until Sunday – and likewise the Scottish Childminding Association was very supportive of Year of the Dad and its aim to highlight the importance of men in nurturing roles both inside and outside the family unit.
“Obviously childminding is very female-orientated, and I think the way we look at certain professions, stereotypes and traditions,” says Tom. “That way of thinking will take a long time to change.”
A LEAD ROLE
But while many husbands and partners may be childminding assistants, helping out with daily activities, Tom is proud that circumstances have given him a leading role in his stereotype-busting business.
“I began childminding in 2004 with my wife Linda,” he explains. “We were fostering at the time and when I look back it’s as if childminding just happened and we became jointly registered.
“Over the last few years I have taken more of a lead role in the service because Linda has started a new job, and I really enjoy it. It’s a great being your own boss and having your own routine – even though you’re tied to school times – most of the time, you can plan your own day.”
Media and high-profile abuse cases don’t help the cause of men in childcare, he admits. “I know as a parent myself, I would’ve been unsure about sending my three children to a male childminder when they were young. But I know a lot of these worries are just in the mind and the positives outweigh the negatives.”
A BALANCED ENVIRONMENT
Children are not born with in-built values, stereotypes or attitudes – they are simply influenced by their environment, from the family home, to school and their childminder. Ensuring a balanced and wide ranging environment helps promote equality, instils a positive outlook for children and nurtures their learning and development.
Childminders, both male and female, offer a variety of experiences that help children achieve outcomes, key milestones and ultimately their potential for the future.
“It’s a very rewarding job; it gives you a warm glow to know that I’m giving something back,” says
Tom, who loves the outdoor life. “We’ve got lots of fields and a forest near us and the children love to going on long walks and being in the outdoors. On our way to school a few weeks ago, we were walking along the road holding hands and one of the little girls genuinely said ‘I love Tom’ and that’s really nice to hear – you know you’re making them feel safe, nurtured and, after all, that’s what we’re all trying to do.”
What’s his advice for other men thinking of going into childminding? “I’d say go ahead and do it – embrace it and help make a difference!”
For more information on becoming a childminder, free guides, training opportunities, or events in Childminding Week 2017, check out Scottish Childminding Association (SCMA).