Do we need Men in The Early Years?

One of the workshops that I attended at the Men in The Early Years (MITEY) Conference in Bradford was run by Jeremy Davies from the Fatherhood Institute and centred around recruiting men into the early years’ sector.

Early on in the workshop, Jeremy asked a very interesting question, which set the pace for the workshop – Why does it matter to children if we have men in the early years? Where is the evidence coming from? Bearing in mind that this was a ‘Men in the Early Years’ conference, I thought this was a fascinating place to start and I started to guess that this was going to be more than your average workshop!

Sure enough, after a series of group discussions, we had covered some very stimulating questions, with some excellent contributions from both Jeremy and his audience. A few things gave me particular pause for thought:

First of all: It had generally been agreed that dads can be harder to engage with in Early Years settings. A regularly cited reason for having men in childcare is that they can then put other men at their ease and they can talk to each other – ‘blokes can talk to blokes’. However, a good point was made that this is not always the case (not everyone likes football!!) and that it may not actually be good for some people to exchange ideas – what if the dad was disparaging about having a male carer? What if he knocked the confidence of the male carer?

This was really interesting to me, as I hadn’t consciously thought about it, but I think I’d always assumed that dads would be encouraging and that there would be common ground. On reflection, it did seem obvious that this would not be the case. I’ve met men (and women) who are distrustful of men in childcare – obviously, with reflection, these could be dads (and mums).

Later on in the workshop, we were discussing how society in the UK is set up to support mums and women in childcare, but what would happen if dads and men had the same support and information input? Research shows that the answer to this great question is that they learn at the same rate and as well as women. Not too surprising, so why don’t we target men and dads to learn about childcare? This could break the cycle of having 95% plus of the Early Years workforce being female, because men would be just as knowledgeable. As David Wright from Paint Pots nursery noted – boys and girls need men and women (see David’s podcast for Men in Child care here).

The third ‘Oh, that’s interesting’ moment came when discussing dads and biology. When dads get involved with the pregnancy, it has been shown that the male body becomes ‘primed’ for care-giving, in order to create capable caregivers. So there is already a workforce of dads out there who are biologically primed to be care-givers. Not only that, once they have been a dad, the biological care-giving persists, so they can respond to children much more quickly once back in that situation.

So the whole workshop had me really thinking – from “Are men the right people to talk to dads and men?” to “Maybe if dads and men had the same support as mums get, would we have more engaged men for the Sector?” to “Biologically, dads are primed as care-givers forever!”

Most importantly, I had more questions when leaving the workshop than when I entered, and plenty of reflections to make on my own assumptions about Men in The Early Years.

Jeremy summed it up beautifully at the end, though “Men are from Earth, Women are from Earth – get over it!”

** Update ** The 2018 MITEY Conference will be Tues 10th July, at City Hall, Bristol. More details as I get them!

Find out more about the Fatherhood Institute here and on Twitter here: @fatherhoodinst

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