My name is Rob Gunnel, I am an independent trainer and I have been providing workshops for male foster carer’s across the UK for approximately 13 years. While issues around safe care and allegations have been prominent…there has been a significant emphasis on celebrating men as key role models in children’s lives.
In general, there is still a notion, voiced by men, that they feel that the media view and perceptions of men reinforces the stereotypical views of men as predators. In my view this can lead to men feeling wary to the extent where they are uncomfortable about being alone around children. From my experience, men feel that their involvement with children is ‘secondary’ giving a message, albeit implicitly, that their role is less important.
To the contrary, research suggests otherwise and the workshops have been successful in creating an environment where men can re-assess the importance of their role and learn from each other. It has been amazing and refreshing how much men have ‘opened up’ when given the opportunity. Allowing space for men only has worked given there are such different issues for men than women around children.
In March 2013, a local authority in the Midlands agreed for me and a colleague to develop work with men. We felt it would be necessary to retain the workshops but develop another initiative, particularly in supporting the need for male foster carer’s to support each other. Not to replace or undermine statutory supports, but to enhance them, again recognizing the value of men and tapping into their resources as a key part in caring for children. With cooperation from the local authority we called the service, Men Supporting Men (MSM).
MSM celebrates men as carers. We identify what skills, strengths and qualities men need to support and nurture children in their care. We discuss safe care and allegations as well as discussing what it is that heightens the vulnerability for men and what support they need. Other issues explored include: relationships that male carer’s have had with key males in their lives which have influenced their parenting role and masculinity and how this translates to children.
The service has now been launched and meetings between the guys continue where they have autonomy to create their own agenda in matters relating to life journey as male foster carer’s. Close liaison with the social work team has been necessary for accountability, supervision and resources .
The evaluation men have made has been brilliant. Here are some examples of the feedback given: “Great to have a course for all men to learn from each other,” “The course has given permission for men to talk about their fears, hopes and aspirations.” We are finding that sessions have re-emphasized the importance of men’s role in fostering , they have felt included and valued which has raised their self-esteem and have a positive impact on outcomes for children. So far this is proving to be a win-win situation for men, women and particularly for children in the care system.
Historically, more women than men contact Fosterline’s advice line, whereas more men seek information on the website than women. Fosterline would encourage more men to phone us and talk to an advisor in confidence. We have both men and women in equal percentage on our phonelines, so if you would prefer to speak to a man we can arrange for a male advisor to call you back. Our freephone number is 0800 040 7675.