By Gabriella Jozwiak - Nursery World

What is the most effective way to respond to a parent’s request that male staff do not take their child to the toilet, Gabriella Jozwiak asks our early years panel

Q. A new family has requested that our male practitioner does not take their child to the toilet or be left alone with them. I’m shocked that this is even an issue these days. How have other leaders responded to this situation?

David Wright, former joint-owner of Paint Pots Nurseries

‘I am a pragmatist when it comes to such issues: this is an opportunity to engage with parents as much a it is about men’s rights and equality. If you start suggesting the parent should go elsewhere if they do not agree with equal opportunities, you have lost the parent and the business. It is better to educate and engage with them.

‘In my experience, parents may have an image of a man working in a nursery as someone strange to be feared. But it is possible to change this perception.

‘It is all about building trust. Be curious and respectful. Find out why the parent feels like this. Usually parents will say they do not know why, they just think men are more of a risk than women. But there is no evidence to back this up. Most abuse occurs in the home. Their feelings are illogical.

‘Point out to the parent that it is not unusual for men to work with children. Men work with teenagers in secondary schools and at primary level. By the time you get to early years, are men all weird? It is fine for dads to look after their own children – but not other people’s? It is an irrational fear.

‘It is true, fewer men work at early education level. But if as a sector we work towards normalising this, it will become less of an issue for parents. If we just turn that family away, we miss an opportunity.’

Jade Arnold, nursery manager, Spring Carousel Nursery

‘We have had this problem on about five occasions. Each time, we explained to the parents that our male practitioner is qualified to the same level, or higher, than other staff. They have gone through our same rigorous recruitment process, which means requesting two references. They have a DBS check and safeguarding training. We also do not let any staff be on their own with a child.

‘I have gone through our policy on how we are an inclusive setting. We have a diverse community and embrace all kinds of children and adults with different backgrounds. Agreeing with this parent’s request would go against our beliefs and policies. We treat all staff equally.

‘In my experience, after such a conversation, the parents are satisfied and say everything is OK. One parent was from a traveller community and they insisted it was against their beliefs. But I told them I could not change our policies and suggested they look at other settings, but said it was unlikely they would find another that would agree. After this, they realised they wanted to stay with us. I have had one parent who did leave, which was for religious reasons.

‘Spring’s male workforce accounts for about 5 per cent of our total. The national average, according to Department for Education, is 2 per cent. We are striving to makeour number even higher by the end of this year.’

Hannah Richardson, nursery manager, Archfield House Nursery Bristol

‘We have had this situation. We had a meeting with the parent and asked them what their worries were. We kept an open mind about whether this parent’s attitude could be caused by past experiences, rather than just discrimination.

‘In that meeting, it came to light why this parent was concerned, and we were able to reassure them that their concerns, although valid given their experiences, did not apply to us.

‘Our blanket policy is that we do not discriminate. We reassured the parent every staff has been through the same DBS background checks to make sure they are safe to be working with children, and that we had no reason to be concerned.

‘We kept up our communication with this parent and built a strong relationship with them, so they could come to management directly with any concerns rather than the staff in the room.

‘Culturally, some parents may have never experienced a male caregiver giving intimate care. Explaining our ethos and the benefits of having men in childcare, and why it is good for children to see male caregivers, is important.

‘We explained the situation to the male member of staff. We did not want them to feel the family did not like them personally. In fact, we encouraged that staff member to form a relationship with the parents so they could build some trust. That worked really well.’

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March 27, 2024