Case Study (Vulnerable Families): Ensuring Safety and Getting the Best Possible out of Male Carers

21 August 2007

What: Specialist and mainstream support for male carers
Where: East Lothian
When: 2001 to present

Ron Henry has been a social work manager and practising social worker in Scotland for more years than he cares to remember. He had noticed, of course, that young offenders and children in care almost always had ‘a poor or non-existent relationship with their father in particular’ but had never focused on this. In March 2001 that changed when he attended an all-male seminar on ‘safe caring’ organised by the Fostering Network Scotland.

There he was shocked to learn how side-lined the 37 men carers present felt in their caring role, how universally ‘tarred with the potential abuser brush’ and how relieved to be somewhere they felt they could, for the first time, share their concerns and feelings freely.

Six months later, Ron and two men carers attended a Health Education Board for Scotland conference on the importance of fathers in the care of children. It became clear to them that ‘there was a task to do for our own men carers’.

With Ron’s support, three men carers in East Lothian set up their own event locally. Despite extreme weather conditions, 17 men attended and five sent apologies. Next a ‘safe caring’ talk for men by psychologist Joe Nee attracted 21 men (with seven apologies). This was 60% of the potential male attendees – and in stark contrast to men carers’ usual attendance at training events: fewer than five, with no apologies for non-attendance.

Changes in mainstream practice

Throughout, Ron has been careful to advocate for his work within the service, writing about it in the in-house fostering newsletter, arranging for men carers to feed back their perspective to a team meeting. A result has been changes in mainstream practice: letters addressed to both carers; team members talking seriously to male carers who answer the phone, rather than engaging in ‘chit chat’ or asking immediately for the female carer; training events scheduled to better consider the availability of men to attend. In addition, the men carers looked at their contribution to theiir own marginalization (rarely attending training events or reviews, spending little time with the young people and failing to establish a specific role with them). This too, has resulted
in changes – towards more involvement.

One thing Ron wishes he’d done differently: ‘been more specific and clear about the rationale of men-only events, not only to the team and female service users, but to the male carers themselves’. Another ongoing issue is trying to find the balance between training events and time for the men carers simply to ‘be together’ in an exploratory and supportive way.

Today, the focus is on men-friendly training and development for men carers, and on the kinds of ‘one off’ events that have already proved successful. Kibble Education Centre materials will be used to meet the specific concerns of men carers in local trainings. And, recently, a meeting was held with two prisoners at Edinburgh prison, who had had significant experience in residential or foster care. Both highlighted the importance of ‘a one-to-one personal relationship with a male carer when sharing a common activity’. More such meetings are planned, as demand among the men carers is high.

Perhaps most importantly, the proactive work with the men carers has resulted in considerable increase in the numbers of men attending general training events and other carer meetings. There is more to be discovered, but the potential for this work is clear.

Contact: Ron Henry, East Lothian Council: 01620 827934.

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