Today is International Men’s Day. At Frontline, we believe social workers should reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. Boys and young men make up more than half the children that social workers support, but only 14% of children’s social workers are men. We spoke to Ronan, a Frontline programme participant, and Ross, a practice tutor on the programme. Why should more men become social workers? Read on to find out what they said.
How can you be a positive male role model, for children and their families?
Ronan: I think what families respond to most is that I am calm, quiet, respectful and considered. For some children and mothers, this is very different from the other men in their lives, and in those situations, it is a privilege to be that positive male role model.
Ross: While every family is different, it’s sadly all too common that we work with families where a man has been abusive, aggressive, controlling or perhaps absent altogether. Often the family will have built up a narrative that this is just the way men are and there’s nothing that can be done about it. In these situations, just behaving differently challenges the narrative.
One man I worked with, for example, had been violent towards an ex-partner. He would often try to rationalise and normalise his behaviour by saying things to me like “all men get in fights” and that any man would have acted the same as him in his situation. I was able to very honestly say that that’s not my lived experience. This forced him to confront that his behaviour was a choice, and that there are different ways to behave and react to a situation.
What different perspectives do you bring to your team?
Ross: It’s not uncommon for a case to involve a single mum and the maternal side of the family, and all the social workers discussing the case and making decisions are women. A diversity of views and experiences is a positive thing, so you can imagine that the conversation might go differently with a man involved in the discussion. There could be biases and assumptions that are otherwise going unchallenged.
The lens through which I view the world is in part shaped by my gender. Throughout my career, and especially now with the Frontline programme participants I teach, I often find myself asking questions like “what about the father’s lived experience?” and bringing my own experiences as a man and a father into discussions.
Ronan: As a social worker, and especially on the Frontline programme, you are part of a team. Your colleagues add to your repertoire of knowledge and experience and you add to theirs. Gender is just one part of your identity that contributes to the diversity and effectiveness of the wider team.
Could more men in social work help men engage with social workers?
Ross: Men are often the hidden factor in the families we work with, and statistics suggest that they are less likely to engage with social workers. It could be that having more men in social work would help address this, and by modelling positive, respectful, empathic behaviour this could have a real impact.
Ronan: Social work is all about listening and showing families they have been heard. Traditionally men have shied away from showing and talking about emotions, so perhaps it’s unsurprising that they are less likely to engage with or become social workers.
It’s a long path, but I think we’re gradually moving away from this narrative as a society. The more men who join a profession like social work, the more we normalise men showing empathy and talking about their mental health. This can only benefit men and society in the long run.
Why is social work such a great profession, for people of any gender?
Ross: I think the best thing about social work is the opportunity to make a real positive difference in people’s lives. It’s a job that really matters.
Ronan: Social work is real life. It’s influencing people in real time with real decisions that can have an enormous impact on their lives. This responsibility is incredibly invigorating: you do know why you’re getting up in the morning, which isn’t the case in every career.