August 2, 2014 6:50pm
Katrina Stokes Sunday Mail (SA)
Paul Henderson, 24, is studying a Bachelor of Early Childhood and is a childcare worker at the Halifax Street Children’s Centre. Picture: Keryn Stevens.
PAUL Henderson has changed hundreds of nappies in his few years as a childcare worker.
He’s comforted kids when they’re crying after a fall, taught youngsters how to finger-paint for the first time, and knows through all of this, he is part of a very special time in a child’s life.
His primary focus is the children he cares for at the Halifax Children’s Centre, a job he does while completing his early childhood education degree at UniSA.
Mr Henderson entered the field because he was “always interested in making a difference”.
“I’ve always enjoyed being a male role model and being a positive influence in a child’s life,” he said.
But Mr Henderson is in the minority of men who decide to go down the early childcare and education path.
Just seven males out of 200 students make up the first-year early childhood class at the University of South Australia, an imbalance which is echoed across the education sector.
Mr Henderson said the ongoing sex abuse scandals, involving a handful of men, is unfairly stigmatising others trying to forge a profession working with children.
“It does play on people’s minds a little bit,” he said.
“I can see how it would put a few people off (choosing teaching), but at the end of the day, if it’s something you’re passionate about, you can see through it.”
Mr Henderson said he believes it is important for children to have both male and female role models in their lives from a young age.
“There’s children that don’t experience too many male educators, especially in their earlier years,” he said.
“It’s all about saying to children that there are males around and being that positive male role for them.”
UniSA recognised there were problems with attracting and supporting men in the education field so it started MENtor, a program which offers support to male students starting out in the field.
Program co-ordinator Martyn Mills-Bayne, who is also a early childhood lecturer at UniSA, has worked in both pre-school and primary schools and seen first-hand the importance of male role models in a child’s life.
“They bring a sense that males can be caring, they can be empathic … males can provide that different perspective,” he said.
“It’s a different voice in the education field that we may be missing.”
He agreed the latest child-sex abuse allegations could “absolutely” put off males from entering the education sector.
“There is a perception of risk involved in working with young children that situations like this horrid situation through Families SA,” he said.
“Rightly or wrongly men are put under the microscope for the actions of some people.”
There are hundreds of organisations across Australia — including Little Athletics, State Swim and Scouts — which employ men and women to look after, teach and care for kids.
Scouts SA is one which prides itself on helping young people “being the best they can be”.
They heavily rely on male and female volunteers to lead the 7000-strong membership of young boys and girls at various camps and activities in the Scout program.
Scouts SA chief executive officer Dan Ryan said male role models were a crucial part of life.
“We enforce the importance of male leaders in our organisation — we think they’re important as they are both very important to the social development and well-being of young people,” he said.
“With some challenges boys or girls prefer to go to their mum or their dad to seek that guidance and help.”
While Mr Ryan said Scouts was not exempt from its own child sex abuse cases in the past, he said the organisation did everything it could to ensure the safety of children in its care.
“We don’t shy away from the fact we’re a simple reflection of society itself,” he said.
“Even with all the best policies and child protection practises in the world, no system is infallible.”