Students taking a new diploma course in men’s studies explain why it’s time services learned to engage with men. Anabel Unity Sale visits Nottingham Trent University to find out more.
It wasn’t obvious from looking at them but the 22 people sitting through their induction course at Nottingham Trent University (NTU) were breaking the mould in social care training. The men and women of all ages, backgrounds and races, some with tattoos creeping from under their shirts, others wearing trendy glasses, were enrolled on the first course of its kind to support practitioners’ work with men: the diploma in applied studies for working with men.
Jim Wild, a senior lecturer in social work at NTU and convener of the course which is run by the new unit of critical studies in men and masculinities, is pleased so many students have signed up.
Social care is a female-dominated profession and men are regarded as less likely to engage with or approach services if they need them, so it is easy to see the rationale behind the course. Wild says: “We must work with men and help them change – especially hard-to-reach fathers.”
The 18-month diploma is a distance learning course, so participants continue working while studying. During this time students will complete modules covering positive images of men, men as fathers, working with men for change and men, violence and abuse. Each student must complete a 2,500-word assignment and presentation for every module, as well as engage in one module about their own project development work. They must attend NTU one day for each module. The diploma costs £850 over two years, a fee Wild says is “fair-traded and flexible” to help students who fund themselves. So what type of professionals have signed up to the diploma and what do they hope to achieve?
We speak to three students on their first day.
Tim Kahn, 53, has spent the past 30 years working in the social care voluntary sector but trained as a teacher in 2000. He is the Pre-School Learning Alliance’s inclusion officer and co-ordinates national programmes to involve fathers in early years settings.
Engaging men in services can prove challenging, he says. “Men and family service don’t seem to go together. All practitioners want fathers to make use of services but they don’t come.” He is fortunate that his employers support him undertaking the training and have given him the time off to attend the induction. He is currently funding the course himself.
Kahn signed up for the diploma because of his professional experiences as well as his private ones. He and his wife shared the responsibility of raising their two children – now aged 19 and 21 – and Kahn has always regarded himself as a carer. “My
reason for doing this is a combination of my personal interest in men as carers and to get a wider and deeper theoretical understanding of the issues.”
In particular, he wants to be directed to useful academic texts on working with men. Another motivation for Kahn undertaking this study is to link with other professionals and debate the issues of successfully working with men. He says he is well connected in his role and has a good support network among colleagues but feels early years services can be too “feminised”.
He says: “Sometimes there is a lack of understanding and awareness of the issues that men, as clients and as practitioners, face. It is about being men-friendly.” If more men enter the early years workforce Kahn believes it will encourage greater use of these services by men.
Sarah is one of only six women on the course. She found out about the course in October after seeing it advertised on the noticeboard in the east London probation service office where she works. Treasure decided to enrol for the training, which she is financing herself, as all the clients she works with are men.
“We call them clients but we don’t think about them in terms of being men, as opposed to women, and all that goes with it.
Most people who go through the courts and end up on probation are men,” she says. After working in a variety of social care support roles Treasure completed a CQSW combined with a BA in social sciences and then specialised in probation. She has been a probation officer for 13 years and works with clients at high risk of re-offending, some of whom have been violent.
She believes doing the course will help her think more broadly about the sort of clients she sees and how they regard themselves and their situations. She says: “It’s good that the course has the positive images of men module as you can work with men in crisis who may not hold positive images of themselves. They don’t expect much out of the probation service and they don’t expect us to have any understanding of where they are coming from.”
As well as working part-time Treasure is the mother of four children aged three to 18. She and her partner often watch their son play football on a Saturday morning and she believes this may help her with the diploma: “I bet football will come up regularly on this course! Football mirrors what we see going on in society.”
James Hawes’s personal journey looking at what it is to be a man contributed significantly to his starting the course. The 42-year-old first began investigating his own masculinity after having therapy eight years ago. He says: “There is a crisis in masculinity. Men often don’t know what it is to be a man because absent fathers mean they have grown up in a void.”
After leaving school at 16 and learning to be a carpenter Hawes fell into youth work through his local church. After spending many years in voluntary work and youth work Hawes trained as a psychotherapist and qualified in 2004. He is now a senior support worker for Nottingham Council’s education department and works to prevent children being permanently excluded from school. He also operates privately as a psychotherapist and has set up several men’s groups.
He hopes that completing the diploma will deepen his knowledge and help improve his practice: “Most of my reading and knowledge comes from a masculine psychoanalysis point of view and this course is from a social science perspective. It will broaden my ability to understand the study of masculinity in the wider context.”
Hawes has two sons aged four and two and is looking forward to the module on men as fathers: “Being a good enough father is important to me and I think about how I give my sons a positive role model and image of masculinity.”
The male carers group set up by one London-based carers voluntaryorganisation
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Anabel Unity Sale
This article appeared in the 7 December issue, under the headline “The ascent of man”