Men in ECE (Early Childcare & Education) ‘Get the good guys in and the wrong guys out.’ prevention of abuse embedded in good quality management.
Lauk Woltring (December 2010 – March 2011) www.laukwoltring.nl (fields & assignments, ECE)
This text is written to open discussion. Please react (firstname.lastname@example.org or via my website) and I will update the text regularly, learning from input.
Men in ECE; News facts about abuse in Amsterdam Kindergartens.
Since many years we try in the Netherlands to get more men in Early Childcare and Education (ECE).
In December 2010 we all have been shocked here and abroad at the news about child abuse in two Amsterdam Kindergartens. We did fear a backlash in the ongoing process of getting more men in.
Through FBI-research after an international child porno network one picture could be traced to a Dutch server. This was followed up by Dutch police research that has lead to an interim worker in two Amsterdam Early Childcare Centers and his friend. The man came from another EU-country, was naturalized as Dutch citizen, had before run an educational support website for parents on early child education in Latvia (EU), was convicted in Germany for having child porno (2003), and was suspected of pedosexual abuse before in other countries. The screening before employing him in Amsterdam was incomplete and doubtful. He had worked 3 years (February 2007 – January 2010) as replacement worker in two Dutch ECE-centers where he was very popular among colleagues and parents. He walked around all day with a camera, gave nice pictures to parents of their children, and he was able to mislead many people. In Amsterdam he has abused 83 children. His friend worked in this field for 14 years; this man was taken in custody for having had chat sessions with children and possession of child pornography. The director of the center was suspended because he was not cautious enough and organized sleeping parties at his house as a farewell to children that left the center (he was not found guilty in accusations of possible abuse).
Remarkable facts however: the abusing man was not accepted at his application in another childcare organization in Amsterdam (staff there: ‘He gave us a bad feeling’). In one more centre he tried to get employed but within his trial period he was sent away after nine days because the workers had a funny feeling about this guy (‘He did not behave as a professional colleague, and was conceited’). Yet, here he managed to abuse one child, this came out later in the process.
Reaction in the media and in the sector.
All media jumped on the case; it was hot news for many days. This is still echoing for a long time in the sector. Tabloids and some blogs shouted ‘No men in early childcare!’. Happily nearly the whole sector reacted quite fast and securing, informing parents, helping the children and their environment, addressing their workers and looking for better policies to keep child abusers out of this field. Many parents react positively towards male workers. But, if anything, we have to learn from this case.
Many organizations in this field try to employ more men in Early Child care and Education. It’s also a EU-policy (2010 Brussels: ‘20% men in 2020’). Being an outspoken advocate of this for many years I have been intensively approached by media and many organizations during the weeks after the news. So I developed a twelve-point-policy, to be incorporated in the near future in many organizations. But basically my reaction was short (2 main points) and clear: ‘Face it and deal with it’.
I More men in Early Childcare and education. Their input is necessary because they can give male examples to both boys (sex role identification) and girls (may get a richer image of the world around them as well). Men can contribute to the quality of work. Their styles are sometimes different from women (more physical play, a little more acceptance of small risks, different tone, voice, speech and humor. Children love it. (More elsewhere on my site). Mixed teams do operate better so we see in nearly all professions. We need to have more experience with men in this field. One man in a centre ‘is a stranger’ or is easily seen as a weirdo. More men employed leads to a more balanced picture in which one can differentiate between ‘good male behavior’ – even when different from average female behaviors – and wrong behavior. We have to take into account as well that many parents who have a classical division of roles, or families from other cultural backgrounds may project their uneasiness about male roles onto men in ECE and may falsely insinuate pr accuse (We have even seen that couples who may mistreat or abuse children blame the workers in ECE)
II We have to keep ‘the wrong men’ out of this work by selecting them out during their professional education, during their selection for the job (interview techniques and screening) and by means of an open and transparent culture among professionals on the job that do know how to act upon ‘funny feelings’. Keeping the wrong men out by prohibiting all men in this field does wrong to all good men, deprives children from contact with men (especially harmful when they grow up in a no-father or absent father family, and in small families with no brothers) and it places the full burden on women in a time when roles are happily changing. We can neither prohibit men in swimming pools, scouting, education, etc. without harming children in a changing world (more on my website).
What are ‘the wrong men?’
The necessary ‘pedagogical eros’ and pedophilia, pedosexuality and abuse.
Working in education asks for a pro-child-attitude, some speak of a ‘pedagogical eros’: directing your energy to raising and educating children needs love for children. So the question is: how to discern between the right and wrong attitudes, the right or wrong love, the right or perverted attitude?
I think it is important to focus on the professional quality and the right attitude of all workers. This goes for men and women equally. The Amsterdam case concentrates on pedosexuality and abuse through child pornography. Of course that has to stop, everywhere, and certainly in this field.
But: we do not know enough about male pedophilia and pedosexuality. There is an important discussion about the terms pedophilia and pedosexuality in different cultures. There is little research done about the whole group. Those who feel attracted to pre-adolescent children or you
ng adolescents will not come out in the open neither volunteer for research, not even if they do not practice it in ‘hands-on sexuality’ or filming and detest those practices. So in all research there is a big bias towards those who are convicted for practicing abuse, making or dispersing child pornography and/or having child pornography in their possession. The real spread of the phenomenon pedophilia in all its manifestations is not known. Some claim that pedophilia can be managed without any abuse and that there are many men (and women) who do not act on their feelings in any harmful way.
This text is about men in ECE. We do know even less about female abuse, mishandling children or mistreatment . Some women do abuse children as well as men do. As far as we do know, less hands-on sexual abuse, targeting genitals, but just maltreatment, shaking, acting violent, beating or just the opposite: clinging to young children and unduly cuddling/loving them only in their own interest. We do just not know enough about these phenomena.
In my opinion and frequent observations (for example by human resource managers in the field) some young women that have been abused, developed low self esteem and/or fear ’hard’ market wise organized jobs. They tend to choose work in the field of ECE or other child-oriented jobs. Working with children gives them the feeling to have meaningful and nice work, and at the same time to stay out of ‘the world of evil’. Doing so without realizing themselves that they may bring in the evil they have experienced. For example through their own actions and or blindness, blurred ‘radar’ and restricted assertiveness. They are easy targets for cunning male child abusers who for example lower their suspicions by giving them compliments that they scarcely receive elsewhere.
So: how to get the right men in and keep the wrong ones out? It’s difficult, but certainly not impossible. Hereunder a 12-point policy program to prevent the wrong men (and women
) coming into this field. I plea for a manifold policy with a variety of actions. Together they may give a big chance of reaching our goal (of course never 100%, but that’s a fact of most risks in life), securing the rights of children, their parents and the workers, and at the same time heighten and deepen the quality of the professional work in this field (which is another important item in the Dutch discussions). Many of these actions are possible in the standing practices.
1) Procedures and addressing the subjective factor. There are hardly any objective and 100% effective instruments to deselect pedosexual predators and other potential mistreating workers. So next to legal papers and references we have to address the subjective element too, but as meticulous as possible taking the rights of workers into account as well. But: the saying ‘no one is guilty unless proven wrong’ does not work here. We do know that sexual predators can be very cunning. Just waiting till they prove to be what they are and are convicted is a too high risk.
2) During Professional Education. During the professional education process students should be obliged to reflect on their motives and must be asked to do so in intensive supervision and other forms of close contact education during work placements. (“What makes you want to work with children? What makes you keen on this work? What can you offer them? Do you see any pitfalls and potholes as a man(or woman) in this predominantly female field? How do you cope with them? Etc.) (Those who do not see any risks are naïve and should learn about the risks, or can deny those subjects for themselves, and should be confronted with their hiding behavior). It has been said that this only would make potential perpetrators even more smart. My answer here: do not be naïve. Real predators in this field are quite smart, this being part of the whole picture of the predator pedosexual.
This supervision has to be performed by able and experienced supervisors. This goes for every professional education leading to work with vulnerable people under unequal conditions, be it in hospitals, psychiatry, or in early child care, education & nursing.
During their professional education students should learn how to be responsive not only to children and parents but on colleagues as well’. The should learn how to react properly on ‘uneasy’ feelings.
A problem in the Netherlands can be that the professional education for these workers is of mid-level, with a sometimes doubtful quality. (The sector ‘exploded’ in quantity when Dutch government some 6 years ago decided on a quite sudden big growth of the sector just in order to get more young mothers in the labor market, who stayed at home with their children. The number of places in ECE-centers raised with some 300-400 % (estimation LW). At the same time there were in the last decade many budget cuts leading to education of professionals in this field with little and sometimes low qualified contact with teachers.
(In my career as professional educator in Higher Professional Education for Youth Social Work in a few occasions I have filtered out students with ‘a non professional attitude and love for children’ just by good (intersubjective) observation and interviews following from there. I cannot rule out that some potential perpetrators passed this test, but this is one of range of actions to narrow the accessibility of this field. )
3) Applicants (males and females) for ECE-jobs should be screened thoughtfully in the recruitment and selection process. Not just a ‘Declaration about Behavior’ (a legal obligation in the Dutch field of ECE and other educational professions). That is necessary but not enough. Inquiries about applicants should be not only by letter but also verbal; by word of mouth. Applicants should be interviewed by capable staff. The employer should not let him/herself be satisfied with beautiful words, pretty or splendid letters, ‘politically correct statements’ and so on. Capable assessors should continue to ask questions (see 1.a.).
4) On the job there should always be two professionals working. As much as possible in view of each other. This applies for men and women, in the current state of affairs it applies especially for men. Possibly unfair, but it’s reality. This is for their own well being and safety as well; because so they cannot be easy targets of wrong accusations. (This double occupation – for women too – is already more or less prescribed in Dutch ECE-centers, but not always practiced).
5) Do not exclude men from changing nappies, washing etc. This gives a wrong signal to children, parents and female colleagues. Just train them to do it right and also set a good example for other men.
6) Unfair policies to the good men? Indeed to a certain extent, but it is reality, so face it and deal with it. With more men in this field the problem will diminish (more men makes it easier to discern between good and wrong). Prepare men applying for these jobs that they will be observed closely. Support them but also select them on their strength to deal with accusations. It’s maybe unfair, but it was unfair as well when women entered male workplaces and were subject to countless remarks and accusations. It’s how changes work. Needless to say that men who have been falsely accused need to be protected after the incident is closed and can return to the job. Hard? Yes, but this is where we are. If you cannot deal with these things, find another job.
7) There must be a transparent professional working culture. This does not only mean clear appointments and agreements, but also that you’re always entitled to confront each other with what you see and what you feel, not only on serious matters like (suspicion of) mistreatment and alike, but also on smaller things in the everyday work process (‘Yesterday you did not wash the dishes’ or ‘What happened yesterday when that child was shouting so loud when you were alone with him/her?’). This applies for women among each other as well.
It has been observed in ECE-centers that many women keep silent about what they see, not able to confront, feeling ashamed of what they see, afraid that the other may complain in return, or ‘use’ it negatively in their mutual relations (‘soft blackmail’) and in their way of coping with daily stress. They keep silent about what they see to their local directors, and these in their turn tend to be silent to the main office as well (‘In my center everything is ok’). Taken together these are the symptoms of not-learning organizations. It’s in the daily feedback where transparency starts and where we learn to ‘keep our radar clear’ and even develop our radar and intuition for small signs if things are going wrong (of course also outside the subject ‘abuse’). This is not about annoying each other but to contribute to quality. Do not leave this to the one above, the local director or manager. Make it possible for her or him to do their job properly as well. When it is safe to speak out on smaller things, there is no more room for manipulation, and it is just that room in which child abusers can flourish… Making mistakes is part of the job, but when we do not learn from them, they were in vain. In a clear professional working culture with ‘open radar systems’ a pedosexual or mistreating colleagues that come through selection and screening processes will catch attention sooner and/or they have less space to maneuver in… and will leave the place (it is for them too risky to get caught).
8) Use your intuition, develop it and act on it.
It’s one of our basic survival instincts that warns us for uncommon things and danger, often before it’s real or in the beginning of the wrong process. Of course it can be blurred or we can be over reactive, but we can develop it together keeping our intuition clean and sharp (it’s part of the job, concerning the responsive relation with children, so extend it to your team as well) .
If for example one of the colleagues is too long and too often busy or involved with one child and he (she) is more and more intimate with one child than proper, it can
be ‘grooming’ (‘spinning in the targeted child’. More info? See Wikipedia).
Does a colleague try to be alone for a long time with children? Do you see something else that gives you an unpleasant feeling? Do not be silent, it can be nothing, it can be an unimportant minor thing, but it can also be something worse. Do not gossip, do not ‘use’ it in any way, but make clear to the person that you are not feeling comfortable with his (her) behavior; talk it over, open and with respect. Give the other the opportunity to explain what and why. If that is satisfying? OK. (“I had to ask it”)
. If the answer does not satisfy you; take it up immediately with the local leadership. Of course you can be wrong, but at least you have shared it with the management, that’s what they’re for. This is not snitching on someone, but just professional conduct. Enable your local manager to do her work properly
; laying it on a bit thick; exaggerated ‘politically correct’. Of course there is nothing wrong with sympathetic behavior, and expressing your opinion about what’s right or wrong, on the contrary, that’s how good teams work, but it is that ‘extra’ that may raise an eyebrow.
It’s our developed and shared intuition that can discern between all just tiny signals that can be harmless or not. But let’s not be naïve. This all taken from reality, either in this Amsterdam case or from my long experience in training workers and educating students. (In my work as lecturer and teacher in professional education on youth (social) work I once had to report on a colleague that was very popular among men and women. It came out that he seduced women just in order to gain access to their children. After the man was reported he vanished into thin air, leaving his colleagues behind in awe and shock: (“Him? Oh no, that is not possible…, he is so nice, so gentle, so good!”
This text is not, repeat not
, a plea for continuous distrust, but just for keeping your intuition sharp, keep your radar clean and open and sharing observations in a professional way. This makes a safe work environment for everybody, leads to learning and enhances quality in the work. This is much safer for everybody than prefer not to talk about these things; that clouds your observations.
And if he or she does ignore or trivializes something you are really uncomfortable with, consult your trade union, or go one step higher, if necessary anonymously.
The biggest danger in these situations of underreported signs of possible abuse or mistreatment is that the one who gets the signals, hopes that what he/she sees or saw is not true, not real, is not what it can be (‘suppose if…’), and consequently suppresses his/her own observations and doing so blurs his/her own radar and intuition. Feeling guilty about that may open a new circle of bad observation and communication; exactly the culture in which predators can flourish. They get too much trust (just what they’re after) by being charming, surprised (“Do you think these horrible things about me…?”), being overfriendly, extra nice, sympathetic
9) Regular counseling, coaching and/or supervision on the job.
This leads to learning organizations and quality in the job. Investment in this can have very good effects: less absence through illness, better development of children, better work relations
. This is essential for keeping up a good climate in the centre and for gaining the trust of the general public in this field.
10) Take complaints or remarks of parents always seriously
. Even if they seem exaggerated. Not everybody will formulate her or his uneasy feeling as meticulous as we would like them to do. For many parents it is quite something to trust their children to others, especially professionals. See it as an act of interest in their children and coping with the feeling of being separated from them. Just by taking all remarks and distrust seriously, and later report on what you have done about it, trust can grow and so you help parents too to develop their
intuition, that now can be blurred by public media hypes and gossip. It makes the way free for more difficult items that can come up
11) Protect your employees
. Of course each sign must be treated carefully, but keep in mind that a false alarm can be very harmful to the worker that has been accused. Make a clear protocol how to handle these cases and inform all workers that these things can happen (it’s part of the job of working with vulnerable children and their parents.
12) Registered workers? As final piece of good policy it may be advisable to make a register of all professionals (male and female) who work with vulnerable groups in a hierarchical position with the possibility to isolate and abuse. This is in order to prevent changing jobs when accused of or convicted for seriously wrong behaviors. Of course good regulations must be developed. When a person has worked in another state or country access must be arranged in a way.
Of course there is no 100% guarantee, but under all these conditions wrong men will avoid the centers, will be deterred or will be caught. It may cost more money. So be it. Parents and (local) government cannot always get what they want on a bargain.
 This text is focusing on male misbehavior, but this should not cloud our vision on female mistreatment of children (again: that is just another story).  Taking action. Either send this colleague away, or involve the police, or send him/her into therapy, or whatever; this goes beyond the scope of this text.  The arguments about money are false (on a more political level). Many research by economists has made very clear that investment in early child care and education is very productive and profitable for modern societies (less school absenteeism and dropout, better school results, less crime, better relations, etc. etc.).  In one Dutch kindergarten the policy was to get men in the workforce. There was a letter given to all parents in which the management explained why. It said also: “We do know that some of you may be suspicious about this and do not like to trust their children to unknown men. We do understand that. Please if you feel uneasy about anything, whatever, please contact us, and we will act on it”. Result was that in a few weeks everybody was happy with the men. So do not trivialize, but be sensitive and explain.