According to a report by Rosemary Bennett in the Times (1st June) men are ‘afraid to work with children’
The check by the Criminal Records Bureau that everyone working with children must undergo was also found to be another major deterrent in getting men to volunteer.
The poll, conducted by the children’s charity NCH and the volunteer group Chance UK, reveals that many charities are struggling to recruit men, often to mentor boys who have no male role model in their lives. NCH says that only 20 per cent of its volunteers are male, forcing it to use women in roles where men are preferable.
The poll found that work commitments and a lack of time were the most common reason cited by men for not volunteering, but one in five said that they did not want to be checked by the Criminal Records Bureau, and 13 per cent said that they were scared of being branded paedophiles.
The two charities urged men to overcome their fears. “Many children, especially boys, are desperately in need of a male mentor, which is why we urgently need men to come forward despite any fears they may have about public perception,” said Clare Tickell, chief executive of NCH.
Jo Hobbs, of Chance UK, said: “Male volunteers are more difficult to recruit, yet positive male role models can make a huge difference to the lives of challenging children and young people.”
Alan Lion, who has been mentoring boys of primary school age on behalf of Chance UK in Sureey, said that it was one of the most worthwhile things he had done. A boy he mentored last year had never spent a day in a mainstream school and was told he never would, was frightened of heights and scared of water. Now the boy swims regularly and is excelling at school.
Although he has not faced suspicion he does take precautions. “You don’t see the child alone in private. You are always in a public place, sometimes even with his parent. I suppose I subconsciously look to check that other people are around if we are in the swimming pool changing rooms.
“ have found people take what I do at face value. At the end of the day, mentoring can make an enormous difference to the life of another human being, an that far outweighs any concerns I have about what people might think.”
Children’s charities are not the only organisations to suffer from the impact of child protection regulations. The Times reported in April that hobby clubs, which teach children to fly model aeroplanes or climb, are closing their doors to young people because they cannot get enough volunteers to undergo checks.
Hugh Thornberry, head of children’s services at NCH, said that although the Criminal Records Bureau checks were necessary, they were also more straightforward than people expected. “Men need to know CRB checks are a painless process unless you have something to hide and they are there to protect children.” he said.
“n terms of being branded a paedophile, unfortunately that is is one of the consequences of abusers, quite properly, being exposed in voluntary groups and church organisations. We have to work against that perception. It is also a problem that our social care work force is predominantly female.”
Volunteer week, which starts today, will involve many events designed to encourage more people to volunteer. Despite a government campaign the numbers of volunteers has remained static at about 18 per cent since 2002, according to the consultancy nfpSynergy.
The Government, however, claims that about half the population volunteers, although its definition is wide. Contacting the local authority, giving someone help if they ask for it and baby-sitting for a friend all count as volunteering.
Acknowledgement: The Times