Breaking Stereotypes: The Importance of Men in Babysitting and Childcare Positions
Updated: Jul 10
As the owner of a babysitting agency, I am disheartened when parents perpetuate the stereotype that characterizes male childcare workers as potential sexual predators. Parents may be very surprised to learn that this stereotype is not accurate, it can actually be harmful to children, and it has negative repercussions for male children in particular. This stereotype impedes parents from understanding the facts about child abuse, misrepresents the true nature of child abuse, and diverts us away from effectively ensuring the safety of children. It really pains me to observe parents declining male childcare workers, because I am well aware of the incredible value that qualified male caregivers bring to a child's life.
These are the facts:
Data from the US government’s National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) (1) and the Department of Health and Human Services (2) reports that in 2020, more than 3.1 million cases of child abuse or neglect were investigated (a decrease from 3.4 million in 2019). Of these 3.1 million cases, 618,000 investigations resulted in a finding of child abuse (a decrease from 656,000 in 2019). These findings revealed:
76% were victims of neglect
16.5% were physically abused
9.4% were sexually abused
0.2% were victims of sex trafficking
The Department of Health and Human Services (2) reported these sobering statistics:
The youngest children are the most vulnerable to abuse and neglect. In 46.4% of fatalities, the child was less than one year of age.
77% of the abusers are a parent of the child.
More than half (52%) of abusers are female.
Males do not constitute the majority of abusers, and we must not minimize the fact that females perpetrate abuse. Gender biases and stereotypes about abuse result in parents more readily extending trust to female caregivers. Our societal practice of extending more trust to female childcare workers creates a false sense of security which can put children in danger. As the owner of a childcare agency, I am careful to ensure that every member of our team, regardless of gender, undergoes a thorough and equal screening process and a rigorous background check. Parents can view our background check parameters here.
According to Dr. Noam Shpanser, Purdue-educated clinical psychologist with The Center for Cognitive and Behavioral Therapy in Columbus, Ohio: "One reason for the absence of men from the caregiver ranks is the traditionalist stereotype (and historical reality) framing childcare as 'women’s domain.' The resulting stigma characterizes males in caregiving roles as either unmanly or incompetent. This stigma may drive otherwise qualified and interested men away from the field. Those men who do enter the field become de facto norm violators. As such, they face backlash and suspicion, which in turn may serve to ultimately drive them away, as well. Also, men who enter the field are often perceived as 'leaders in training' and are channeled quickly upward into leadership positions."(3)
Stereotypes hinder parents in effectively protecting their children. It is crucial for parents to consider the facts, and reflect on the roots of behind their exclusion of male babysitters and their perception of childcare as women's domain. I have had parents say things to me that revealed deeply ingrained biases and troubling viewpoints, such as:
"Why would a guy want to care for kids who aren't his own kids?"
"Why would a man with a teaching degree want to babysit?" This one stung because it's so common for female teachers to supplement their income with babysitting.
"I just don't think a man is going to really know how to nurture children. Women are just more nurturing."
"Babysitting isn't a real job. Why are men applying to be babysitters, what's wrong with them that they can't go get a real job?"
One parent said to me that she could not imagine her daughters receiving a diaper change or help getting dressed from any man other than their father. While I attempted to empathize with this mother's perspective, I found it concerning that she applied a sexual connotation to essential caregiving tasks that are inherently non-sexual. In reality, any male member of my team would approach diaper changes or dressing a child with the same level of professionalism and respect as our female team members. This interaction caused me to realize that gender biases do not help parents to make informed decisions.
It is important for children to see individuals who mirror their own gender providing care, which helps to foster healthy gender role development. By denying male babysitters and daycare workers the opportunity to work in the field, we are robbing children, especially boys, of a rich community of positive role models. Men bring unique perspectives and skills to the childcare industry, enhancing the overall quality of care. (3) Their experiences and approaches contribute to a diverse and enriching environment for children. If you like visuals, this 2023 TikTok video compilation showcases many of the wonderful ways that men positively impact children and youth.
Parents who utilize my babysitting service but decline to work with any male babysitters may unknowingly convey harmful messages to their children, especially their sons. The absence of male childcare providers can suggest to children that men are not capable of providing safe and competent care, or that childcare is women's work. Boys are frequently left out of opportunities to babysit and learn how to care for children, while girls are typically offered many opportunities to learn and practice. Male children can grow up to doubt their ability to care for a child as a father, or even to perceive nurturing as an "unmanly" trait. This contributes to our societal issue of hailing men as exceptional fathers when they fulfill the basic responsibilities of caregiving, while mothers face added scrutiny and pressure to excel in their caregiving roles.
Above all, we have got to realize that our young sons will grow up to become the men that society stereotypically sees as potential predators, instead of seeing them as capable adults who can positively contribute to children's lives. Is this what we want for our sons?
It is essential to protect children by using evidence-based policies and fact-based trainings. This can be achieved through stringent background checks, thorough screening processes, and comprehensive training for all individuals working in childcare, regardless of gender. Safety education should also extend to parents, other adults in a child's life, and to children themselves. Here are some simple and lifesaving steps you can start taking, today:
Teach your child not to keep any secrets from you, and to always tell you if someone has asked them to keep a secret...even if that someone is a friend, an adult, or an older child.
Learn about when to begin talking about body safety and consent. Did you know that you can start teaching your child about body safety and respect from birth? This begins in simple ways, such as talking to your infant about why you are moving their body from the play mat to the diaper changing table.
Teach your child body safety and body autonomy from a young age. Educate2Empower offers wonderful free posters and household toolkits for educating young children including My Body Safety Rules, available in multiple languages.
Teach your child to ask before they hug or jump on the babysitter, too! I've had many experiences meeting a family for the first time where their child ran up and hugged my legs or jumped on me. In some cases the child even said, "I love you!" This tells me that the child has not learned about body safety yet, which includes asking before we hug others.
Please talk with your child about the babysitter's role. Let your child know, in advance, if the babysitter will be helping them take a bath, get dressed for the day, or put on pajamas. Gauge your child's comfort level around a babysitter performing these tasks.
Let your child know that although the teacher, coach, daycare worker, or babysitter is in charge, this does not mean that they must do everything the adult says if they feel concerned or unsafe. It is ok to say "stop" and it is ok to say, "Wait, I want to ask my parents first." A trustworthy adult will respect your child's concerns.
Men make up 50% of the workforce and the demand for childcare services continues to grow. In 2023, families face a severe shortage of qualified childcare workers and long waitlists for daycare. By excluding qualified men from caregiving roles, we are needlessly constraining the pool of potential workers, driving up costs, and compromising the quality of care available. Recognizing that many men are capable of filling these childcare positions will help to alleviate the shortage and ensure that families have access to affordable care.
It would benefit all of us to recognize the important role that men play as children's caregivers and role models, and to set gender-neutral standards for how we hire and train childcare workers. An all-female childcare workforce is a disservice to children, adults, and to our society. Understanding the facts around child abuse prevention and dismantling stereotypes is how we truly protect and care for children.
Founder & Owner, Babysitters Of Boulder
If you have concerns that a child you know may be experiencing abuse or neglect please contact the Colorado Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 844-CO-4-KIDS (844-264-5437). This confidential hotline is staffed by trained child welfare professionals and is open 24/7, 365 days a year.
1 Child Maltreatment 2020, the Children’s Bureau (Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Administration for Children and Families) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/documents/cb/cm2020.pdf
2 Mandated Reporter, 2022: https://mandatedreporter.com/blog/the-state-of-child-abuse-in-2022/
3 No Man’s Land: Where Are the Male Daycare Caregivers? A Gender-Segregated Caregiving Profession is Not Optimal for Children. Dr. Noam Shpanser, PhD. July 5, 2019. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/insight-therapy/201907/no-mans-land-where-are-the-male-daycare-caregivers