Inviting blokes back to kindy

MARIKA HILL
Last updated 05:00 17/06/2012

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The legacy of the Peter Ellis child sex abuse case has left preschool education the domain of women, but one man is fighting to get blokes back in the sandpit.

Unitec social practice lecturer Dr Geoff Bridgman says just 1 per cent of early childhood educators are men, and only half of centres have any male presence.

Bridgman is trying to turn that around, with help from Violence Free Waitakere, by running a Focus on Fathering programme for three years and educating centres on becoming more man-friendly.

Bridgman's research found half of the centres surveyed did not have any male volunteers, something often blamed on low pay, but which he said came down to the fear of paedophilia stemming from the Christchurch creche case.

Ellis spent seven years behind bars after being found guilty of abusing seven children at the Christchurch Civic Creche in 1993. He was released in 2000 and has always maintained his innocence.

"Men are really aware of the threat they present, and they themselves feel under threat when they walk into a centre," Bridgman said. As a society, New Zealand could be "terribly over-reactive" when it came to paedophilia fears.

But there were advantages to having more men at early education centres. Violence Free Waitakere found when fathers were engaged with their children's development, it could reduce family violence, aggression and divorce, and raise the child's educational prospects.

Some centres were doing simple things to correct the gender imbalance. Teachers had to make it clear to men there was an expectation they would play with children when they arrived at the centre. That could be achieved by putting up posters of men spending time with children, and by encouraging male volunteers.

"In many of the centres deprived of men the children would love a male presence. It's a mutual benefit. The dads become better dads, and the kids who don't have much male presence benefit too. And it's easier for the mums."

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