Childcare needs to man up

Childcare needs to man up

Joss Cambridge-Simmons, the self-styled super-manny who runs agency Jossy Care, tells Early Years Childcarer that the early-years sector needs to rethink its approach to the men in its midst – and those it is scaring away.

Joss, who hails from Hackney, in east London, had overcome significant obstacles in his personal life before trying to forge a career in childcare, aged 19. He gave up a job in Harrods to pursue what he felt was his vocation in life, but despite successfully holding down a wide and varied selection of jobs over the last 12 years, he feels the prevailing attitude in nanny agencies, in particular, are holding men back from becoming more prominent in childcare settings.

“For me, the stereotypes stem from agencies not being prepared to support men wanting to be nannies in the way they could,” he says. “Out of around 100 agencies I know, there are only four that properly support men and they can only do so much.

“I don’t know whether you’d call them “gatekeepers”, but some of the biggest nanny agencies I’ve come across have not been the most friendly or forthcoming. I’ve even offered them help with their images and marketing themselves to men, but it requires a change in culture and for agencies to be prepared to have the conversations with parents that I’m having.”

The media doesn’t help, he adds. “TV and newspapers have a big influence and they paint a picture that men who want to work in nurseries are ogres and it shouldn’t be allowed.”

Parents, says Joss, are actually more open to male childcare professionals than many people assume. “Most parents I’ve come across and talked to would be fine with it, as many of them will be aware of a man working in their child’s nursery and know that the children tend to adore them because they are a novelty. That shows that if it was the norm, it wouldn’t be an issue,” he explains.

“When I do the school run, parents tend to assume that I’m the dad and they are shocked to find out I’m the nanny. Even then, they often assume that I’m just doing school runs and if I tell them that I also look after babies, they are gobsmacked. It’s widely assumed that men are only capable of caring for older children.

“I’ve found that in nurseries too. They are generally all for men working in nurseries, but mostly they are reluctant to put men with younger children. Until they’ve seen your skillsets they generally assume that you would only be good with older children.”

Joss believes his own experience shows that the “proof is in the pudding”. He says: “My first ever role as a 19-year old was in the baby room of a nursery and in the last 12 years I’ve worked with children very successfully from birth up until young teens. I’m great with babies and I’ve been a birthing partner a few times, as well as looking after many babies of four or five months.”

Joss has marketed himself through Jossy Care since 2007, largely because he was finding it tough at that time to secure regular work through nanny agencies. He has become self-employed in the last 12 months, so that he can spread the word and take his service to the next level. “They wouldn’t let me through the door, so I made my own door,” he says. “And that door isn’t just for me – I want everyone else to come through it with me. Lots of men have reached out to me, from the UK and overseas, and I’m reaching out to other men and letting them know that they can be a better version of me and make a real difference.

“I want to employ people, but I’m looking for people – male or female – who are better than me. At the moment I think I need someone to manage the business, because I want to be out there at the forefront talking about the need for more men in childcare.”

He believes change is in the air and points to things like Meghan Markle and Prince Harry saying they want to employ a male nanny as potential catalysts. “Programmes like Turn Up Charlie, which sees Idris Elba playing a struggling DJ, turned nanny, will also help change perceptions,” he adds. “I’m a DJ too, so it could have been written about me, but it’s going to put the issue in people’s faces and force them to think about it.”

Joss has looked after children from Arabic and Muslim families, where males historically have played a very limited role in childcare and says that his involvement has a very positive impact on those children and their parents. “I didn’t plan it like that, but by becoming a meaningful man in their children’s lives, I have broken down some of their stereotypes.”

He adds: “I’m sure change is coming and one thing with change is that you can’t stop it. There has to be a cultural shift, where parents tell their children that they can be a nanny, male or female, and are more accepting of men looking after their children.”

The childcare has to follow suit and promote the role males can play in its future, he adds. “A long-term marketing plan is needed for the childcare sector, if it wants to bring more males in,” says Joss. “In the same way that the government invests in and advertises the 30 Free Hours, they could push more adverts out there to encourage men into childcare.

“There could also be more done to improve salaries because people are prepared to work hard, but they still need to [earn enough money to] survive. Only some roles pay enough, but there should be a set standard that protects everyone working in the sector.

“I can create change, but it’s not really about me – I’m just starting the ripple in the pool and someone else is going to come along and make a big splash!”

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