For decades, men have been comparatively absent on the frontline of social services, but a band of brothers at Centacare is changing that.
When Stuart Andary entered the workforce, he did as he was expected and forged a career in the male-dominated world of commerce.
‘’I come from a generally privileged upbringing and almost the default from that was go out and be a professional that makes a lot of money,’’ he said.
‘’I found myself uncomfortable and disenfranchised by that world but didn’t really feel there was an alternative so kept ploughing away.
‘’I spent a number of years being fairly unhappy about working in a space I assumed would bring me joy and some sort of personal sense of satisfaction, but not to be.’’
As Stuart (pictured, right) grew more frustrated by the masculine sense of privilege and entitlement he saw in play each day, he made the switch to social work.
Now he is among a group of men’s and fatherhood workers at Centacare who are challenging the social norms which have shaped workforces across society.
Within community services, this has impacted not only ‘who’ does the work, but ‘how’ the work has been done.
Stuart’s journey is part of a wider shift that rethinks professional career pathways for men and, in doing so, invites males, in particular fathers, to access much-needed supports.
‘’As a male social worker, we are very much embraced and valued and I’m not sure that’s necessarily mirrored for women in male-dominated industries,’’ said Stuart, who works with RESTORE Intensive Family Services – South.
‘’The great benefit men can bring to this sector is to face the community they live in. Currently, social work shows a female face to the people 85 per cent of the time and that can make men feel family services are not targeted at them because they don’t see themselves in them.
‘’If more men are working in frontline social work roles, then the hope is more men will be inclined to reach out for help, and that can have an early intervention ripple effect.’’
New research reveals the reflections of seven dedicated men’s workers at Centacare, including Stuart.
The paper explores how father-inclusive practice can improve wellbeing outcomes for children and families engaged with child protection services.
Father-inclusive interventions provide an opportunity for clients to look at their experiences of childhood and fatherhood, and the impact of trauma and shame, while offering wraparound supports to assist with parenting and other challenges such as domestic violence.
‘’I am far from some sort of perfect pin-up of masculinity or what it is to be a man, but I can perhaps support the dads I work with to discover a different side of their masculine identity,’’ Stuart said.
‘’That can be done through offering empathy, deep listening, and understanding and kindness.
‘’My role is not to come at men in a critical, punitive way, but to help them see in a gentle, empathetic way, the factors and forces that have impacted their lives and led them to where they are now.
‘’I feel lucky to have the opportunity to do that.’’
RESTORE uses a multidisciplinary model that promotes strengthening and restoring parental capacity to improve family functioning and child safety.
Case Manager Alex Haines joined the service last year. He brings a background in psychology and experience working with male perpetrators of family violence.
‘’There is a belief that the work we do is specialist in a sense, but it is the same work our female colleagues are doing with their families,’’ he said.
‘’Our role is unique in that we are mandated to work with other men and provide them with an opportunity of contributing and realizing their worth within the family unit.’’
Alex (pictured, right) said the way young boys are often raised within their families to be a ‘man’, a father, and member of society, rarely supports them to develop the coping mechanisms needed for healthy partner relationships or to manage the responsibility and challenges of being an emotionally available father.
‘’Some of the men we work alongside can be quite overt in their beliefs about what it is to be a man – the idea that men don’t ask for help or show emotion has literally been beaten into them.
‘’So, it’s an exciting opportunity to show them a different way of still being able to survive and in fact thrive in society through being a different type of man.
‘’These guys allow us into their homes. You forget how much of an ask that is sometimes – to have someone come into your home, on a weekly basis, and talk to you about your parenting – yet they continue to come to us for support.
‘’In the broader sense, that’s something I’m quite proud of.’’
In the week of World Social Worker Day (March 21), Alex is encouraging other men to follow his lead into community services.
‘‘’I have always been quite interested in helping people and I think the profession of social work is the best way to do that,’’ he said.
‘’It is so well rounded and holistic and gives you a chance to help in every area of someone’s life rather than just one specific subset.’’
Meet Stuart and Alex here: https://youtu.be/lCXl5XujZCs
Read the paper here: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/anzf.1517