“A lot of people have a very old-fashioned view of child-minding,” says Brett Wigdortz, founder of child-minding agency Tiney.
“They think it’s something grandma does a few days a week, but really it’s a dynamic job where you're an important person in these children's lives. It's a vital education job.”
If anyone knows about the importance of a good education, it’s Wigdortz. In 2002 he founded Teach First, a social enterprise designed to get graduates from top universities to teach in low-achieving schools. In 2017 he left the role after realising the education gap starts at a “much younger age.”
The realisation led Wigdortz to found Tiney, which in many ways aims to do for child-minding what Teach First did for teaching. “By getting really good people to join the profession and professionalising it, we're hoping to raise the status of childminding,” says Wigdortz.
But one thing that surprised Wigdortz recently has been the influx of men applying to retrain as childminders, especially given the 98 per cent of the profession in the UK is female.
“What has happened over the course of the pandemic is that people have got used to spending time with their children, so a lot of the men applying are dads who want to spend more time with their kids,” explains Wigdortz.
“Some people are really excited to get away from their kids, but if you love it then this is a great way to make a career out of it.”
That was certainly the case for Francisco González Féliz, a 37-year-old father from West London who left his job as a teaching assistant to retrain. “I’d been looking at self-employment opportunities to balance around my young daughter when I saw an ad for Tiney on social media and decided to apply,” says González Féliz.
In his previous roles in schools, González Féliz says no one raised an eyebrow at him being a man working with children, but “of the people who work in this area [childminding], everybody is quite surprised. I’ve never had anyone be uncomfortable with it; there’s no resistance or lack of trust.”
“It's cool to be able to break the taboo surrounding men involved in childcare,” adds Kelvin Genius, a 25-year-old former swimming teacher who works as a childminder at his mother’s nursery.
“It's easy to make it seem like a feminine thing to do but when parents see me with the children, that stigma is broken completely and they realise that there are things that men can offer just as much as women,” says Genius. “For boys especially, having a male role model to look up to can definitely help their progress and development.”
Genius discovered his passion for childcare after the closure of swimming pools forced him to re-evaluate his career. “Working with kids in those lessons has been such a rewarding experience, so I'd been looking for ways to give more to their lives beyond those 30 minute lessons,” he explains. “I thought childcare was the best way to go because of the extent to which I can offer help to children and provide an uplifting experience and give them something to look back on as they grow up.”
While Genius is aware that his young charges probably won’t remember him as they grow up, it’s enough to know that the work he’s doing may help set them up for success. “That’s so rewarding. I braced myself for this job but I didn't realise how quickly and easily the children would form a relationship with me. Their attachment is so genuine and true, it's very endearing, it's very heartwarming.”
And though some people might see the job as simply involving running around with children while their parents are at work, Genius explains that it forces him to use many of the same skills that employers look for in more traditional roles. “I can bring in different creative solutions to problems, I’ve tackled a steep learning curve, I have to be adaptable to the interests and needs of each child; these are very transferable skills, I think.”
35-year-old professional painter and decorator Tom Howard from Brighton came into child-minding from quite a different direction. His wife Charlotte has been a professional childminder for several years, but after the pandemic scuppered her plan to move into the private nannying sector shortly after the couple had bought this first house, they began to wonder what they could do with their new space.
While Howard is the first to admit that his wife is in charge of their newly founded nursery while he’s a ‘support role’, becoming a childminder has been a delight for him. “It's good working as a team,” he says. “It's great that we get to do this and spend more time together and help sculpt the future generation of humans on this planet - we try to make a positive impact. It's not something I had anticipated but then again, I never had a plan. I studied computing but realised it was terribly boring, so I then went into a more physical job and that has always been good, but this is the best thing I’ve done yet.”
Having both a male and female presence at their nursery is something that the parents deeply value too, says Howard. “The importance of a balance can’t be overstated,” he explains. “Just generally men and women have different approaches or interests so the children get more of a balance from the two of us working together.”
Still, while there’s an enormous amount of opportunity for men to get into the childcare sector, it is not a career which should be taken lightly, says Genius. “You need to have a genuine interest in raising children because that's what you're doing for most of the day while the parents are at work,” he explains. “Think about how much you value the idea of raising another human. It's a bigger role than you might expect going into it but deeply rewarding.”