28 Oct 2013

The ‘problem’ of boys: new research to examine male role models

The role of gender in welfare work with boys and young men is under scrutiny with a two-year research project, 'Beyond Male Role Models: gender identities and work with young men' which has received £200,000 funding from the Economic and Social Research Council. Experts from The Open University are teaming up with the charity Action for Children to look at the importance of male role models to boys and young men, particularly those in vulnerable situations.

Senior Lecturer at The Open University, Martin Robb, is leading the project and said: “There is an increasing public anxiety about boys and young men in society, and this is something our research is responding to. Politicians, the media and professionals are concerned about their educational underachievement, increasing rates of suicide and poor mental health, and involvement in offending and anti-social behaviour. A popular explanation for the so-called ‘problem’ of boys has been the apparent absence of positive male role models; but is this really the root cause? And will involving more men in work with boys make an impact? These are some of the questions we will be exploring.”

The research project will be carried out at Action for Children services across the UK using focus groups and interviews with both female and male welfare workers, volunteers and boys and young men using the service. It is set to break new ground in exploring how young men build relationships with professional welfare workers and to what extent this is related to their gender, and how gender interacts with other aspects of identity such as class and ethnicity. The project is set to give fresh insights into young men’s lives and contribute to improving professional practice in welfare settings.

Hannah Dobbin, Policy Manager at Action For Children, said: “Many young men Action For Children works with are from complex backgrounds – some may struggle with family problems, have experience of the care system or care for a family member. This research project is an excellent opportunity for young people to directly inform the debate around role models. We may have an idea of who we think is a good male role model, but what do they think? Who do they look up to and admire? We’re also keen to learn from the research to develop our work in supporting young men.”

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