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to call this is sex discrimination at our local Children's Centre?

(109 Posts)
learnasyougo Sat 30-Nov-13 16:25:24

Our local children's centre runs weekly 'Stay and Play' drop in sessions on a weekday morning. My husband (SAHD) often goes to these with our toddler son. It's mostly mums, but there is another father who goes occasionally, too.

Being a weekday morning I can never go (to spend time with DS and see him interact with other children), as I work full time.

Once a month, on a Saturday morning, the same centre runs a 'Dads' Stay and Play' drop-in, so working fathers can a) have the same sort of experience with their children and b) have somewhere to go to give SAHM a break, presumably. I know not all fathers have Saturdays free, but presumably a shift-working father would be able to make the weekly one from time to time, at least.

So my husband asked when the next one would be because his wife (me) would like to go.

"Oh no. It's men only" was the reply. He said his wife works full time, though "yes, a few people have complained about that" but it was left at that.

This is sex discrimination, right? I qualify in every other way, except for the Y chromosome. I can understand a men-only space if this were some sort of support group or talking therapy and having women about might inhibit men.

I'm really annoyed by it. I'm wondering whether they'd actually turn me away if I turned up. I would love to see him in a social environment, interacting with other children and playing with other sorts of toys we don't have at home, and give DH a break. I was annoyed enough at everything on a Saturday always being a 'dads' whatever, yet the regular, normal event is never described as a 'mums' event - a reverse of the 'men as default' so prevalent elsewhere in society.

So, should I just turn up anyway? Next one isn't until next month.

GhoulWithADragonTattoo Thu 05-Dec-13 11:45:05

I actually think the idea of a Dads session is a good one and it would be undermined by opening to women too as, let's face it, more women than men would probably end up going. I do think you would be reasonable to ask them to consider having a weekend session that was also open to women however.

Topaz25 Thu 05-Dec-13 11:36:54

I do think it seems a bit sexist because it assumes men can only attend on a Saturday because they are the ones working full time and women can attend during the week because they are the ones staying at home. The children's centre should be more up to date! Try writing to them about your concerns. It sounds like you are not the only working mum who would like to attend so maybe they can do a weekend meeting for mums too.

PeriodFeatures Wed 04-Dec-13 20:29:38

miaow this is unacceptable at the CC. the workers should be managing the dynamics better.

ILetHimKeep20Quid Tue 03-Dec-13 09:16:51

You would probably find the sessions quite structured and tailored to the situation of the dad's that attend.

bryte Mon 02-Dec-13 21:17:56

OP If you can stomach it, how about taking your DS to a softplay area on a weekend morning. There are usually areas sectioned off for toddlers. Sometimes museums have events for families at weekends.

flatpackhamster Mon 02-Dec-13 18:54:08


I have no problem at all with dads only sessions. It just saddens me that there are never mums only sessions. There are mums in target groups who won't go to a mixed session. But their needs tend to get ignored.

By default, almost every session of everything is 'mums only' - swimming, children's centre, coffee mornings at churches...

KatAndKit Mon 02-Dec-13 18:27:02

miaow have you not had a word with the staff? They should have intervened with that behaviour.

AmberLeaf Mon 02-Dec-13 18:17:22

But often the sessions other than the 'dads only' ones are dominated by Mums anyway.

They end up being Mums only.

Grennie Mon 02-Dec-13 18:15:29

I have no problem at all with dads only sessions. It just saddens me that there are never mums only sessions. There are mums in target groups who won't go to a mixed session. But their needs tend to get ignored.

teacherlikesapples Mon 02-Dec-13 17:53:48

Not sure if people aren't reading the whole thread & ignoring the facts.

Sure it would be lovely to have special groups for every parent. That would be amazing, because parenting is hard & everyone needs and deserves support. The fact is- there is not enough funding for that.

At my previous centre- when we had general stay & plays they would be full of lovely middle class Mums. So full in fact- there was no room for anyone else. These are the same parents who were educated & resourced enough to buy and access the help they needed, if they did. Of course some of those Mums might have had other issues- they aren't immune to problems, no one is saying that. But these Mums didn't identify themselves as having those problems.

In the feedback we got from other minority attendees (Fathers, refugees etc...) They said they felt intimidated in this environment.

Funding cuts have meant CC's have had to scale back to the absolute basics of their core function. Target the 'hard to reach' groups. Those that research have shown have the biggest issues with low engagement, attainment or health etc...

For those complaining that the CCs think middle class don't have issues- well that is silly. CC's don't assume that- there is support available for specific issues-single parents, multiple births, mental health, drug addiction etc... Again what is available will depend on how much of the funding has been cut from that centre. Most used to have teams of family support workers that could come & have tea with you after work, but most of those are gone now. Complain to your MP if you think this is unacceptable & fill in the dreaded feedback forms. It is the only way it has a chance to change.

Each CC will be slightly different. As decided by the needs of the borough.
For those still not understanding or complaining that the men's groups get bacon butties or special treatment- the organisers are responding to LOW ENGAGEMENT. Some men have said they need a safe place to learn, meet others Dads, some only get access on weekends. The fact is these men were not attending the general stay & plays. So it makes sense for CCs to try different approaches to increase their access & respond to feedback.

Dad's can obviously go to the general open stay & play to- there they will get the same treatment as Mums. No extras, bacon butties or cups of tea. We used to offer this at our sessions a few years ago, but again since our budget was slashed by about 40% this is a luxury we cannot afford. So again- the priority is one the low engagement, 'hard to reach' groups.

Sorry for the rant- but it frustrates me that CC workers try their hardest to get the right support to those that need it most in the face of huge budget cuts.This sense of entitlement & 'being offended' seems misplaced and unhelpful.

MiaowTheCat Mon 02-Dec-13 13:35:40

I'm expecting to be one of the group quietly sidelined out of our local children's centre soon enough - you know, middle class mother, husband on hand therefore needs no help whatsoever etc etc. However when they were set up - lots of the little traditional playgroups closed down - and the ones that remain aren't really useful to us - they're either too far away (we're in a bit of a dead patch in terms of provision in our local area... right on the boundary with another county so sort of forgotten about) or they're the sort who do things like tea and toast - with my kids that's potentially such a logistical nightmare - DD1 would be doing laps cleaning up the leftovers and scrounging, while DD2 would need to be helicoptered to fuck because of allergy issues!

I've told them quite bluntly though - if they need to use the fact we've got previous social services involvement (malicious referral - nowt more sinister btw), or I have mental health and mobility issues in order to whack up their usage statistics in the right way to ensure their survival... fine by me - I know it's all playing the numbers game to produce the right nice graphs to keep the funding coming in. However since they've started doing monthly questionnaires for Ofsted I have started writing on the future improvements box "please stop giving us questionnaires constantly - it's scaring people away!" every single time! Ours does have the gender thing fairly OK though - got about 2-3 regular attending fathers who come either on their own or with their partner, plus others that pop in when they're off work and whatever (or in DH's case get bribed to come down and help me out with the offer of a bacon butty on the way home).

My big gripe with ours is the way that certain sessions have become particularly dominated by one very nasty clique. Well I say clique, but what I realise more and more is it's actually gone beyond clique into bullying - they'll stake out corners and toys for their kids and sit in the corner with their backs across blocking access to any other kids getting in... their behaviour is so awful that I've noticed Dd1 visibly withdraws and becomes anxious when the ringleader shoes up with their child - hence after 19 months, they've finally succeeded in hounding me (I was the most stubborn - they'd hounded most people out long ago) out of one session in particular.

youretoastmildred Mon 02-Dec-13 11:49:21

In some demographics, there is a need to reassure potential users that the event will be strictly single sex or people won't go.

However, doing man stuff only at the weekends does reinforce the idea that childcare is women's work (pace the poster above who said the opposite). It makes men doing things a weekend exception and makes a song and dance about men needing to be lured there with promises of no overbearing chatty silly women, whereas women just get on with it all week.

(I took dd1 to stay-and-plays when heavily pregnant and with newborn dd2 and I didn't like having too many men around. There were one or two and they always nicked a seat if I a. found one and b. got out of it for two seconds to wipe a nose or something. No mother would ever have pinched a seat from a 41-week pregnant woman limping with spd. Also I am usually a casual and unflappable bf-er but some of them seemed weird about it, although I can do it through an invisible gap. Although the staff there were lovely it was in some ways a bit of a difficult place for the peri-natal and looking back on it I think I was too shy about asking for help with needing chairs with spd and not having anywhere safe to put dd2 for a minute and things like that. Odd oversight.)

"Caillin - the whole middle class families don't need help thing drives me up the wall too. " yep.
But also - take the class thing out of it for a minute. If some in society need more help than others (true enough if you don't say which), then surely it is in everyone's interests that all of the above mix anyway. Everyone, no matter how great a parent you are, needs somewhere for their toddler to play and get out and about with other children before going to school. If you make certain kinds of other help available as part of mainstream events, which everyone is expected to attend, you don't ghetto-ise the "non-coping". Surely that is a good thing? You don't stigmatise anyone, you are offering discreet support and advice to those who need it, and meanwhile normal functional playing and socialising and parenting is taking place in full view of everyone, including maybe some parents who need to see it, who may have not seen it before. The difficulty with why well-off people should be funded to play with their children could be solved through taxation. From each according to their means, to each according to their needs.

SignoraStronza Mon 02-Dec-13 11:06:38

They have this at our local one. Only thing that annoys me is that they get a bacon butty while we aren't even offered a cuppa!

Grennie Mon 02-Dec-13 10:24:26

lily - Okay thanks. I knew that women did much more of the actual work of childcare than men. But I thought most men did play with their kids. I was obviously wrong.

AmberLeaf Mon 02-Dec-13 10:17:33

What really gets me about the whole thing is the fact that they make the lovely assumption that the poorer you are the more likely you are to be a bad parents

I know what you mean, but, IME of CCs [in the early days of them-my children are older now] it was about having access to play facilities and activities that if you are poor you wont have or can't do at home. Things like 'messy play' and giant floor hand and feet painting, If you have very limited funds or live in a tiny flat with no garden those things are not practical.

As I said, my experience of CCs is a few years ago now, when they were first starting up. I remember there was one being set up just around the corner from where I lived on a large council estate that was identified as a deprived area. I signed up for mailshots about upcoming activities. I got a letter about a messy play session that would be starting with a date to come down and book a place. I went at 9am on that date to be told that the places were all full. I said to them that's odd, how can the places be full already, that can't be right? I was the first person in the centre as they opened?

I asked to see the manager/person in charge and he came down and ended up giving me places for my 1 and 4 yr old. When I went along, all of the other families present were MC Mums who lived a few roads away [not on the estate] in the big houses on the expensive rds. A lot of them appeared to know the manager.

Those families were not the families that these things were supposedly being targeted to.

Other Mums I knew from my estate were put on waiting lists, every activity I signed up for had these MC Mums attending.

I know people in other areas that had similar experiences, so I can understand why they make such a thing of targeting particular groups of people.

I know that being MC doesn't exclude you from being isolated or having problems etc, but the centre was opened in my area specifically because lots of the families living there had children with no nursery place [the local school favoured those living out of the estate] living in poor housing.

In those days, there was definitely an abuse of the facilities.

lilyaldrin Mon 02-Dec-13 09:56:29

Yes, it's true that fathers are less likely to be involved with their children than mothers. It's also true that outcomes for children are improved if fathers become more involved.

Grennie Mon 02-Dec-13 09:47:13

I have no issue with fathers only groups. I do have an issue with the assumption that working fathers are a disadvantaged group, and working mothers are not.

What this is saying is that most fathers don't play with their kids, whereas mothers do. Is that really true?

Minnieisthedevilmouse Mon 02-Dec-13 08:05:39

Ah absolutely, middle classes have no issues. DV, alcohol, drugs, one parent, racial mixes, young parents, bf/or not, old parents, twins, pnd, only actually occur in those earning under minimum wage.

Our group had people from 18 different countries. But as was parent led they got us out. They were so busy ticking clipboard sheets they didn't notice their groups were crap!

CailinDana Mon 02-Dec-13 07:35:42

Oh and one friend who does fit their criteria - single parent on benefits - found them patronising and unhelpful. When she mentioned going back to education they "helpfully" provided her with information on mature students sitting gcses. If they'd stopped making assumptions for a second they'd have realised she was planning on doing her second degree. They have the cheek to call her "one of our success stories" despite the fact that she found them so useless she set up her own playgroup (the kne I now help to run) which attracts at least triple the numbers they attract.

DumSpiroSpero Mon 02-Dec-13 07:25:58

I am shocked that people actually get turned away from CC's - we have our target groups but I can't imagine we'd ever turn someone away. In the very worst case scenario, if they wanted some kind of support that we were not able to offer we would at least have a conversation with them and try and help them find somewhere that could provide they help they needed.

Caillin - the whole middle class families don't need help thing drives me up the wall too. I was a 29yo married, home owning woman with a good job to go back to when DD was born. It didn't stop me having crushing PND and I would have loved to have had our Centre round the corner back then (DD was 4 by the time it became a CC). Being middle class doesn't immunise families against divorce, redundancy, ill health, bereavement, birth defects, SEN etc.

Also, the 'sharp elbowed middle class mums' that were bringing their toddlers to our Centre 5 years ago (pre ConDems) are now the people giving their time for free as volunteers to help keep services going in the face of massive funding cuts.

Sorry OP - off on a tangent there but it's something that really riles me!

ILetHimKeep20Quid Mon 02-Dec-13 07:16:44

The thing is if you're working, coping, doing ok at this parenting thing then you aren't really within their target group anyway.

It doesn't take much of a stretch of the imagination to see why dad's need targeted. Many probably only actually have their children at the weekends.

Whole projects are funded, people employed, just for dad's groups. It's not discrimination, it's meeting need.

CailinDana Mon 02-Dec-13 06:58:59

What really gets me about the whole thing is the fact that they make the lovely assumption that the poorer you are the more likely you are to be a bad parents plus people who.are partnered or married couldn't possibly need support because...well I don't know why they make that assumption...because if a woman has a man then she's sorted? At my local CC they openly commented that they didn't want my friend to attend a course. All they know about her is that she lives in the postcode with bigger houses and she's married and on the basis of that alone they deemed her not to need their services. Says a lot about British society IMO.

Grennie Mon 02-Dec-13 00:44:54

But working mums are excluded from that idea?

lilyaldrin Mon 02-Dec-13 00:29:43

Getting dads more involved benefits all children, so in encouraging dads as a group, disadvantaged children will benefit too.

It's a bit like having a young parents group - some mums under 22 will really need support, some will be married/partnered, have a working partner, own their own home. But as a whole, increasing support for young parents improves outcomes for children.

Grennie Mon 02-Dec-13 00:25:14

teacher - If CCs are only focussing on the most disadvantaged, why would it focus on all dads? Surely a lot of dads already play with their children?

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