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Beyond male role models

Gender identities and work with young men

Beyond Male Role Models is a research project exploring gender identities and practices in work with young men. Based in the Faculty of Health & Social Care at The Open University (UK), the project is a partnership between The Open University and Action for Children, a national charity working with vulnerable children and young people. The study is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council for a period of two years from 2013-15 (Grant No: ES/K005863/1).

The project is responding to increasing anxiety about the welfare of boys and young men – reflected in concerns about educational underachievement, poor mental health, and involvement in offending and anti-social behaviour. One explanation for these poor outcomes that has become popular with the media and policy-makers is the absence of male role models from the lives of many troubled and troublesome young men. This has resulted in initiatives aimed at increasing male involvement in boys' lives and recruiting more men to work in education and welfare settings.

But is a lack of male role models really the cause of the problems faced by young men today? Does involving more men in boys’ care and welfare really make a difference? How much do we actually know about the importance of gender in work with vulnerable young men, and how it relates to other factors such as class and ethnicity? These are some of the questions that the project will be exploring – in interviews and focus groups with young men at Action for Children services throughout the UK, and with the men and women who work with them. The study will provide fresh insights into boys’ lives and produce evidence that can be used to improve policy and support practice with the most vulnerable young men.