Social services departments are seldom seen as hotbeds of lust and passion. Yet, despite this, relationships between social care employees are not uncommon. So when love strikes in an eligibility criteria meeting or while arranging a care package, is this simply down to people moving in the same circles? Or is there something more to it than that?
Social care professionals are stereotyped as a left-wing bunch and there is a strong argument that people with shared outlooks on the world and similar political views are more likely to be drawn to each other.
Peter Beresford, professor of social policy at Brunel University, is married to Suzy Croft, a practising social worker who also carries out research work with her husband. The couple met through work. Beresford says that, although social care couplings are primarily about individuals of a similar mindset, it is almost impossible for social care not to become intrinsic to their relationships.
“In our relationship, we don’t just have highbrow discussions about broader government policy, but our whole life is part of the workings of social care,” he says. “We even have a daughter who is training to be a social worker. We didn’t tell her to become a social worker, but it infiltrates in everywhere.”
Denise Knowles, a relationship counsellor at Relate, says that people working in the same field are likely to have similar interests but there must be a level of attraction beyond this. “You have to fancy them and feel this is someone with whom you want to share your innermost thoughts,” she says.
She points out that you don’t feel attracted to everyone you work with. To those of you for whom the thought of going on a date with a colleague is as attractive as a trip to the dentist, this may seem obvious. Nonetheless, many relationships do prosper within the sector, so clearly there are some colleagues for whom the “never mix work and pleasure” rule is not always strictly adhered to.
Where Cupid does strike, Knowles says it is important for social care professionals who work closely with each other to have clear boundaries between their work and home lives, particularly when a relationship is in its infancy.
“You go to work in order to work,” Knowles warns. “If you are in the first throes of a relationship and you can’t wait to see each other, it might get in the way of getting your job done.”
The nature of social care means professionals’ working days can be draining. Beresford says the ability to empathise with a partner in a similar job is the key to many successful relationships.
He asks: “What would it be like if some poor social worker came home and tried to talk to someone working in the City about their day? I do wonder how much they would be interested in an asylum seeker who had been refused leave to remain.”
Louise Rowe, a youth justice worker for Brighton and Hove Youth Offending Team, is in a long-term relationship with Andrew White, a former youth justice worker for a neighbouring authority who recently left to join the fire service. Rowe says the pair, who met before going into social care, have shared values and a similar political viewpoint. She feels it is this that lies behind the attraction that social care professionals may feel towards each other.
However, Rowe adds that, in such a female-dominated profession, the sector provides few opportunities for romance. “The social care workforce is predominantly female making it difficult for women – and therefore the majority of the workforce – to meet potential partners,” she says. “You also don’t get any of the boozy lunches or lavish Christmas parties some other professions have.”
Yet despite this lack of partner-finding opportunities, Rowe dismisses the need for some sort of public sector dating agency to help social care singletons and others working in related professions to find their ideal partners.
“Even if you might be drawn to people who work in social care or elsewhere in the public sector, you don’t want to actively seek them out,” she says. “Otherwise on your date you would just end up talking about social work.”
Looking for Love
This article appears in the 14 February issue under the headline “Meetings of hearts and minds”