Professional Love
I did an audit of an incredible setting and was inspired by them in many ways.

During the learning walk the Manager mentioned their ‘Professional Love Policy’. I had so many questions, so we stopped and chatted, which resonated with me. I have always had the same approach and have never given it a name in my own setting.It was referred to in policies but again not a policy in its own right. As a teacher, it has always been my approach, which has not always met the school safeguarding policy which I have had to challenge when working with such young children.

I can hear you all saying…Get to the point what is professional love?
Well, a blog has already been beautifully written here only recently…
I went on to investigate and have some questions to pose to you to consider in your own practice and your setting policies.
Professional Love in Early Years Settings (PLEYS) was a piece of research led by Dr. Jools Page and a small team of researchers at the University of Sheffield looking into the research gap and to give confidence to early years practitioners when working closely and intimately with young children. The research was undertaken Feb – July 2105
What is your role?
Are we educators or are we also in loco-parentis – This is a Latin phrase meaning in the place of a parent – meaning the legal responsibility of a person or an organisation such as a school or nursery to take on the role and responsibilities of a parent partly. Anyone formally entrusted with a child’s care is expected to act in loco parentis.
So what does this mean?
Should we do all the things parents do? Should we freely hug and kiss a child, saying I love you?
Working in Early Years is much more than supporting a child’s development; caring is a significant part of the role, but professional love differs from parental love. I think we should recognise and use it more widely as an accepted term.
Are policy makers overlooking the care aspect of our role and concentrating on academic progress? Surely they go hand in hand; as we all know, children cannot make progress if not emotionally supported. Several studies have highlighted the relationship between parental affection and children’s happiness and success, so what is the link to be made in all environments children spend time in? Let’s acknowledge that some children spend more time within a setting than they do at home, so ask yourself how we support children’s emotional well-being.
Are we replacement parents and replacement love?
In a setting, the ‘love’ we show complements love from home, not replaces it. We are not the primary attachment (see Bowlby attachment theory 1969 A child has an innate (i.e. inborn) need to attach to one main attachment figure). Parents are the primary attachment but key people in settings are some of the few special people in a child’s life they develop a close or secondary attachment bond. We can still value the loving relationship we form. That’s what professional love is all about, helping a child to grow and develop. The importance of relationships is mentioned throughout the statutory requirements with a clear MUST.
  • 16 Each child must be assigned a key person……The key person must help ensure that every child’s learning and care is tailored to meet their individual needs.
Note the word care. Surely the caring aspect of ‘professional love’ is just as important as the academic side.
What does care look like in your provision?
Are adults in the setting providing the love, emotional warmth and touch that children need when away from home? Wherever a child is, they need the same emotional support if they hurt themselves or feel unwell. Do staff rock children to sleep? Do they use kind, gentle words and enable a child to sit on a lap to give comfort and reassurance?
What professional love looks like in your setting will vary as it will also vary from child to child as they are all unique.
Questions to ask yourself….How can you develop professional love and how can you train staff to love professionally?
How do you support the emotional needs of children in your setting?
Do you foresee any issues or have you got concerns?
Is it appropriate for a child to say I love you? How do you respond if they say it to you?
Is it appropriate for a child to kiss you? How do you respond? Can you kiss them?
Unfortunately, child protection issues can affect how staff feel and view their caring role and therefore impact ‘professional love’. No one wants an accusation or to miss a cause for concern, and staff want to feel confident and comfortable in their role.
What can be done to ensure children’s needs are met safely and staff are confident? Ask yourself – How does this impact our safeguarding policy and practises?
Many will have a positive attitude towards ‘professional love’ but some may have big concerns such as how others will view my actions. I experienced a member of staff being told to cuddle a child, standing only, with both hands in sight. The staff member was immediately on edge and couldn’t give the warmth the child needed. Some staff may only want to do so if not working alone, and you need to consider all policies in relation to this.
  • Staff meetings -have open, honest discussions about your policies to reassure staff about professional love and what it means for your setting.
  • Share policies with families alongside the approaches towards care and professional love that you implement so there is a full understanding.
  • Have regular supervisions that allow time and safe space to discuss professional love and use them to inform your practice.

Some questions for you…

-Do you have a policy around this term and what is it called?
– How would you define professional love – ask your team. What changes will you make after reading this blog?

Any questions or healthy debates are welcome; thank you for reading.