There are inherent tensions between government policy on adult social care work in England and the practice of that care work. This paper locates these tensions within the masculine model of professionalization contained in English adult social care policy and its interpretation by a largely female workforce. We situate our analysis within critical realism, exploring street – level bureaucracy in manager and care worker policy interpretations. We argue that their exercise of agency draws substantially upon gender structures. Managers espouse policy while reproducing gender to construct care work as low in skill and status. Care workers, whose views are often neglected, transform gender to resist this positioning of their work. Our contribution is to question policy's effectiveness given its disregard of gender and its consequent disconnect from those practising adult social care. In so doing, we also advance understanding of street – level bureaucracy.