Purpose-The purpose of this paper is to argue for the need to move away from a sole focus on assessing and dealing with individualised risk factors in order to more fully engage with and understand the social determinants of many of the harms that are manifest in families. Design/methodology/approach-It draws from a number of research studies being conducted by the authors and a literature on psycho-social approaches to social suffering. Findings-It highlights the evidence on the contribution of poverty and inequality to many of the problems encountered within families. It explores how hurt, shame and loss are experienced by those who are marginalised and struggling to live well and care safely for themselves and others. Practical implications-It highlights the practice implications of adopting an approach that engages with both the social and the psychological and understands their inter-relationship. It offers some thoughts on how the social in psycho-social might receive the attention it deserves, a situation which does not pertain currently. Originality/value-It offers an original contribution to thinking in the area of child protection where the focus is primarily on individualised risk factors. It highlights the importance of understanding the social determinants of many of the harms experienced in families and offers some pointers towards thinking and practising differently.