The ways in which government supports families and protects children are always a fine balance. In recent years, we suggest that this balance can be characterised increasingly as child-centric, less concerned with families and more focused on individual children and their needs. This article charts the changes in families and government responses over the last 40 years, and the way this is reflected in organisational and administrative arrangements. It notes in particular the impact on everyday practice of the introduction of information and communication technologies. Findings are reported from recent research which shows the struggles faced by practitioners who try to manage systems which separate children from their familial, social and relational contexts. As a consequence, we suggest, the work has become increasingly fragmented and less mindful of children's life within families. While the data and analysis draw on research carried out in England, we suggest that similar changes may be going on in other Western liberal democracies.