For many local authority children and family services in the UK faced with the task of responding to children and families facing difficulties and with declining budgets, there is an increasing imperative on how services can respond more effectively to the diverse needs of families on the edge of care. At the same time policy and paradigm shifts have affected the way in which social workers engage with families. This paper is rooted in research commissioned by one local authority that used an innovative visual ‘river of experience’ co- production approach to understand better the experiences of children and families on their journeys to the edge of care and to inform how statutory services might respond ‘better’, and possibly earlier, to prevent children being taken into care. The research highlights the gap between assumptions and practices of child and family services and the realities and needs of children and families. The paper discusses these disjunctions and draws out questions to challenge statutory services. In particular, the paper asks why, in spite of serial involvement of professionals, do children still end up in the care system. The paper contributes to current discourses about rethinking child protection, arguing for a different approach to responding to families facing difficulties involving human-centred, holistic family support and a more reflexive and relational approach to professional practice.