This article identifies and analyses a number of central tensions and themes which can be seen to characterize child protection policy in England and Wales. It outlines the conflicting messages that have been prevalent in debates about child abuse and what to do about it since the early 1980s. These messages are shown to be embedded in current legislation and official guidance and procedures. Two recent statutes and two documents of Government guidance are analysed in some detail-the 1989 Children Act, the 1991 Criminal Justice Act, Working Together (1991) and the Memorandum of Good Practice (1992). The need for practitioners to identify high risk situations, the significance of professional judgements and the overriding importance of assembling forensic evidence will be identified as crucial influences on priorities and decision making. Child protection policy is now "legalized" in ways not evident previously. Reference to recent research illustrates how these issues then impact on daily policy and practice and are related to wider changes in the economy and policy, particularly the role of the state.