Within the United Kingdom there is growing awareness of the need to identify and support the small number of children who are living in families experiencing multiple problems. Research indicates that adverse experiences in childhood can result in poor outcomes in adulthood in terms of lack of employment, poorer physical and mental health and increases in social problems experienced. It is acknowledged that most of these children are known to child welfare professionals and that some are referred to social services, subsequently entering the child protection system. This paper reports research conducted with 28 experienced child welfare professionals. It explores their views about families known to the child protection system with long-term and complex needs in relation to the characteristics of children and their families; the process of intervention with families; and the effects of organisational arrangements on practice. The research indicates that these families are characterised by the range and depth of the problems experienced by the adults, such as domestic violence, mental health difficulties and substance misuse problems, and the need for professionals to have good inter-personal skills and access to specialist therapeutic services if families are to be supported to address their problems. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.