The use of residential placements for children needing out-of-home care remains controversial. This article considers the discourse of ‘residential’ and ‘institutional’ care before describing, mainly through administrative data sources, the wide variations in group-care usage in different jurisdictions. In some countries, its use is minimal, with foster care, kinship care and in some cases, adoption being the preferred options. This is not so in other countries where a high percentage of children in care are in residential placements. There is also diversity in the type of residential services, ranging from small group homes to large institutions. The challenges inherent in making process and outcome comparisons across national boundaries are explored. The authors concur with those who argue for more systematic ways of describing and analysing the aims and characteristics of residential settings. Only then can meaningful comparisons be made between outcomes from group-care regimes in different jurisdictions.