This paper draws on a small-scale study examining the experiences of highly vulnerable families with complex and enduring needs. The previous UK government and the current government have sought to develop policy and service initiatives that target families who present high levels of need and require high cost services. However, to date remarkably little is known about family perspectives and experiences. In this paper, family accounts of their experiences are presented and it is suggested that from these come some difficult practice questions. The family data reveal evident gaps in existing practice and challenges social work to ‘think family’ in new ways. The paper explores how families understand they are understood at the point of engagement, the assumptions that are made about family knowledge, and how families share and withhold information about their needs and experiences. In the discussion, the argument is made for the development of nuanced practice capable of recognizing and working with the ways highly vulnerable families ‘do family’, and the processes that support and inhibit professional interventions.