Can justice be achieved in voluntary cases - or is it purely a matter for courts to determine? Using a multi-disciplinary framework, which has at its centre a philosophical/anthropological view of social work as a moral practice, the author explores the notion of justice in public child care. The problem of parents’ and children’s rights is addressed, first of all in the legal context of care proceedings and then in the social work setting of voluntary care. Forty-six difficult cases are examined to see how decisions are made and implemented. In the final analysis the dimensions of social and legal justice are charted in a way which may contribute to general understanding of these issues and some suggestions are offered about how social work may move forward in response to legitimate criticism.