Chapter 3 introduces the child guidance centres, the gatekeepers of alternative care. Their staff implement national and local policy to determine whether a child is removed from the family and, if they are, whether they enter a welfare institutional, foster care, or are adopted.

This chapter discusses the relationship between child guidance centres and the family, as well as outlining the organisation of child protection in the local authority. This touches on the absence of the judiciary and the challenges the social workers face in securing parental consent. The first part of the chapter closes by looking at the organisation and staffing of the child guidance centres. Staff are overwhelming generalist local government bureaucrats, who often have no relevant experience and who are moved to different offices every one to five years.

The second part of this chapter looks at the decision-making process by which a child is placed into care. The role of discretion is discussed, as without judicial support the street-level bureaucrats have limited power in relation to their ‘client’, the child’s parents. This builds on Mashaw’s work on ‘moral judgement’. Finally, the absence of the child’s voice in the process is highlighted.