This article examines characteristics and social work practices within the Mexican child protection system by combining observations of practice with the voices and the views expressed by managers, social workers, families, children and young people. The results of the study confirm the need for and desire to adopt a participatory approach, in preference to the individualistic ideas that currently dominates practice. The traditional Mexican culture, the implicit and explicit representation of family and the social problems connected to drug trade conflicts appear to have contributed to a child protection system with a “child-centered perspective”, characterized by asymmetric power relationships, lacking the empowerment and engagement of service users. These practices seem to be counter to the legislative framework and appear ineffective. Reflections regarding how family needs are identified, understood and addressed reveal a commitment to find new ways of working with families among service users and providers. However, the biggest challenge in the Mexican context is to balance the protection of the child with support to their parents; without ensuring the former, the latter will remain a partial and counter-productive work practice.
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