•Changing parenting is focus when services see families of conduct disordered children.
•This can be helpful when trusting relationships with service providers develop.
•Family functioning can improve when parents change attitudes to the child’s behaviour.
•Parents find implementing consistent behaviour management helps.
•Much intervention does not help but is seen as burdensome and judgemental.
This paper presents themes from qualitative analysis of interviews with parents and practitioners, aiming to consider how families benefit, or do not, from services’ intervention. Eleven London families in contact with child protection services were followed for five years. In-depth, repeat interviews were conducted with mothers and with practitioners they nominated as helpful. The families had originally been referred to a therapeutic parenting programme because their child was considered to be at risk for future antisocial behaviour due to their conduct problems, and additional risk factors in the family. However not all families completed, or even began that programme. The interviews explored families’ interactions with all services over the five years including social work, mental health and family support provision. The analysis suggested a number of changes in parenting which appeared to be related to improved outcomes for children and their families. For example, changes in mothers’ conceptualisation of their child’s behaviour, brought about through therapeutic intervention, could transform parent-child relationships and thereby improve longer-term outcomes. However, other mothers could bring about change without these cognitive shifts, through use of strategies to manage children’s behaviour or improve mothers’ own wellbeing. Services sometimes played an important role in these changes. The analysis also suggested features of provision which prevented intervention with families being effective. Services’ focus on parenting, and the associated perceived blame, can sometimes undermine parents and be counter-productive, whereas empowering parents through developing shared goals seems more useful.