The development of child care policy has been characterized by debates organized along various intersecting constructs such as universal vs. selective services and prevention vs. treatment. Family centres, as a site of service delivery, represent a point of intersection of many of these arguments. Their role is contested between protagonists of all positions within the child care policy debates: whether they should be professionally managed, led by service users, provide a service to referred families, or offer a universal resource for local communities. This paper argues that a needs-led approach to family centre development may supersede the sterile dichotomies of many of these debates. A case study is presented of an evaluation research project, designed to inform a needs-led family centre policy for an urban unitary social services department. The methodology utilizes an approach combining quantitative analyses of geographical distributions of family need with qualitative presentation of the perspectives of actual and potential centre users, and agency stakeholders. The outcome is a family centre model which, by focusing on need, seeks to transcend the limited oppositions of the child care debates.