In December 2011, the UK Government formally launched its ‘troubled families’ initiative. This is a focused programme of interventions, coordinated at local level and paid for by results. It has been described by the Prime Minister as a part of the ‘social recovery’ that has to be set alongside the economic recovery that is his government's priority. It is illustrative of a decisive shift in the nature of the welfare state as it reflects the neo-liberal political project. It also reflects a purposed shift in social attitudes towards troubled and troublesome families, driven to a considerable degree by a vicious popular press. It is indicative of a marked shift in the pendulum from ‘rehabilitation’ to ‘rescue’ as the focus of welfare practice with children and families. Recent developments in the promotion of adoption of children in the UK should be viewed in this light. This paper considers how those families with tense or divergent relationships with the state are to be governed in the context of a state and a set of social attitudes that represents a decisive break with the post-war welfare consensus.