Foucault identified the formation of subjectivities as one of a range of mechanisms of governmentality. In the Anglo-American child protection model, children are viewed as being innocent, vulnerable, and agency-less and parents (mothers) are constructed as being solely responsible for their children’s well-being. Such subjectivities blame parents if children are harmed, allowing social workers as experts to intervene. Structural contributors to parenting capacity are overlooked in this discourse, relieving the state of responsibility to address these problems. In South Africa, similar subjectivities prevail. The developmental discourse, which constructs parents as community members, emphasises participation, and casts social workers as facilitators and advocates rather than experts, has not succeeded in replacing the child protection subjectivities. Indeed, the construction of service users as ‘the poor’ and the adoption of an individualistic rights focus, has led to the strengthening of oppressive subjectivities, rather than facilitating a more empowering, participatory, inclusive and democratic approach.