Child protection systems across the English-speaking world have been subject to critique in recent years, identified as overly procedural and compliance-based, within which relationships between social workers and clients are characterised by mutual suspicion and animosity. This article draws on findings from a knowledge exchange project in which a university social work department worked with two local authorities with the aim of bringing about culture change in children and families’ social work. The focus is on what the social workers said about their work in contemporary child protection systems and organisations in the course of participation in critical reflection groups. The experiences of practitioners are considered using insights drawn from Pierre Bourdieu, and especially his notion of social suffering, which suggests that workers may feel compromised in fulfilling the moral and emotional dimensions of the job as a result of the demands of a neo-liberal state. The article concludes that critical reflection may provide some limited possibilities to destabilise dominant practice orthodoxies and cultures and, in so doing, encourage culture change in organisations.