There is some evidence to suggest that children may be re-abused or killed even after referral to a child protection agency. The traditional response to this has been to improve administrative procedures. This article presents an exploratory study which begins to test an alterna- tive idea, that workers become a hostage to the violence in their clients. They respond to threat by denial and rationalisation. Study findings give tentative support to this theory. It was found that the workers tended to minimise the level of violence in the abusive families, and intervention appeared to be non-provocative. It would seem that this behaviour was largely at an unconscious level as it could not be explained by lack of dedication to work. It is likely that such a `hostage effect? is enhanced by theoretical deficiencies in social work and the prevailing structures of the work environment.