ABSTRACT This paper presents a model of service process for a family support service at the preventative level as part of a wider debate about child welfare systems in the UK and beyond. The paper places the debate about the shape of preventative family support services within the policy context and uses it to critique various models of service provision, principally the ‘child rescue’ paradigm. From this, the paper explores the characteristics that constitute a complex, yet preventative, family support service. This model is then illustrated using empirical evidence collected from the evaluation of a voluntary and community sector project in the North West of England that describes the service process and some of its characteristics. The paper argues that the model of family support presented has implications for the type of service process that can effectively put the theory into practice. Finally, questions for further research are defined in relation to the implications that this model poses for professional–user relationships and for the professional forms that can deliver preventative family support.