Australia’s history of negative child protection outcomes for children in state care highlights the sustained, systemic nature of serious harm. Situated in emerging conversations on structural challenges and state violence for parents involved in child protection systems, we trace the resources and barriers to responsive and ‘just’ child protection practice, highlighting how institutions can serve to compound disadvantage and injustice. We argue that addressing challenges such as access to advocacy at the level of the individual is to miss the underlying politics of oppression that serves to keep families marginalised. Instead, we need to rethink how parental rights and responsibilities are best facilitated at institutional levels – what we term institutional justice capital. This requires public conversation about thresholds for child removal, transparent treatment of families, access to mechanisms to challenge the determinations of child protection authorities, and inter-organisational respect and collaboration to support families to navigate complex and multiple systems.