Understanding how social workers and parental service users construct the meanings of parental problems in the child protection context is important, as ultimately this affects decision making. Using qualitative methods, this study elicited social workers’ and parental service users’ perceptions of decision reasoning and analysed them from a discursive constructionist perspective. By completing secondary analysis of social worker–parental service user pairs, this article describes patterns in how the causes of family problems were constructed by social workers and parental service users. It was found that explanations of poor mental health and lack of supports for initial family problems were used to emphasise a lack of parental culpability by both parties, particularly through a narrative of separating one’s ‘authentic self’ from the impacts of mental illness on parenting. This convergence of explanations helped to maintain fragile parental identities, assisted with relationship maintenance, and allowed both social workers and parents to acknowledge harm to children. However, an individualised view of problems promoted by mental illness discourses was unable to account for the impact of domestic violence and poverty on parental life experiences, and thus sometimes over-emphasised parental responsibility.