Understanding the needs of your child is complicated. Understanding the varied needs of a population of children with whom you have no direct contact is the near impossible challenge policy makers, government planners and donors face when making policy or selecting interventions to fund and implement. They cannot unpack children’s individual needs and so must predict what is most important for a given population and which services to prioritise. This can be simplified by assuming that the needs of other people’s children are hierarchical: basic needs, such as food and shelter, must be met before considering higher-order needs. This conceptualisation justifies a focus on basic needs and decision makers can ignore higher-order needs and the complex interventions they may require, because both are assumed to be of secondary importance. Assuming a hierarchy of needs is a mistake. By drawing on examples from the literature, we outline how children, our own and other people’s, have non-hierarchical needs and thus caring for them is a balancing act, best done by those close to them. This conceptualisation highlights the importance of supporting families to support children. For a subset of families who are struggling, additional family strengthening interventions may be needed. In the relatively rare cases that such interventions are insufficient as family function is severely compromised, more intensive interventions may be necessary, but must be undertaken with great care and skill. Social services are critical because they have the potential to facilitate the intensive interventions when they are required, and while they are not required by all, for some of the most vulnerable children they are essential. The quality standards of
such a service will be key in meeting the needs of other people’s children.