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This literary review calls for families and children in developing countries to be supported in ways that are appropriate to the conditions, culture and resources available rather than through approaches to social work that are common in the west. Children living without, or at risk of losing, parental care have wide and varied needs. This paper highlights the need for more thorough assessments of appropriate approaches, functions and support needs for social workers, and suggests elements of an assessment tool to explore these issues. This paper is the first part of a longer process for developing such an assessment tool, and plans are underway to further develop and test the tool in 2012.