Court proceedings are a fundamental and increasingly time‐consuming aspect of social work practice. However, to date, there is a relatively modest body of literature considering the experiences of social workers in instituting child care proceedings and giving evidence in court. This paper draws on data gathered as part of an in‐depth qualitative study of professional experiences of District Court child care proceedings in Ireland and presents findings regarding the experiences of social workers in bringing court applications for child protection orders. It seeks to answer 2 key questions: First, how do child protection and welfare social workers experience the adversarial nature of child care proceedings in the District Court? Second, what are the views of child protection and welfare social workers on the strengths and weaknesses of child care proceedings as a decision‐making model for children and young people? The main findings are that social workers expressed significant reservations about the predominantly adversarial model that currently operates in Irish child care proceedings and about the level of respect that social workers are afforded within the operation of the system.