Evaluating the participatory opportunities for service users within social welfare institutions is a pressing issue. In this article, we explore a group of ethnic minority parents' experiences with child welfare services (CWS) in Norway. A strong narrative theme was deficiency positioning—how lacking a Norwegian normative set of knowledge and skills challenged the parents' opportunities to participate. We analysed how deficiency positioning was perceived, negotiated, and contested in the parents' accounts, and 4 themes emerged: (a) learning to parent, (b) contesting expert knowledge, (c) learning to be a client, and (d) constructing CWS deficiency. Nancy Fraser's concept of “participatory parity” was applied to explore how current institutional structures may enable and limit parents' participation. The analysis provides insight into agencies and informants' sense‐making processes as well as the diverse resources and strategies that parents draw upon in the CWS encounter. Furthermore, we argue that an interplay between a strong focus on “parenting skills” and bureaucratic and economic structures positions ethnic minority parents as deficient, thus providing powerful mechanisms for marginalization. Implications for case work and institutional levels are discussed.