This article explores continuities and changes in relation to the problem and troubled families’ initiatives across three areas: the ways in which families have been defined and described; the nature of the interventions; and the criteria for ‘success’. First, while the criteria for identifying troubled families seem initially more explicit than those for problem families, data on the families indicate important continuities. Second, although both initiatives have been characterised by the claimed novelty and distinctiveness of the approaches, it is the practical, commonsense nature of the interventions that have also been highlighted. Third, whereas voluntary organisations and local authorities made little effort to assess ‘outcomes’ for problem families, or were pessimistic about the chances of success, the troubled families initiative has focused on costs, savings, payment-by-results and families ‘turned around’. Overall, troubled families have been much more visible in political rhetoric than their 1950s counterparts.