The ‘future’ orientation of the out-of-home care research literature which has focused on outcomes of care has risked ignoring children's experiences of care in their ‘present(s)’. In this paper we describe a project, the design of which reflects an alternative to the traditional way of looking at childhood, of which this ‘future’ (adult constructed) orientation is part. We discuss the use of qualitative research methods to identify children's needs in care. The project has attempted to involve children as co-constructors of knowledge around their needs through participatory research methods. These methods have required us to recognise that children and their needs exist within a context of relational structures; to address the power imbalances between adult researchers and child participants; and to be flexible in responding to the consequences of a participative process. Challenges which have surfaced in the implementation of this research and our responses to them are described.