This article seeks to challenge the prevailing view that child protection legislation introduced in the late Victorian and Edwardian periods was characterised by a victim/threat duality. An examination of the parliamentary debates leading to the passage of major reforming Acts leads to a more complex construction of children. While the classic duality was present in respect of some issues earlier in the period under examination, it gave way to a view which placed greater emphasis on the child as a victim. At the same time, the law began, in an admittedly limited sense, to recognise children as agents with individual stories capable of contributing to the legal process, especially through increased capability to participate at trials. This conclusion can add significantly to our understanding of how the law understood childhood before the development of the modern children’s rights movement.