Children's participation is essential to achieve good outcomes for children involved in child protection systems. Despite this, research has consistently found children report low levels of participation, are poorly consulted and feel inadequately involved in decisions about their lives. To explore how practitioners understand children's participation, 18 in-depth interviews were conducted with statutory child protection practitioners in Australia. The interviews explored the ways child protection practitioners understand children's participation. Our findings show practitioners conceptualize children as rights holders and believe it is essential to hear directly from children about their needs and wishes to keep them safe. Practitioners identified the importance of transparent processes and decisions. Different understanding of participation emerged, with some participants talking about children as their central focus but not discussing meaningful participation of the child. It appeared that children's participation relied largely on the views and skills of individual workers, as well as their ability to incorporate meaningful participation in limited time and in complex practice environments where children's safety is a primary concern. Systemic changes to address time barriers, training practitioners to understand and implement participatory practice, and seeking children's input into service design, will support consistent and meaningful participation.