Relationship-based social work practice with Australian Indigenous families, within an anti-oppressive framework, is considered effective in child protection work. However, procedural and legalistic approaches to child protection, as well as limited cultural competence, can limit the capacity of workers to develop relationships and take action that empowers vulnerable Indigenous families and communities to care safely for their children. This qualitative study, conducted in Australia, examines the inter-relationships between practitioners, agencies, families and community members expressed in day-to-day child protection practice with Indigenous families. There were tensions and constraints on relationship-building between practitioners and clients, between Indigenous and non-indigenous practitioners, and between government and non-government agencies. The findings support arguments to re-value and strengthen the concept of relationship-building as a foundation for practice. All practitioners must have greater support to build the culturally respectful relationships required for positive change, and more scope to work in partnership with families.