Emergency placements in child welfare services have increased during the last 10 years in Norway. At the time of placement, some of these children have been in the child welfare system for several years. Based on qualitative interviews, our study explores Norwegian child welfare workers' perceptions of long‐term cases resulting in emergency placements. The participants reported that they felt they had intervened too late, as it took them too long to understand the severity of the situation. This occurred mainly due to three factors: (a) The work had mainly been based on the parents' premises; (b) having too much distance to the child, as they talked too little with the child, too late in the process; (c) an experience of lacking methodological skills needed and sufficient opportunities to conduct proper observations and assessments; (d) supportive measures were tried for too long, and these measures were not properly evaluated. Giving other professionals' assessments considerable weight in the decision‐making process, and the use of legal language rather than independent, professional assessments, can be seen as another way of distancing themselves from both the family and the decisions being made.