Public inquiries have become a standard governmental response to managing matters of public interest and concern, including child abuse, in a number of countries, but questions have been raised over whether they are worth the time, money and resources. This paper examines experts' perceptions of the aims and outcomes of public inquiries, before moving on to consider whether there are more effective and efficient ways of investigating national scandals. Based on findings from a thematic analysis of the proceedings of a four‐day expert summit, and semi‐structured interviews with 16 participants who have been involved in child abuse inquiries in the UK and elsewhere, it concludes that public inquiries are not fulfilling all of their competing objectives. While a limited number of inquiries into the care and protection of children have had a positive impact on policy or practice, or successfully raised public awareness overall, there is little evidence of effectiveness. There is a need to: rethink the purpose, scope, methodology and impact of such inquiries to ensure that they are more effective and cost‐efficient; place children, victims and survivors at the centre; and use a wider range of professional expertise and skills.