The residential care of children and young people is a major welfare practice in the Philippines. However, understandings of children and young people’s life histories and circumstances for living in these arrangements is unknown, as is knowledge of residential care as a welfare phenomenon in the Philippines. Focusing on the life histories of children and young people living in residential care, this study explores the circumstances of their entry into residential care and their interpretations of these experiences. Drawing on semi-structured interviews with 50 children and young people over the age of 15, either currently or previously living in residential care, across one regional and one urban study site, participants reveal life histories made up of diverse experiences of poverty and hardship, punctuated by unstable care arrangements, family breakdown and significant child maltreatment. Children and young people interpret their life histories via the social disadvantage and constraints in their childhoods, and the vulnerabilities that these engender, highlighting their social relations and contexts prior to living in residential care, detailing their need for care and safeguarding, and their perceptions that residential care settings offer opportunities to exercise agency and control over their futures. The findings highlight the welfare and child protection role of residential care settings in the Philippines, as well as the support and community safety needs of families.