The term ‘emotional abuse’ is acknowledged by law in the Children Act 1989 and refers to the wider social concept of harm that occurs in the psychosocial domain. Emotional abuse is a contested notion and a form of harm that statutory child protection social workers find difficult to recognise and gather evidence of. [---] This article draws on rich research data, gathered for an Economic and Social Research Council funded doctoral project. The data offers an original perspective on the interaction between social work and law, adding to existing literature on the frictions that exists. [---]