The Troubled Families Programme has provided an impetus for interventions with families with multiple disadvantages. This article identifies the prevalence of a government discourse of ‘empowerment’ around such interventions, which fails to reflect the contested nature of the term. Qualitative interviews with families supported by the programme and their keyworkers offer an insight into their experiences and a valuable alternative to government rhetoric. It is argued that government discourses equate ‘family empowerment’ with responsibilisation, seeking to reduce the resources deployed in supporting families whilst strengthening state power to define acceptable forms of family life. By contrast, family and keyworker discourses of ‘empowerment’ are founded in the redistribution of resources towards such families, advocacy strategies, psychological support and an understanding of power relations within and beyond families, which enable families to resist specific attempts at the exercise of professional power, albeit remaining subject to a more general exercise of state control.