BACKGROUND: The terms family-centred care (FCC) and family-centred services (FCS) are used interchangeably across the continuum of children’s healthcare to encompass concepts of: parental participation in children’s healthcare; partnership and collaboration between the healthcare team and parents in decision-making; family-friendly environments that normalize as much as possible family functioning within the healthcare setting; and care of family members as well as of children. However, authors from different professional and policy perspectives have used different definitions and literatures when arguing the evidence for FCC and FCS. METHOD: A critical literature review and theoretical discussion exploring common concepts and issues forming the basis for a research agenda further strengthening of the evidence base for FCC. A systematic identification of constructs, concepts and empirical indicators is developed and applied to exemplars in pain and asthma that span the continuum of children’s healthcare across acute and community settings. CONCLUSIONS: The extent to which the concepts are supported by research and applied in practice remains unclear. We propose that re-thinking of FCC is required in order to develop a more coherent programme of research into the application of FCC theory in children’s healthcare.