This article explores the effects of inter-country adoption on the development of in-country services to protect children and support families in Romania. The country’s child care legislation gives formal priority to domestic alternatives to institutional care – preventive services, family reunification, foster care and in-country adoption. Despite this, inter-country adoption continues to play a central role in Romania’s child welfare system. The article analyses the multiple and complex factors at policy and practice levels that lie behind this situation. It is concluded that whilst inter-country adoption may be used to secure some resources for the development of in-country services, it paradoxically undermines the effectiveness of those services for the children who are left behind.