The Children Act 1989 requires local authorities in England and Wales to look after children whose parents are unable to do so and to promote their welfare. Despite a variety of initiatives over recent years by central government, local authorities, researchers, practitioners and trainers, the outcomes for the majority of young people who spend any length of time in care continue to be poor. The studies described in this paper sought to trace a group of more successful people who had grown up in care, using educational achievement as a marker. In an attempt to find out what were the qualities and circumstances that helped them to do better, 105 completed a postal questionnaire and a subgroup of 38 "high achievers" participated in a more intensive study. These were compared with a matched group of ex-care people who had not reached the threshold for inclusion in the study. The pre-care background and experiences of the successful group were found to be typical of children in the care system generally. A risk and resilience framework was used to identify the protective factors which enabled this small group to achieve a life trajectory very different from that of their siblings and peers. From their own accounts, success in education was a crucial factor. The implications for child care practice and decision-making are discussed.