This article reviews the literature with respect to various risk factors for permanent renal damage in children with urinary tract infection. Vesico-ureteric reflux is an important risk factor, but renal damage can occur in the absence of reflux. Renal damage does not always occur in the presence of gross reflux. Renal scars always develop at the same site as a previous infection in the kidney. Recurrent pyelonephritis and delay in therapy increase the likelihood of renal damage, although it is not known how long a delay is dangerous to the human kidney. Recent studies using 99mtechnetium-dimercaptosuccinic acid (DMSA) scintigraphy have not confirmed the findings of previous studies showing that children below 1 y of age are more vulnerable to renal damage. It is more likely that all children run the risk of renal scarring in cases of acute pyelonephritis. The role of bladder pressure is still not entirely understood. Therefore more studies are needed in order to determine the relationship between high voiding pressures in some, otherwise healthy, children with urinary tract infection and renal scarring. The importance of bacterial virulence in the development of renal scarring is unclear. DMSA scintigraphy and voiding cystourethrography are the most reliable tools for identifying children at risk of renal scarring. As a single method DMSA scintigraphy appears to be better than voiding cystourethrography.