Over the previous three decades there have been a number of dramatic changes in our understanding of both the pathogenesis and epidemiology of the rheumatic diseases of childhood. Improvements in the classification of paediatric-onset arthritides and international collaboration in terms of multicentre research have led to the development of new therapeutic agents and better methods of outcome assessment for these chronic and often disabling conditions. Fortunately for children with paediatric rheumatic diseases treatment regimes are now available that provide excellent disease control for many and remission induction for some. Challenges include clearer definition of the genetics and pathogenesis of the diseases, delineation of reliable biological markers for diagnosis and monitoring of disease activity. The future should also herald early identification of those with a poorer prognosis, together with the design of more powerful, safer and cheaper remission-inducing agents, given to the right patients at the right time.