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Large group of adults and children at sunset on the beach. Photo credit Tyler Nix
Centres and institutes_

Research Centre for Children and Families

Researching and contributing to policy and practice for children and families
Our centre builds evidence to inform policy and practice through research with children, young people and families, with a focus on societal factors that contribute to child and family vulnerability. Our goal is to conduct and translate relevant research to the cross-government reforms currently underway across the NSW human services sector.

About us

The Research Centre for Children and Families aims to contribute policy and practice-relevant research to inform cross-government reforms currently underway across the human services sector in NSW and Australia.

Taking a rights-based approach, we seek to have an impact on practitioners, the judiciary, and policymakers to promote the best interests of children and their families.

The centre aims to foster research excellence through global and local affiliations. We foster multidisciplinary collaborations across disciplines such as social work, education, economics, sociology, law, public health, and psychology, with the goal of translating research findings to inform policy and practice.

Our team builds industry partnerships through undertaking research commissioned by government and non-government organisations and pursuing competitive research grants that have a direct impact on sector reforms.

The Institute of Open Adoption Studies was established in 2016 with a grant from the NSW Government. A University of Sydney review in 2019 recognised the Institute's substantial research and impact and endorsed a further 5-year term. To enable a broader focus on research about vulnerable children and families, the University approved the creation of a new Research Centre for Children and Families. The Centre is led by Associate Professor Amy Conley Wright, and will operate alongside the Institute within the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

The Research Centre for Children and Families aims to address the significant need for locally generated evidence on the impact of policy and service responses in addressing child and family vulnerabilities.

The redesign of the child protection and out-of-home care system towards a greater emphasis on children’s stability and security is a priority for national and state governments. Major reforms are underway to deliver family and child services through a social investment model, with the aim of addressing markers of vulnerability through prevention and early intervention. While it is well known that a range of individual, familial and societal factors contribute to children's vulnerability, Australia has relied on international research based on very different legislative and service systems. There is a significant need for locally generated evidence to inform policy and practice.

  • Study factors that contribute to child and family vulnerability to create new knowledge that maximises social benefit to children, their families and society.
  • Utilise a multidisciplinary and social ecological perspective to understanding the factors that contribute to poor outcomes and determine the best practice responses for some of Australia's most vulnerable populations.
  • Influence policy and practice by providing evidence to support change which is based on empirical evidence and sound theory and relevant to the Australian cultural and political environment.
  • Facilitate the exchange of information between researchers, families, practitioners and the courts – keeping the views and lived experience of children, young people and families as central to our agenda and the way we operate.

Our people

The centre comprises a research team and governance board.


Associate Professor Amy Conley Wright leads research on children's best interests in out-of-home care, family support and disability services, within Australia and internationally. Expertise in curricula development, including in social work, family studies and child and adolescent development. Experienced in consulting on service development and providing policy advice.

Research Team

  • Professor Judy Cashmore, AO, Professor of Socio-Legal Research and Policy and Professorial Fellow, Sydney School of Education and Social Work is founding researcher of the Pathways of Care Longitudinal Study, renowned for her research on children's involvement in civil and criminal proceedings and the implications for social policy. Made an Officer in the Order of Australia in 2010 for distinguished service to the protection of children, as a research psychologist and advocate for the rights of children.
  • Dr Susan Collings, Research Fellow is skilled in participatory action and arts-based research methods to engage vulnerable populations and in knowledge translation to improve practice. Experience includes research with parents with disability, parents involved in child protection and children and youth in care.
  • Dr Betty Luu, Research Associate is experienced in children's psychosocial and cognitive development, children's views and impact evaluation of early childhood education. Broad skillset in qualitative and quantitative data analysis, including case file reviews, surveys and administrative data.
  • Sarah Ciftci, Research Associate has research and evaluation experience in the fields of child wellbeing, indigenous justice and positive social change.

Program Manager

Suzanne Pope has extensive program and policy experience at a senior level spanning research administration in the government and non-government sectors including child protection and mental health.

The work of the centre is overseen by a Governance Board that provides strategic advice and direction for the centre’s research, policy and industry collaborations. The Governance Board comprises multidisciplinary subject experts from across the University and key peak bodies in areas relevant to vulnerable children, young people, and families. The Governance Board provides strategic oversight for consideration of opportunities to build a collaborative and innovation program of research relevant to the Australian cultural and political environment.

Scholars affiliated with the Research Centre for Children and Families perform essential roles as partners on our research projects and expert panel members to review research findings.

University of Sydney affiliates

International affiliates

  • Professor Beth Neil, University of East Anglia
  • Professor Peter Pecora, University of Washington
  • Professor Harold Grotevant, University of Massachusetts
  • Professor Yu-Wen Chen, Professor of Social Work, National Taiwan University
  • Dr Ching-Hsuan Lin, Assistant Professor, Social Work, National Taiwan University
  • Dr Mandi Macdonald, Lecturer, School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work, Queen's University Belfast

Our events

The Research Centre for Children and Families is hosting a free 1-hour webinar to launch a photographic collection about what permanency means to young people who have been in out-of-home care. During the webinar, the research team and some of the project participants will reflect on their participation in the research project ‘Meanings of Permanency’, in which they captured photos to reflect on their own history and explored what helps them feel connected, safe and secure. The webinar will also include an animated video of the images and captions that convey their shared stories of resilience, belonging and cultural identity.

When: Tuesday 17 November, 12-1pm (AEDT)
Registration: Register here for this online event

Contact us

  • Sydney School of Education and Social Work, Education Building (A35)