Our research

Understanding factors contributing to child and family vulnerability
Taking a rights-based approach, we seek to generate and contribute practice and policy-relevant evidence to promote the best interests of children and their families. Learn about our projects, and explore our publications and resources.

Our projects

The Research Centre for Children and Families is exploring the intersection of disability and out-of-home care in collaboration with the Centre for Disability Research and Policy, Centre for Disability Studies and the Association of Child Welfare Agencies (ACWA). We held a workforce forum with world café discussions to reflect on current evidence and practices for working with children and young people with disability in out-of-home care. We heard that active steps are needed to ground service provision in disability-positive and human rights approaches which centre around children's voices and cultural safety. We will engage young people with disability in the arts-based method of body mapping to learn how to support their agency in decisions and build advocacy skills. The results will be used to build a Linkage Grant partnership with disability and out-of-home care organisations to be submitted in 2023.

The Association of Children’s Welfare Agencies (ACWA) is working with the Aboriginal Child, Family and Community Care State Secretariat (AbSec), Fams, Office of the Children’s Guardian, the NSW Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) and other stakeholders in the child and family services sector, to develop a Child and Family Workforce Skills Strategy.

The Research Centre for Children and Families has been commissioned to lead a consortium with partners Charles Sturt University, Curijo, DaV’ange and Parenting Research Centre, to inform an integrated skills development strategy across some of the major program areas of the child and family services sector in NSW.

The project aims to develop a Blueprint for a Workforce Skills Strategy to help organisations respond to the challenges of child and family work by building an effective workforce for the NSW Permanency Support Program, Intensive Therapeutic Care and Targeted Early Intervention programs.

The project is carried out in three stages:

  1. Building the case for change by synthesising existing data and conducting a workforce survey to develop a discussion paper;
  2. Consultations with the sector, young people, family members and carers; and
  3. Workforce Skills Strategy Blueprint integrating components from the project consortium with consultation and survey themes.

Funded by the British Academy Leverhulme Small Research Grants program and in partnership with Queens University Belfast, this project will scope the potential of digital technology to support the development of innovative, safe and engaging modes of birth family contact for children adopted from out-of-home care. It will identify digital media solutions used in other forms of family separation, and explore their adaptability to the needs of adopted children and their kin, including those who have experienced trauma. The international collaboration will draw on the experiential wisdom of adopters, adoptees and birth relatives in Northern Ireland and New South Wales, two regions with particularly high rates of post-adoption contact, and will engage inter-disciplinary stakeholders in developing an action research agenda.

DCJ has commissioned the Research Centre for Children and Families in partnership with Curijo to evaluate the NSW Family Connect and Support (FCS) program. The FCS program offers a voluntary, 16-week intervention that assesses participants’ support needs and provide practical assistance to help them access services in their local area.

The evaluation will be key to understanding the connection between FCS intervention and support in preventing a child, young person and /or family’s issues from escalating. The evaluation will offer insights into the new program design, what’s working well, and outcomes families achieve, through process, outcomes and economic components. Evaluation findings will be used to support continuous service improvement and local service system planning and collaboration. 

WASH House Inc and the National Disability Insurance Agency through its Information, Linkage, Capacity-building (ILC) Grant commissioned a developmental evaluation of Parenting on the Outside.

The project will use co-design and action research with parents with learning disabilities to develop a resource that builds parent skills and knowledge to navigate service systems when their children are in, or at risk of, entering out-of-home care.

Easy English fact sheets for parents dealing with the child protection system and advice from parents with experience can be found here.

RCCF is conducting an independent process evaluation of the implementation of the NSW Permanency Practice Framework (PPF), developed through a co-design process led by Parenting Research Centre with non-governmental organisations Benevolent Society, CareSouth and Wandiyali, funded by NSW Department of Communities and Justice.

The PPF provides an evidence-informed coaching approach that caseworkers in out-of-home care non-governmental organisations can use with parents or carers of children towards a permanency goal. The framework is designed for use by non-governmental organisations contracted under the NSW Permanency Support Program (PSP).

This evaluation will focus on implementation of the PPF with three pilot organisations/sites and consider caseworker, parent and/or carer engagement with the Framework as well as implementation enablers and challenges.

The Research Centre for Children and Families has been commissioned to conduct a developmental evaluation for the Australian Business Roundtable for the Safety of Children, led by Australian Childhood Foundation and the YMCA and funded by Westpac Safer Children Safer Communities. This initiative aims to change corporate culture and individual work practices to identify, prevent and mitigate harm to children so that child-safe practices become business-as-usual standards.

This developmental evaluation will assess the social change process in the Australian corporate sector led by the Australian Business Roundtable for the Safety of Children by:

  1. documenting the program logic as it emerges in the co-design process; 
  2. evaluating the process (rollout) and initial outcomes associated with the initiative and 
  3. seeking to embed data collection for continuous program improvement.

The Fostering Lifelong Connections study (funded through an Australian Research Council Linkage grant) explores how the out-of-home care sector can encourage positive relationships between children’s birth and permanent care families. This project develops, tests, embeds, and disseminates practices for children in permanent care to develop and sustain positive connections with birth relatives by:

  • identifying relationship-building practices and co-designing resources to promote good practice
  • conducting action research at four NSW sites to trial, implement and evaluate practice changes
  • implementing new relationship-building practices in organisations through embedded champions, staff training and change management
  • disseminating research findings, practice resources, and training to the out-of-home care sector.

Visit the Fostering Lifelong Connections project website to find out more.

The Centre worked with groups of young people who have experienced the out-of-home care system to explore their views of permanency. Using the participatory methodology, Photovoice, participants used photography to express what the concept of permanency means in their lives. Groups worked together to write captions to explain the images and to prepare a photographic exhibition to showcase the results. This project was conducted in collaboration with young people aged 16-to-24 years in Youth Consultants for Change (UCChange), NSW Department of Communities and Justice.

An electronic flipbook version of the Meanings of Permanency book is currently available here, as well as narrated storybook video. The Centre also recently launched the book at a research-to-practice webinar (recording available here). We thank the NSW Committee on Adoption and Permanent Care for their sponsorship of the project.

The Research Centre for Children and Families is forming a collaboration with the Sydney School of Health Sciences and the Walanga Muru program at Macquarie University.

The collaboration will investigate the issues for foster and Kinship carers in New South Wales during the current crisis, working with NSW My Forever Family and Australian Childhood Foundation’s OurSpace program.

In recognition of the unique needs of Aboriginal carers, we are working in partnership with Aboriginal researchers to engage with communities.

This evaluation, commissioned by NSW Government, assesses the extent to which the NSW Family Group Conferencing program delivered by the NSW Government has reduced safety risks for children and young people, avoided entries to care, and promoted engagement of families and communities in decision making.

Mixed methods are used for the implementation, outcome and economic evaluation of family group conferencing, triangulating qualitative and quantitative data.

An essential component of the evaluation is to determine whether the NSW implementation of Family Group Conferencing is culturally appropriate for Aboriginal families, and whether it is an effective mechanism for safely diverting Aboriginal children from the out-of-home care system.

This project aims to simultaneously capacity build and explore the perspectives of health and human service professionals who provide home visiting and other services to families experiencing domestic and family violence. The research focuses on developing an understanding of effective practice at the intersections of perinatal health, early childhood development and domestic and family violence within the context of a global health pandemic.

The project website for Nurturing Non-Violence can be found here.

Rapid evidence assessment to synthesise literature on risk indicators for two target vulnerability groups, critically assess the effectiveness of interventions that have been used to address these risk factors, highlight the most significant theories which inform these interventions, and overlay these findings with the current NSW service system to identify gaps, commissioned by the NSW Department of Communities and Justice.

The Supporting the Woman, Supporting the Mother study was initiated with a National Disability Research Partnership grant, funded through the Department of Social Services and hosted by the University of Melbourne. The study explores service gaps between the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and state-based Targeted Early Intervention (TEI) services for vulnerable families in New South Wales (NSW) and the impacts on mothers with intellectual disability and their children.

The study uses co-design to develop practice-ready materials for workers who provide support to families headed by a parent with intellectual disability. Six mothers with intellectual disability were employed as co-researchers and supported to take part in an Expert Advisory Group with academic researchers and professionals from family support and disability advocacy organisations.

The project led the development of tip sheets for parents and workers and short video interviews by co-researchers about their views of how services and workers should approach their role in mothers with intellectual disability and their children. The project was launched at a webinar in June 2022 and all resources are be available for free download here

A multi-state action research project that draws upon the DFV-informed Safe and Together approach to child welfare and will build worker and organisational capacity in working with families at the intersection of DFV, problematic substance misuse and mental health issues. The project was conducted in NSW, Queensland and Victoria and was led by Professor Cathy Humphreys.

Draft Practice Guide: Working at the intersections of domestic and family violence, parental substance misuse and/or mental health issue is available upon request.   

The Toward Access and Equity for Parents with Intellectual Disability study was undertaken with a grant from the NSW Government’s Access to Justice Innovation Fund. It examines parenting capacity assessments completed for the Children’s Court of NSW involving parents with intellectual disability. The 12-month project is a partnership with the NSW Children’s Court Clinic, Intellectual Disability Rights Service and WASH House and uses mixed methods to investigate the views of professionals and parents with intellectual disability on current practice barriers. It will develop a disability-informed practice resource to develop the skills of a range of professionals, including clinicians who complete assessments, legal and judicial officers and caseworkers who work with parents involved in care matters. The project and e-resource were launched at a research-to-practice webinar in June 2022.

In 2021, the Research Centre for Children and Families embarked on research about restoration in NSW with a small internal grant from the Sydney School of Education and Social Work. Section 10a(3) of the Children and Young Persons Care and Protection Act 1998 establishes restoration as being the preferred permanent placement outcome for children where it is in their best interests. The Working Toward Restoration study sought to understand what professionals involved in care matters viewed as influential factors in a finding that there is a realistic possibility of restoration.

Focus groups were held with caseworkers and lawyers (n=30) and an anonymous online survey was administered in which 30 professionals ranked by level of importance 28 statements about what parents need to show they have made significant change to address child safety concerns. Thematic analysis indicated that professionals were concerned that the system was unfair and complex and there were multiple systemic barriers that got in the way of parents demonstrating change including the absence of timely access to support services, rigid timeframes and workers felt that they were hampered by lack of certainty about their role, boundaries and information sharing.

The Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) has commissioned an evidence review on how youth work can foster agency and empowerment. The Research Centre for Children and Families at the University of Sydney is undertaking this work. The need for this evidence review was identified by Youth Work peak bodies including Youth Work NSW and Youth Action. 

The findings of this evidence review will be embedded into the content on the DCJ Evidence Portal. The evidence review will cover the following topics:

  1.  ‘What is youth work?’ Including definitions and history; 
  2. Theories underpinning youth work;
  3. Types of youth work interventions; 
  4. The youth work profession; 
  5.  State of practice in Australia. 

As part of the project, youth work agencies in NSW have been invited to make submissions of materials about their program design and delivery.