Elizabeth Fernandez

Professor

Elizabeth Fernandez is a Professor of Social Work at the School of Social Sciences, at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, UNSW. She is the Postgraduate Research Coordinator of the School (2010 to mid-2011).

Elizabeth's teaching and research for over two decades are in the areas of child abuse, trauma, family violence, care and protection and field-based learning and supervision. Her areas of specialisation include research into practice with children and families, child and youth wellbeing, vulnerable families, early intervention, care and protection, risk assessment, children and legal intervention, foster care and adoption, social inclusion and minority groups, child and adolescent mental health, life course theory and research.

Elizabeth has conducted research in collaboration with Government departments and non-government organisations to inform social policies and program development. She has also collaborated with Barnardos Australia in the research and implementation of the Looking After Children (LAC) framework in Australian child welfare through the LAC Project (www.lacproject.org), and the implementation of the UK Framework for The Assessment of Families of Children in Need (www.SCARF.org.au). As a founding member of the International Association for Outcome-Based Evaluation in Family and Children's Services, she shares an interest in cross-national outcome research.

Elizabeth has published widely in national and international journals on child abuse, prevention and family support, out of home care, child wellbeing and field-based learning in social work education. Her most recent book is an edited volume How Does Foster Care Work? International Evidence on Outcomes (Fernandez, E. and Barth, R., 2010, London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers). She also serves on the Editorial Boards of Child and Family Social Work (UK), Children and Youth Services Review (US) and Children Australia. She is a Board Member of the International Society for Child Indicators and Founding Member of the International Association for Outcomes Based Evaluation and Research on Family and Children's Services.

Research Areas

Practice with children and families, child and youth wellbeing, vulnerable families, early intervention, care and protection, risk assessment, children and legal intervention, foster care and adoption, social inclusion and minority groups, child and adolescent mental health, life course theory and research

Past and Current Research Projects

A ten year longitudinal study of children in care which is supported by two projects:

Looking after children: Pathways in substitute care
An ARC Linkage Grant, 1998-2001, chief investigator – Researched outcomes in domains of attachment, health, emotional and behavioural development and education through an 8 year longitudinal follow up of children in out of home care. Involved simultaneous adaptation and implementation of the UK Looking After Children case management system in Barnardos out of homes care programs and establishment of the LAC Project as a joint venture of the School of Social Work and Barnardos Australia, www.lacproject.org

Care matters: Capturing outcomes for children in foster care
An ARC Linkage Grant, 2009-2011, chief investigator – Analysed children’s experiences and outcomes of placement in foster care through an innovative multi-dimensional view of children’s, foster parents’, and caseworkers’ perspectives. Generated significant knowledge about children’s attachment to new families; measured outcomes of foster care in a multifaceted way, and identified policy implications of responding effectively to children in need of stable family environments to achieve healthy developmental outcomes and to their foster carers.

Projects focusing on early intervention, prevention and reunification:

Taking child abuse seriously: Implications for strengthening families
An ARC Linkage Grant,  2001-2005, chief investigator – a study of the impact of family based services on vulnerable families and children through an 18 month follow up of 60 families and implementation of a framework for the assessment of families of children in need in Barnardos Integrated Family Support Programs Outcomes of the research are extended through the SCARF Project, www.SCARF.org.au.

Pathways to permanency: A study of foster care reunification outcomes
An ARC Linkage Grant, 2005-2007, chief investigator – Researched the process, outcomes and potential of reunification decision-making involving children in need of temporary foster care. In a three year follow up study of three family reunification programs, this collaborative research undertook a systematic analysis of the process and circumstances in which family reunification is likely to lead to safety and positive outcomes for children, and those in which alternative permanent care plans were indicated. This project generated evidence-based knowledge about reunification decision-making and identified policy implications of responding effectively to children in need of temporary foster care.

A national comparative analysis of child, family and service factors contributing to successful and unsuccessful reunification outcomes in out of home care
An ARC Linkage Grant, 2009-2011, joint chief investigator with P. Delfabbro (Adelaide University). This project will inform decision-making relating to the safe return of children to their families from protective care. Insights will be obtained into the multiple factors that contribute to successful reunification and post reunification outcomes. The study will help to identify children most at risk of remaining in care (e.g. indigenous children), review structural decision-making tools or specialist services to assist children to return home, and provide a nationally tested methodology for studying, recording, and measuring reunification processes and outcomes.

Challenges, possibilities and future directions: A national assessment of Australia's Children's Courts’
An ARC Discovery Grant, 2009-2010, joint chief investigator with A. Borowski and R.J. Sheehan (La Trobe University). Children's Courts occupy a unique position in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems in responding to often marginalized delinquent youth and vulnerable children and families. Philosophical and structural shifts in Australia and overseas suggest community and legal system responses are often ineffective and contribute to longer term problems, creating social challenges for governments and communities alike. This national study examines how key stakeholders, including, significantly, judicial officers, view the Children's Court's contemporary responses and challenges, their preferred alternatives responses and the viability of suggested reforms, thus offering a unique contribution to informing legal and social policy change.

A national comparative analysis of child, family and service factors contributing to successful and unsuccessful reunification outcomes in out‑of‑home care, ARC Linkage (CIs: Delfabbro; Fernandez; and Kettler), 2009-2012. This study aims to elicit insights into the multiple factors that contribute to successful reunification and post reunification outcomes. The study aims to identify children most at risk of remaining in care, decision making tools and specialist services to assist children return home and develop a methodology for documenting and measuring reunification processes and outcomes.

Forgotten Australians: Identifying long term outcomes for people who lived in institutional and other forms of out of home care, ARC Linkage (CIs: Fernandez and Lee), 2013-2016. This research aims to explore life experiences of ‘care leavers’ who have lived in institutions (such as children’s homes and orphanages) or other forms of out of home care as children. The specific aims of the current project are to: 1) Explore patterns of older ‘care leavers’ experiences and life trajectories in care and post care; 2) Identify their current unmet needs and ways to support them; 3) Identify factors in their past or present experiences that are protective or accentuate risks; 4) Assess ways in which support from professionals, families and friends help them to achieve positive outcomes; 5) Apply learnings to contemporary out of home care and after care to enhance favourable life outcomes and transition services for care alumni.

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