Elizabeth Fernandez is a Professor of Social Work at the School of Social Sciences, at the Faculty of Arts, Design and Architecture, UNSW, Sydney.
Elizabeth's teaching and research for over four 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, early intervention, care and protection, risk assessment, children and legal intervention, foster care and adoption, 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 books are Child Protection and the Care Continuum,( Fernandez and Delfabbro, 2020, Routledge) and Child and Family Poverty: Theoretical and Empirical Insights (Fernandez et al, 2015, Springer). She is Co-Editor in Chief of Children and Youth Services Review, Associate Editor of Journal of Child and Family Studies and serves on the Editorial Boards of Child and Family Social Work and Children Australia. She is a Board Member of the International Society for Child Indicators and Founding Member and Board Member of the International Association for Outcomes Based Evaluation and Research on Family and Children's Services.
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, child and adolescent mental health, life course theory and research
Past and Current Research Projects
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 10 year longitudinal follow up of children in out of home care. Involved interviews with case workers, foster carers, children and birth parents and multiple waves of data collection and analysis.
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.
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 (Chief Investigators: 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.
Project on Careleavers:
Forgotten Australians: Identifying long term outcomes for people who lived in institutional and other forms of out of home care, ARC Linkage (Chief Investigators: 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. Explore patterns of older ‘care leavers’ experiences and life trajectories in care and post care; Identifies factors in their past or present experiences that are protective or accentuate risks and assess as ways in which support from professionals, families and friends help them to achieve positive outcomes. The intent is to apply learnings to contemporary out of home care and after care to enhance favourable life outcomes and transition services for care alumni.
2019 International Society for Child Indicators (ISCI) Award in honour of Alfred J. Kahn and Sheila Kamerman in recognition of outstanding contribution to the field of child indicators research from an international perspective
2013 UNSW Award for Outstanding Postgraduate Research Supervision. Child Abuse Prevention Award, Highly Commended (Excellence) for Looking After Children project, collaboration of Barnardos Australia and UNSW
2011 National Award for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning by the Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC) For leadership in the development of a research-led innovative curriculum to enhance the scholarship of learning and teaching.
2011 Recognition for achievement in being recognized by the Australian Council for Learning and Teaching as recipient of citation for outstanding contributions to student Learning and Teaching Division of the Deputy Vice Chancellor (academic).
Child Abuse Prevention Award, Highly Commended (Excellence) for Looking After Children project, collaboration of Barnardos Australia and UNSW