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Research themes

Our key research areas at the Social Justice Research Centre include:

Children, youth and families

The children, youth and communities research group brings together researchers from a variety of disciplines to undertake research related to issues that affect the wellbeing of young people, children and families, specifically to:

  • undertake primary research on issues identified by practitioners as important;
  • interpret how research generated in a variety of disciplines can help practitioners in parent support services, community work, youth work and children’s services to improve services and organisational practice, and resolve practical problems;
  • examine the implications of social changes for family support, social and welfare services, youth work and community development; and
  • collaborate with children’s, youth, family and community organisations, departments and policy makers to provide research that will meet their needs.

Forensic psychology

Our research in this area falls into three broad areas:

  • the methods and processes used in gathering psychological evidence for courts and other tribunals, for example methods for assessing offenders' risk of reoffending, faking good response styles that emerge in personality assessment of family court litigants, interview methods for investigating the form and severity of psychological injuries from compensable events;
  • the delivery of psychological evidence in legal proceedings, for example a psychologists' understanding of the rules of evidence and how to balance ethical codes of practice against evidentiary rules; and
  • the psychological research into the law and legal processes, for example the public perceptions of legal constructs such as best-interest-of-the-child. This research group is also involved in publishing on the forensic implications of basic psychological research and theory such as the implications for expert evidence in child protection litigation of the research into parental drug use, psychological research into apologies and forgiveness and the implications for Tort Law and expert evidence in civil litigation.


This group conducts research into all aspects of prison life and prison administration. A major focus of ECU research over the past 13 years has been on preventing suicide and other self-harm in prisons and other correctional settings. Other foci of research have included:

  • prisoners' coping patterns;
  • prisoners' willingness to use prison officers as a source of social support;
  • the impact of imprisonment on prisoners' families;
  • developing and validating instruments to measure aspects of the prison environment; and
  • stress among prison officers.


The disabilities group comprises researchers from diverse disciplines including disability studies, speech pathology, psychology, and health sciences. The research is informed by a social model of disability, which defines disability in accordance with the notion that a person with impairment is ‘disabled’ through social, economic, and environmental barriers.

Disabilities across the lifespan from a variety of causes are included in this group’s research program, with the common thread concerning the impact of disability on personal and community experience, as well as policy endeavours in the area. The researchers in this team are research active with several funded grants and refereed publications.

Social program evaluation

The social program evaluation research group brings together researchers from a variety of disciplines to apply research skills to evaluation of social, recreational and welfare programs, including effectiveness of programs for children, young people, migrants, people with disabilities, and women. The group has specific expertise in the management of projects (both qualitative and quantitative methods) and project evaluation based on action research methods, systems approaches, and collaborative research. This research group will draw upon expertise in community work, children’s and family services, disability services, sociology and social policy, community psychology, women’s services and youth work. The expertise of the group can be applied to evaluation of:

  • social and welfare programs;
  • efficacy of social policy in welfare and social inclusion;
  • efficacy of management systems, and staff support and training;
  • public information and social marketing; and
  • crime prevention and safety campaigns.

Program evaluations can help organisations to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their services, to target their programs effectively, and to demonstrate the value of social programs to funding bodies. Group members are able to work collaboratively with government and non-government organisations to incorporate evaluation into their programs and professional practice in ways that meet the needs of the organisation, and are sometimes able to assist organisations to source funding for program evaluations.


This research group explores the ageing experience from a number of perspectives including physical and mental health, communication, employment, financial and legal competencies, and social discrimination. The aim of the group is to generate research that will enhance people’s ability to age as successfully as possible through understanding the multiple issues and contexts facing an ageing population, enriching the body of knowledge, informing policy and developing interventions.

Researchers cross the areas of psychology and speech pathology, with psychology spanning the areas of social psychology, developmental psychology, psychology and the law, and health psychology. Speech Pathology input focuses on communication skills across the lifespan, with a particular emphasis on communication difficulties after stroke, and social participation barriers for adults who stutter.

Our current projects include:

  • age discrimination and employment;
  • body image in older adulthood;
  • legal decision making in older adults;
  • communication partner training after stroke; and
  • stuttering in older adults.

Grief, loss and trauma

This group conducts research into grief, loss, and trauma, with foci on:

  • death and dying, including experiences of palliative care;
  • grief, loss, and bereavement;
  • grief and loss interventions, including counselling;
  • grief, loss, and trauma experiences associated with specific populations including children, families, and victim-survivors of abuse; and
  • social models of trauma including social death.

Lifespan resilience

The Lifespan Resilience Research Group has been instrumental in developing research and programs in the following 3 areas:

  • mental health and resilience across the lifespan;
  • development of evidence based practices; and  
  • enhancement of clinical services to families and individuals affected by mental illness.

This focus links with the ECU Health and Wellness area of research strength as it focuses on preventative health, intervention and psychological rehabilitation. It is also aligned with the new broad health and wellness approaches to all aspects of mental health management that are emerging within the discipline of psychology. 

This strategically focused research has resulted in the establishment of strong professional relationships and engagement with community groups.

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