Research excellence: Protecting vulnerable children

Published: Wednesday 2nd December 2015

Associate Director of the Institute of Child Protection Studies Associate Professor Stephanie Taplin specialises in child protection studies and recently has been investigating why babies are removed from their mothers at birth and what we know about their trajectories.

A quick background

I started working at ACU’s Institute of Child Protection Studies in late 2012, with qualifications in Psychology and Criminology and a PhD in Public Health.

For almost 20 years I worked doing research projects on substance misuse, criminology and child protection within government research centres, but switched to academia in 2008 when I obtained Research Fellowship funding through the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at UNSW (funded by NSW Community Services), where I am still a Visiting Fellow.

My broad research interests are in the prevention of substance misuse and mental health problems. My focus in recent years has been on child protection; this developed from an interest in improving children’s start in life. At the Institute of Child Protection Studies I have been able to explore and expand on these research interests.

What led you to choose this career path?

I have been a researcher for nearly all my working life having decided early on that was what I loved doing and that it was the best way for me to make a difference.

My first studies in Psychology and Criminology let me explore why people engage in criminal and antisocial behaviour. It was my first job as a research assistant, doing research with illicit drug users at Westmead Hospital, that led to my doctorate.

My studies in Public Health gave me quantitative and critical research skills, and a better understanding of the impacts of poverty and disadvantage. The Public Health approach has been the framework guiding reform in the child protection system over the last decade or so.

I have always had a passion for research with the most marginalised groups – juvenile detainees, illicit drug users, marginalised mothers, and children and young people in out-of-home care.

What are you working on at the moment?

My current research focus is on continuing work with mothers who use illicit drugs, and on prenatal reporting and removal of babies by the child protection system, areas in which I have been writing and preparing to submit further grant applications. Many people do not realise that babies are still removed at birth in Australia.

I am a Chief Investigator on two Australian Research Council (ARC) grants at the moment. The most time-consuming is the ARC Linkage study – kContact – which is the first cluster randomised controlled trial of a model of supervised contact for children in out-of-home care and their parents.

The aim of this study, being conducted in ACT and Victoria, is to reduce child distress related to contact with their parents and improve their relationships. The MESSI study, an ARC Discovery project which commenced this year, explores how ethics committees, gatekeepers, parents, and children manage and navigate the tensions between the protection of children and their participation in research.

What do you enjoy most about your research?

I love the intellectual challenge of designing research studies and problem-solving in research - and attempting to make a difference.

How does your research make a difference in the community?

I am committed to improving the lot of the most marginalised and demonised in society and preventing future harm to the most vulnerable children and families.

I gain a lot of satisfaction from publishing and getting my research noticed, seeing my work have an impact on the way people think about an issue, and having my research adopted into policy and practice.

This is the way I see my research making a difference.