Meet the team

We work with experts in social work, youth work, anthropology, psychology, public health and related fields. They're well versed in using participatory approaches to engage with ad promote the views of children.

Professor Daryl Higgins, Director

Daryl Higgins

Professor Daryl Higgins commenced as the Director of the Institute of Child Protections Studies in February 2017. His research focuses on public health approaches to protecting children, and child-safe organisational strategies. A registered psychologist, Prof Higgins has been researching child abuse impacts and prevention, family violence and family functioning for over 20 years.

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Associate Prof Stephanie Taplin


Associate Professor Stephanie Taplin, of ACU's Institute of Child Protection Studies, has a multidisciplinary background with qualifications in psychology, criminology and public health. She is recognised for her research in the child protection field, in particular: (i) parental substance-using and other at-risk mothers, and their involvement with the child protection system, (ii) prenatal reporting and infant entries to out-of-home care (OOHC), and (iii) parental contact with children in OOHC. Assoc. Prof Taplin has been Chief Investigator on three large recent ARC grants, which cover the topics of parental contact with children in OOHC, ethical research with children on sensitive issues, and removals of infants by the child protection system (current). Her research focuses on contributing to the research evidence, and improving policy and practice in child protection.

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Dr Aino Suomi, Research Fellow


Aino is a clinically trained psychologist and has been working in research on vulnerable populations with a specific family focus since 2006. She graduated from the University of Melbourne 2012 having completed her PhD (psychology) at the Children’s Court of Victoria. Her thesis examined clinical family assessments at the Children’s Court Clinic of Victoria with a focus on parents’ mental health problems, violence and addictions.

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Dr Sheridan Kerr, Knowledge Translation Manager

Dr Sheridan Kerr

Sheridan has a Doctorate in Education from University of Canberra. The PhD research was titled: Learning to Share, Sharing to Learn: A case study of a specialist school enacting school improvement. Focusing on school improvement in a unique specialist school context, Sheridan worked closely with the entire school staff to build staff capacity, and to maximise collaborative staff culture and build internal accountability.

Sheridan brings her passion for everyone’s right to be part of their community to her role at ICPS. She is involved in a wide range of collaboration projects and is also leading the redevelopment of the ACU Safeguarding Children and Young People Portal:

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Jacqui Stewart, Program Manager

Jacqui joined the ICPS in 2018 to manage a capacity building project designed to support workers to develop their knowledge and skills in supporting children who have experienced family and domestic violence. Over the last 10 years, Jacqui has worked as a researcher and managed research projects for government and non-government organisations. Much of her research has been with and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations.

James McDougall, Policy Officer

James McDougall

James is one of Australia’s most experienced child rights experts who has played major roles in youth justice, child protection, children’s and youth services. More recently he has worked in family violence, domestic violence and child safety. James brings 20 years of legal practice, including 10 years as a children’s lawyer, to his role at ICPS.

Before joining ICPS, James held senior executive positions in management, policy and advocacy, and contributed to a broad range of services, programs, projects for children and young people and groups experiencing disadvantage in access to justice and participation and protection. He held a range of positions including: Coordinator, Youth Legal Service (WA); Operations Coordinator, Youth Justice Conferencing (NSW Government); Director, National Association of Community Legal Centres; Director, National Children’s & Youth Law Centre; and Director of Policy and Advocacy, Save the Children Australia.

James has also served as a consultant in human rights and child rights, children’s policy and management and governance to a number of clients including: UNICEF Australia, Plan International Australia, the State Government of Victoria, Secretariat of National Aboriginal Islander Child Care, Refugee Council of Australia, Commission for Children and Young People (Victoria and Western Australia), and Domestic Violence Service Management (NSW).

He graduated in law from University of Adelaide and has been admitted to practice in South Australia, Western Australia and New South Wales.

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Douglas Russell, Senior Research Officer


Douglas started at ICPS in 2017, and is leading research in two key areas: the participation of children and young people in child safe organisations, and the capabilities of staff and volunteers to prevent and respond to organisational child sexual abuse. He is a qualified primary school teacher with 15 years' experience teaching in Australia, the UK and Dubai, and his key focus has always been on the wellbeing of children.

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Nina Lucas, Research Officer

Nina’s area of expertise is data analysis. She is currently investigating the effects of parental gambling on children, and the contact that children in care have with their birth family. In previous research projects, Nina focused on child physical and mental health and she contributed to the ICPS [link to:] project. Before joining ICPS in 2018, Nina completed her Master in Public Health from LaTrobe University in which she examined child wellbeing after parental separation.

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Maria Battaglia, Communications Officer

Maria Battaglia

Maria is dedicated to promoting the work of ICPS and raising awareness of how to improve child protection, and prevent and respond to the abuse and neglect of children. She creates marketing and communications campaigns that promote the mission of the Institute to advocate for children’s participation, strengthen service systems, inform practice and support child-safe communities. Maria brings extensive experience in stakeholder engagement, brand positioning aligned to corporate strategy, targeted promotional campaigns, social media campaigns, event management, outcomes analysis and reporting, editing, and production of publications (print and digital) at all stages of development.

Maria’s formal qualifications include Master of Communication and Graduate Diploma in Editing and Publishing, RMIT University.

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Sebastian Trew, Research Officer

Sebastian began working at ICPS in 2018, and is supporting a range of research projects. He has a Masters in Human Rights from Curtin University and has worked within the out-of-home care sector including residential care, intensive family support, youth housing and homelessness, disability support, academic mentoring, and executive program support. Sebastian is a PhD candidate at ACU who's research is exploring families lived experience of autism.

Ms Alex Cahill, Research Officer

Alex Cahill

Alex has over 20 years of experience working in the child protection and out of home care sectors. She has worked in both government and non-government sectors, including homelessness, strategic policy and planning, child and youth engagement and residential care management. Since completing a Masters in Youth Studies with the ACU, Alex’s area of interests is in the connection between youth policy and practice and how best to translate this directly for workers on the ground and the children and young people they work with. She commenced work with the ICPS in September 2017 as a research officer.

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Adjunct and associate members

Emeritus Professor Morag McArthur


Morag is the foundation director of ICPS. As a social work academic with over 25 years of teaching and research experience, Morag has worked with Commonwealth, State and Territory Government departments, non-government and community organisations on a wide range of research and evaluation projects. She has taught both undergraduate and post-graduate students research methods, public policy and social theory. She had a key role in designing and implementing the first specialised postgraduate courses in child welfare in Australia.

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Dr Gail Winkworth


Dr Gail Winkworth was Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Child Protection Studies between 2005 and 2011, and was the founding editor of the peer-reviewed journal Communities, Children and Families Australia. With her combination of practice, policy, administrative and academic experience, Gail is an adjunct professor of the ACU, with a continuing role in research, publishing and teaching. 

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Dr Giovanna Richmond


Dr Giovanna Richmond has been a lecturer at the ACU School of Social Work since 2004. Prior to this she held senior management and senior professional positions in ACT Government in the fields of community health, child and family support services, child welfare and disability services. From 1997-2003 she was Director of the Child, Youth & Women's Health Program in ACT Health.

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The following students are undertaking postgraduate research at ACU. Their work is being supervised by ICPS staff. Read more about their research interests below.

Rhys Thorpe


Rhys is a social worker and counsellor who has been working with children, young people and families for more than ten years. He has experience working in supervised contact and foster care sectors. Most recently Rhys has provided counselling and therapeutic group programs to children and parents from separated families. In 2012 Rhys completed a research project in the UK, exploring the responses to participation initiatives from children in out of home care.

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Ulrike Marwitz

Ulrike is undertaking a Doctorate of Philosophy researching the following question: Family violence typology in the context of statutory child protection practice: how differentiating between types of intimate partner violence could improve practice and outcomes for women and children in the child protection system. Her research is informed by a professional career as a social worker for Families SA, now Department for Child Protection, and the Tasmanian Department for Health and Human Services Child Safety. Professor Daryl Higgins (ICPS) is Principal Supervisor and Dr Tom Whelan (Faculty of Health Sciences) is Co-Supervisor.

Contact Ulrike

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