Current research projects

We work with state, national and international agencies to create new insights, and inform social and public policy. Have a look at some of our recently completed and current projects.

The first national study of child abuse and neglect in Australia: prevalence, health outcomes, and burden of disease

Professor Ben Mathews, Dr Rosana Pacella and Professor Michael Dunne

Professors Mathews, Pacella and Dunne are leading an international team conducting the first national study of the prevalence and effects of child maltreatment in Australia.  The Australian Child Maltreatment Study will be conducted from 2019-2023, and is funded by the Australian Government through the National Health and Medical Research Council Project Grant scheme.  The study has three dimensions, making it the most comprehensive national study of its kind.  It will provide the first reliable estimate of the prevalence and co-occurrence in Australia of all five forms of child maltreatment (sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, and exposure to domestic violence), and other major childhood adversities. Significantly, the study will also identify the major impacts on health outcomes associated with maltreatment across the lifespan.  These will cover mental health outcomes (depression, anxiety, suicidality), substance use (tobacco, alcohol and other drugs), and chronic physical health conditions (obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes).  Finally, the study will also generate an estimate of the burden of disease caused by child maltreatment.

The project has a strong focus on translation of findings to policy and practice.  The research team will engage with external stakeholders from government, non-government and clinical sectors. Including the National Office for Child Safety, the new office established after the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, located in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.  Scientific findings will provide governments and policymakers with information on national public policy strategies about where, when and how to invest resources to reduce child maltreatment and respond effectively to it at an early stage.

 For further information see ACMS website or contact Professor Ben Mathews ( – 07 3138 2983 –

Child protection systems and the reporting of child abuse and neglect

Professor Ben Mathews

This current research project is commissioned by the New South Wales Their Futures Matter Implementation Unit within the New South Wales Government.  The purpose of the project is to identify methods to increase the effectiveness of reporting of child maltreatment in New South Wales, to best support professionals who are required to make reports, and to assist in streamlining government intake and response systems.  The research involves policy analysis, social science analysis, legislative analysis, and quantitative analysis. Recommendations will be made for reform of legislation, education and support systems, and policy infrastructure.

Public health interventions for increasing physical activity in children, adolescents and adults: an overview of systematic reviews

Professor Philip Baker

Philip Baker is the Chief Investigator on this landmark Cochrane Overview to identify which interventions can increase physical activity that will lead to healthier children and adults. This overview explores whether any effects of the intervention are different within and between populations and whether these differences form an equity gradient such as an effect that differs according to the advantage/disadvantage (e.g. low income and ethnic minorities). The second stage of this project is the strategic engagement with decision-ready policy-makers, practitioners and community stakeholders in Australia and overseas to identify and tailor the evidence to their populations, addressing set targets to increase physical activity. The stage will elucidate the pathways for high-quality evidence to become public health policy.

Oversight and regulatory mechanisms aimed at protecting children from sexual abuse: Understanding current evidence of efficacy

Professor Ben Mathews

This project was commissioned in 2015-17 by the Australian Government Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, and was published on the Royal Commission’s website in 2017. It conducted a nationwide analysis of the nature of oversight systems (e.g. ombudsmen offices; reportable conduct schemes; children’s commissions; community visitors schemes; child advocates and children’s guardians; and crime and misconduct commissions) and regulatory mechanisms (e.g., non-government schools’ accreditation boards; early childhood and care regulators; and medical sector regulators). It analysed the efficacy of these bodies in preventing and responding appropriately to child sexual abuse in organisational settings spanning education, health, state care, sport, recreation, arts and culture. The project included legal research, social science research, and further analyses using regulatory theory. It made extensive recommendations about optimal reforms to policy and practice.

Best practice in regulation of child and youth-serving organisations to prevent child abuse and neglect

Professor Ben Mathews

This project was privately commissioned in 2016-18. It conducted social science analysis, a qualitative study, policy gap analysis and logic model development. The overall aim was to create a robust, evidence-based framework for organisational governance in entities delivering services to children, to prevent and respond to child sexual abuse, and other forms of maltreatment. Recommendations are now informing the adoption of new approaches by end-users to better equip child and youth serving organisations to prevent child abuse and neglect.

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Queensland Supported Playgroup Evaluation

Kate Williams, Donna Berthelsen & Jan Nicholson

This evaluation, commissioned by the Queensland Department of Education focussed on:

  • The effectiveness of Supported Playgroups in improving developmental outcomes for children and how participation in Supported Playgroups prepares children for kindergarten and school.
  • How participation in Supported Playgroup influences parental outcomes.
  • The role of Supported Playgroups in communities including benefits for isolated communities.
  • Key features, processes and success factors of Supported Playgroups.

The ICAST-TRIAL / Evidence for better lives

Professor Michael Dunne

Since 2014 Michael has been collaborating with colleagues at the University of Oxford on development of a new tool to measure change in response to preventive interventions (The ICAST-TRIAL; Meinck et al., 2017, 2018).  As well, since 2016, with colleagues at the University of  Cambridge, Michael has been a co-investigator on a project to develop synchronised birth cohort studies in 8  middle income countries (see: This collaboration includes the Institute for Community Health Research in Hue Vietnam, where he is Co-Director (see:


Making prevention matter: Establishing characteristics of effective child sexual abuse prevention programs

Professor Kerryann Walsh

Kerryann is leading the ARC funded study entitled Making Prevention Matter: Establishing Characteristics of Effective Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Programs.  School-based prevention programs are central to national efforts to prevent child sexual abuse (CSA) and its harmful effects, but the effectiveness of current CSA prevention programs is unknown, and research is hampered by a proliferation of programs that vary in content and processes. This research will produce key recommendations for CSA prevention programs. It will generate important new knowledge about programs in use, their characteristics and features, and the ways in which they effect change. It will provide guidelines for tailoring programs for at-risk groups and will provide important data to guide consumers about program quality. Significantly, it will contribute a consolidated framework to guide future program evaluation.


Evaluating child consumer product regulatory responses to improve child safety

Associate Professor Kirsten Vallmuur

Kirsten is leading the ARC funded study entitled Evaluating child consumer product regulatory responses to improve child safety.  This study aims to better understand consumer product safety regulatory responses and injury risks to children to inform development of regulatory responses and health and safety policies in Australia.  Consumer product safety regulation operates in a global and ‘virtual’ market, with the growth of online purchasing, limited border protection capacity and increasing distance between suppliers and consumers. This makes monitoring and enforcing product safety much more difficult for regulators, putting consumers at risk, including children. Developing a rapid responsive product safety system that operates across sectors and borders is an international priority. This study evaluates the congruence of consumer product safety regulator responses and safety incident data for children to close gaps in consumer regulatory practice and safety policy, and reduce risk of injury to children.

Reducing the impact of early life disadvantage via the home learning environment

Professor Donna Berthelsen

Donna is a Chief Investigator on this study, funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council.  This project is a follow-up study to the Early Home Learning Study (EHLS) conducted in Victoria, involving 2000 families, and which was designed to improve the early learning and developmental experiences of young children (birth to 3 years) living in vulnerable circumstances, through parenting support delivered through playgroups, parent groups, and home coaching. The current project, in partnership with the Department of Education in Victoria, focuses on whether improvements in the quality of parent-child relationships for EHLS children persist over time and translate into benefits for children’s social, academic and behavioural outcomes in the early years of school.

The cost of bullying in childhood and adolescence in Australia

Dr Rosana Pacella

Rosana Pacella is conducting a comprehensive estimation of the burden of disease attributable to bullying, the costs of bullying to the Australian economy together with an economic evaluation of interventions to reduce bullying, in order to assist policy makers in determining allocation of resources to address this important issue. Bullying in childhood and adolescence is common in Australia and has serious health, social and economic consequences.  This project brings together researchers with expertise in burden of disease analysis, health economics, epidemiology, and child and adolescent psychiatry. It will benefit public policy and decision-making, and will provide important data needed to promote investment in strategies to address bullying in Australia.

Developing a best practice framework for online safety education

Dr Kerryann Walsh

This research was commissioned by the eSafety Commissioner in response to identified gaps and as part of this its strategic leadership role in online safety education, as recommended by the Report of the Statutory Review of the Enhancing Online Safety Act 2015 and the Review of Schedules 5 and 7 to the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Online Content Scheme) and the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.



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Effectiveness of a rhythm and movement intervention for preschool self-regulation development in disadvantaged communities: A clustered randomised controlled trial

Kate Williams

For decades we have known how to identify children at risk of poorer educational and life outcomes as early as 4 years of age, but we have made no headway in changing these trajectories. This is because we have failed to address the brain architecture responsible for self-regulation, arguably the most important foundation skill for school success, academic achievement, and lifelong wellbeing. This study will address this by investigating the effectiveness of a specifically designed intervention based on the neuroscience of beat synchronisation, rhythmic entrainment, and self-regulation, and the known cognitive benefits of music therapy and music education approaches. The intervention is known as RAMSR (Rhythm & Movement for Self-Regulation). The study is funded by the Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Research (DECRA) scheme.

ARC Future Fellowship 2018-2021

Kristin Laurens

This project aims to characterise variability in developmental pathways to literacy and numeracy, and the factors that contribute to this variation (including childhood adversity), utilising population data. This project expects to generate new knowledge regarding the role of school-based social-emotional learning policies in supporting children’s achievement of literacy and numeracy. Expected outcomes of the project include enhanced collaboration with government to deliver policy-relevant information on the most effective targets and timing for delivering social-emotional programs that maximise academic learning. This should assist policy makers to develop better strategies to support every child’s academic achievement. The project uses data from the NSW Child Development Study administered in the School of Psychiatry at UNSW (

London Child Health and Development Study

Kristin Laurens

This is a prospective, longitudinal investigation of children, sampled from the general community aged 9–11 years and assessed biennially, who present premorbid risk markers for schizophrenia/psychosis. The study oversampled children exposed to a range of childhood adversities. The study aims to characterise developmental trajectories of psychological, cognitive, and biological functioning in at-risk children and identify potential targets for early preventative intervention.