Social work and social policy

Research in the fields of social work and social policy examines if and how these practices and policies enhance the welfare of individuals, families and communities. Researchers are concerned with politicising, assessing and addressing social needs. Research at the levels of professional practice, human service development and policy development often aims to benefit consumers, practitioners, administrators and policy-makers by informing practice at each of these levels. Social work and social policy research is grounded in the theories and methods of the social sciences and contributes knowledge about social structures and social processes, particularly those related to social justice, social equity, health and well-being.

  • Ageing and end-of-life

    Ageing and old age are constituted as markers of social progress and conferrer of family and social burden.  The end-of-life, dying and death are universal experiences, which posit questions of meaning and survival for individuals, communities and societies and questions of equity for social policy and social work practice. Social work in ageing, dying, death and bereavement are core fields of professional practice and social work and social policy. Research contributes knowledge about the social dimensions of these points on the life course and focuses on how social justice ideas can inform policy and practice. Key questions in this area include: What are the social dimensions of ageing and of dying, death and bereavement in globalising, multicultural societies?  What are desirable directions for social policies and social work practices in ageing and at the end-of-life?  How can social policies and social work practices address the social and health inequalities that permeate ageing and the end-of-life?

  • Child young people: safety and well-being

    Research in this area extends from healthy children and young people in their social and school environments through to severely disadvantaged children and young people and their families. This includes children and young people in culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities, Indigenous communities and low socio-economic communities. Research is typically informed by theoretical and conceptual perspectives about safety, risk, resilience, welfare and wellbeing. Understanding the policy context of responding to complex problems experienced by children and young people is also critical to research in this area, as are the interconnections between practice, policy and research. Principles of conducting ethical research with children who represent a vulnerable community group underpin the research activities.

  • Counselling, welfare and community services

    This area brings together research focused on individual, family, group and community experiences and the relationships between them. One key theme is improving understandings of individual situations and experiences. Here, research draws on a range of psycho-social theories which aim to explore the relationships between individuals and their social environment, based on the understanding that this environment is made up of multiple, complex, interrelated systems with which individuals may have varying levels of engagement. Emphasis is given to improving understandings and knowledge of individual behavior during the life course, the exploration of social relationships and the effectiveness of specific modes of service delivery and interventions.

  • Disability and mental health

    Emphasis is placed on exploring different conceptualisations of disability and mental health in order to constructively appraise the interrelationship between theory, policy and practice. This facilitates theoretical and empirical research which has an interdisciplinary focus and which has both a critical and a practical relevance. Examples include the application of postmodern feminist perspectives, appraisals of social model frames of reference and the use of ‘action’ and participatory research methodologies. Research into these areas investigates commonly held assumptions, brings to the fore consumer perspectives and critically appraises key aspects of policy and practice.

  • Knowledge building in social work practice and education

    Research in this area involves the critical analysis, development and application of theoretical perspectives that underpin social work education and practice. Knowledge building is based on qualitative and quantitative research traditions with an emphasis on theory development; applying theory to practice; evidence-informed practice and practice-based research from which theories are derived. Research inquiry in this field may occur within social work or inter-professionally with other disciplines.

  • Social policy

    Social policy involves systematic interventions by governments and public institutions to define and address social problems and social needs. Research in social policy traverses the disciplines – and uses the methods – of political science, economics, sociology and social work, as it seeks to understand how social policy is made, implemented and experienced in local, national and international contexts.

  • Social work in health care

    Research in this area is conceptualised broadly, underpinned by understandings of the social determinants of health and health inequalities for individuals, groups and communities. This includes the health and wellbeing of individuals and their social relationships, health policy and innovation; the organisation and delivery of health services and local, national and global health initiatives. Discursive, theoretical, empirical and practice-based approaches, using both quantitative and qualitative methodologies support research inquiry in this field.

  • Third sector research

    Third sector research investigates the nature, role and influence of non-governmental (or not-for-profit) organisations. Key topics for third sector research include the role of NGOs in social policy development and governance; the history and organisation of NGO services in specific fields such as domestic violence, community development, ageing and child protection; how NGOs contribute to global social policy and international aid and development; NGOs and their contribution to democracy; and the role of human service NGOs in social policy research.

  • Violence against women and children

    Research in this area is undertaken from a feminist perspective. It is aimed at producing knowledge that increases our understanding of the impact of violence in women’s and children’s lives and that can contribute to practice and policy to enhance the lives of women and children who live or have lived with violence. Research topics include: violence and the law, post separation violence, sexual assault against women and children, integrated responses to violence, and the intersections of violence with other factors such as age, sexuality, poverty, race, ethnicity, religion and geographical location.