Kathy EllemDr Kathy Ellem is a Senior Lecturer in the UQ School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work. Her research expertise includes participatory research methodologies (including narrative, digital and arts-based research) with people with impaired cognitive capacity; the intersectionality of disability and the criminal justice system; family-centred practice and capacity building of families who have a loved one with a disability; self-advocacy for people with an intellectual disability; and families who have been forced to relinquish care of their child with a disability.

Her work focusses on how both teaching and research can influence positive change in social work practice and in the lives of vulnerable people.

Current research

NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission Worker Screening Project. This involves a literature review which explores the evidence base for:

  • worker screening of employees working directly with people with disabilities
  • relevant Australian and international research in relation to abuse, neglect and victimisation of people with disabilities
  • the development of an evaluation methodology for the implementation of a nationally consistent worker screening for the NDIS commission, as well as identifying continuous improvement opportunities.

This work is a collaboration with Dr Paul Harpur, School of Law, Professor Michael Stein, Harvard University, WWILD Sexual Violence Prevention service. Also involved as project officer, Dr Grazia Catalano. 

Lost in Transition: Supporting young people with complex support needs. This is an ARC Linkage project with UNSW, Monash University and LaTrobe University. It involves scoping and mapping current national and state frameworks for transition support planning; describing the needs of young people with complex support needs in relation to key life transitions (from early life and educational experiences to transitioning to adult services); developing an understanding of the various meanings of transition to young people with complex support needs and for those who provide transition support; exploring how these transitions can be tracked and quantified using existing data collection frameworks.

The effectiveness of digital story telling as a tool for change: Learning about inclusive policies and practices from people with disabilities. This is in collaboration with Dr Paul Harris and others, Griffith University, Hot Topics group, and the Queenslanders with Disability Network. It involves developing digital stories with self-advocates with intellectual disability. It is very much about participatory/inclusive research and assisting people to write, develop and produce their own digital stories – some of which have been used as training tools for workers, and informative stories for forums and conferences.

Professional identity development in social work and human service students through Peer Mentoring Program. This is a small piece of research with QUT's Dr Ros Darracott and the social work and human services peer support program, looking at emerging professional identities of social work and human service students.

Career highlights

  • Attending Harvard University in February 2020, through funding from the Harvard Committee on Australian Studies, to present a workshop with colleagues from TC Beirne School of Law on experiences of people with disabilities and their families in rural and regional Australia.
  • Keynote address to the Australasian Society for Intellectual Disability national conference in 2018 – 'Supporting people with cognitive disability in contact with the criminal justice system: The importance of relationship based practice'. 
  • Speaker at a number of conferences/staff training workshops with Corrective Services, Youth Justice and Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women.
  • Editor of book Social Work and Human Services Best Practice.
  • Past member of the Brisbane Regional Disability Advisory Committee.