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During her PhD, Dr Katie Lamb explored the perspectives of children and young people after family violence. Now, she's consulting to government and non-government organisations on issues affecting vulnerable families and children.
Meet the researcher
What were you trying to discover in your PhD?
My research explored the perspectives of children and young people who had experienced family violence, aged between nine and 19 years. This included exploring ways in which these perspectives could be incorporated into programs for fathers who use violence.
We’ve known for some time now that children are significantly impacted by family violence. But we have less research about children’s perspectives on their experiences and their relationship with fathers. Often children are used as a motivator for men to attend behavioural change programs. But we’re still discovering how parenting issues and children’s views might influence program content. This was a gap I aimed to address.
What were the main findings of your PhD ?
We found that children and young people are interested in engaging in a process of reparation with their fathers after family violence. But there were different drivers. Some were motivated to have a more healthy and positive relationship with their father in the future. Whereas others wanted a sense of closure. This would allow them to move on with their lives without future contact with their fathers. I created a reparation model based on what the children and young people saw as important.
In addition, eight of the children and young people in the study participated in a digital storytelling workshop. During this time, they made two to three-minute digital stories about the impact of family violence on their lives.
These stories have since been used in programs with men who use violence, to ensure children’s voices and perspectives are considered and acknowledged. Examples include Caring Dads and the Making aMENds Program.
One of the key messages to come from the research combats the idea that it is possible to be both a violent partner but a good father. The children in the study were very clear about the way in which violence and abuse in their homes has impacted their lives in many ways.
Why did you do a PhD? Were you working or studying prior to your PhD?
I studied criminology then did a Masters in Public Policy and Management. Then I spent 15 years working across the child and family welfare and criminal justice system. I’d really enjoyed that work but was looking for an opportunity to grow and develop my research skills. I loved the idea of spending three years exploring an area that I was really passionate about, so that's why I started to think about doing a PhD.
When I approached the Social Work Department, Professor Cathy Humphreys and her team were looking for a PhD student as part of Fathering Challenges, a partnership between several universities across the country and community sector partners. My timing was excellent.
Why did you choose to do your PhD at the University of Melbourne?
I have a long affiliation with the University. I commenced my Bachelor of Arts in 1996 and then did a masters a couple of years later. I did look at PhD programs at other universities. But I’d enjoyed my time at the University and had always felt that the University looked out for me.
The two supervisors I had approached (Professor Humphreys and Professor Kelsey Hegarty) are internationally recognised as leaders in their field. And they had a reputation for being great supervisors. The University helped me gain a scholarship to complete the PhD – and that was something that I really valued.
What was the best part about researching here?
I felt really welcomed by the academic staff from both schools that were supervising my PhD: Social Work and General Practice. Both are located within the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences. The faculty makes a significant effort to connect PhD students working on family violence-related research, across these areas. So, I could easily connect with people at different stages of their PhD, including those who were nearing completion. I gained a lot from the advice and mentoring from those further along in their research.
More experienced researchers also gave up their time to support me. And, as an independent consultant and researcher, I still work with staff from those departments.
Through my PhD I met a lot of fantastic providers who run programs and services with vulnerable families and individuals. I now enjoy supporting them with program design and evaluations. I wouldn’t have made these connections easily without my PhD.
I also gained strong skills in public speaking. And I was given many opportunities to present my PhD findings at conferences and events. In 2018, I was invited to present my research findings overseas with one of my supervisors, and we’ve just written a book chapter together.
How has your PhD shaped your current work situation?
After completing my PhD, I went into consulting. And in 2018, after learning the ropes in a larger consulting firm, I established my own: Counterpoint Advisory. Through this business, I provide research, policy advice and training to government, non-government and private sector organisations, on issues impacting vulnerable families and children, nationally. Sometimes I work independently but I also partner with other larger consultancies and universities.
I really enjoy working on issues that sit at the intersection of child and family welfare and the criminal justice system. In my work, I look for opportunities to bring in the voices of those with lived experience – especially children and young people.
What do you wish you’d known before you started your PhD?
I would have done a PhD just for the experience, because I found it so enjoyable. And I feel like I made use of all the opportunities I could. But here’s my advice: think about what you want to get out of the experience as early as possible. There are many free courses and training opportunities that you can make use of. Transitioning back into life after a PhD can be challenging, so if you’ve thought about what you want to do next, early on, that makes it easier.
First published on 16 February 2022.
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