Strengthening connections and relationships for young people in therapeutic residential care

What is this research about?

Young people in residential care face major challenges that can prevent them from forming healthy relationships and a strong personal identity, which are critical building blocks for their wellbeing and safety. For the first time in a large-scale mixed-methods study, we will listen to young people living in therapeutic residential care, staff and managers across NSW about current practice and how it can be improved.

This Australian Research Council-funded project aims to understand the practices that help young people living in therapeutic residential care to form strong, healthy relationships have a positive self-identity.

The Centre for Excellence in Therapeutic Care (CETC), a division of the Australian Childhood Foundation, has partnered with Southern Cross University to co-fund and to co-investigate this critical area of practice.

Strengthening connections and relationships project logo: Heart Space: created by Gumbaynggirr and Yaegl artist Talah LaurieStrengthening connections and relationships project logo: Heart Space created by Gumbaynggirr and Yaegl artist Talah Laurie.

What’s happening now?

From January – March 2023 the research team is reaching out to staff and young people currently living in intensive therapeutic care (ITC) and ITC-significant disability to hear your perspectives about relational practice that strengthens connections and relationships for young people. To find out more, please read the information sheet and contact Meaghan at

Participant Information Sheet for young people

Participant Information Sheet for adults


Who are the researchers?

The research team is led by Associate Professor Lynne McPherson working with Professor Anne Graham, Dr Kathomi Gatwiri, Dr Meaghan Vosz and Kylie Day at Southern Cross University’s Centre for Children and Young People. They are joined by leading international researchers Associate Professor Tim Moore from Australian Catholic University’s Centre for Child Protection Studies, Dr Donnah Anderson of Charles Sturt University, and Professor Robbie Gilligan of Trinity College in Dublin. They are joined by industry experts Dr Joe Tucci and Adjunct Associate Professor Janise Mitchell from the Centre for Excellence in Therapeutic Care, a division of Australian Childhood Foundation. Associate Professor Stuart Barlo is an Aboriginal man from the Yuin nation from the far south coast of New South Wales, providing consultancy, advice and guidance throughout the project.

Read more


How will the research happen?

The research is happening from 2022-2025 over four phases:

  1. Policy and program analysis will help to understand how practices are cast in policy, practice frameworks and program guidelines, to better understand the ways that practices are enabled and constrained.
  2. Qualitative research will hear from young people and staff about the practices that work to strengthen young people’s connections and relationships, what helps and what gets in the way.
  3. Quantitative research will use surveys of young people and staff to measure the association between practice and young peoples’ recognition, positive social connections, safety and wellbeing.
  4. Knowledge exchange will generate new knowledge that will enable the development of evidence-informed policy guidance, practice tools and professional learning to support effective Therapeutic Residential Care.

What have we done so far?

Research co-design: In 2022, young adults with lived experience worked with the research team to co-design our research methods and approaches, making sure the research safe and makes a difference. Later, they will help to analyse and communicate what we find out through interviews and surveys with young people and workers in TRC.

If you are interested in joining the co-design team, please watch our video and get in touch! For updates on research co-design, follow #StrengtheningConnectionsAndRelationships on Linked In and Twitter.

Research engagement: we formed a research advisory group with international academics, policy actors and providers of intensive therapeutic care in NSW. Research advisors will steer the research and outcomes to ensure the most benefit for young people, staff and providers of therapeutic residential care. Cultural advisors have helped to re(frame) how we see research problems, how we relate and our research practice, influencing the recruitment of First Nations people as advisors, co-designers and in the research team. 

Research ethics: in 2022 the SCU Human Research Ethics Committee approved two major research applications to conduct a. research co-design and engagement, and b. the four phases of the research. The team is now working with TRC service providers across NSW, including NSW Department of Communities and Justice, to facilitate the participation of young people and staff in the research.

Policy analysis: the team is currently analysing over 160 documents to understand how relational practice is framed in NSW, including policy, practice frameworks, legislation and practice guides. This work will inform qualitative and quantitative data analysis, and will help the research team to target improvements at key places in the TRC practice landscape.


Why is this research important? What difference will it make?

ARC Linkage projects help to build long-term strategic research alliances to apply advanced knowledge to problems and to acquire new knowledge. This project builds on a strong partnership between Southern Cross University and the CETC, and is well-positioned to have a direct impact on practice as a result of this strategic alliance. 

When the research is complete, we will work with advisors to develop resources to improve the practices of therapeutic residential care. As a result, young people leaving care will have the right support for a solid foundation of personal identity and relationships into the future.


PhD candidate selected for scholarship

PhD candidate Kelly Hand has been selected to receive the project’s embedded research scholarship, and will be supervised by Associate Professors Lynne McPherson and Kathomi Gatwiri.

Australian Research Council

Southern Cross University logo
Centre for People and Young People logo 800-300 uploaded 12 Sept 2022
Australian Catholic University
Charles Sturt University logo
Trinity College Dublin Logo

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