• Room 01.006 - 2 College Park East

    United Kingdom

Accepting PhD Students

PhD projects

- Children in care
- Children’s rights and social work
- Communication and relationships with Children
- Experiences and outcomes of State care
- Early intervention/family support

1996 …2024

Research activity per year

Personal profile


Karen is a Professor of Children's Social Care. She gained a PhD in 2009 and has held an academic post at Queen’s University Belfast for 12 years. Prior to this she worked for 16 years in Northern Ireland as a child protection social worker in fieldwork teams and then as a manager. She was also employed by NIGALA (https://nigala.hscni.net), working as a social worker appointed by the courts to represent children in court proceedings. 

Research Statement

Focusing on children and young people in care, Karen’s research includes: communication and relationships with children and young people in care; their rights, needs and wellbeing; and the effectiveness and outcomes of services designed with and for children and young people in care. Karen is a fellow in the Centre for Evidence and Social Innovation (https://www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/cesi/) and a member of the Centre for Children’s Rights at QUB (https://www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/CentreforChildrensRights/). 

She is also an elected Board member of the European Social Work Research Association (https://www.eswra.org) which organises an annual international social work research conference attracting approximately 500-600 participants from over 40 countries (https://www.eswra.org/conference_main.php). As part of her role in ESWRA, she also chairs the Special Interest Group Committee which oversees the strategic development and activities of 21 SIGs with international membership (https://www.eswra.org/sig_main.php). 

Research Interests

Karen has been PI and CI on projects that have explored children and young people in care and their experiences, views, relationships, wellbeing and outcomes. Funders have included the Economic and Social Research Council, the National Institute of Health Research, the European Union, government and voluntary organisations. She has been commissioned by a variety of bodies/organisations in a consultancy capacity. Recent and current projects include:

2018-2020 Reading Together, funded by the ESRC (https://www.qub.ac.uk/sites/readingtogether/)

2017-2019 Participation 4 Protection, funded by the European Union (https://www.qub.ac.uk/sites/participation-for-protection/

2019-2021 NIHR Early Childhood Development for Sustaining Peace (https://www.qub.ac.uk/sites/links/

2016-2018 Talking and Listening to Children (http://www.talkingandlisteningtochildren.co.uk)

Karen’s published work is known for its innovative qualitative methodologies, its exploration of children’s rights, its application of sociological theories and concepts to understanding the lives of children and young people in care and professional social work practice and its exploration of effectiveness and outcomes for children and young people in care. A significant amount is sole authored. Some of her research projects have attracted publicity in media and government. Her work is known internationally and she has been invited speaker in Canada (https://crecs.uottawa.ca/publications/noon-hour-colloquium and https://www.ocya.alberta.ca) Vietnam http://www.qub.ac.uk/schools/ssesw/Discover/News/DevelopingSocialWorkinVietnam.html and India (http://www.tezu.ernet.in/event/National-Conclave-14-16-Dec-2019.pdf).


Leadership and management 

As part of her academic role, Karen has undertaken a variety of university management and leadership roles. These include: Programme Director for both an undergraduate social work programme (2009-2012) and a Professional Doctorate programme (2012-2018); and Director of Undergraduate Education for Social Sciences, Education and Social Work (2016-2019). 

Karen was recently appointed as Director of Education for Theology (2019-2021), a post that combines strategic and operational responsbilities. She is currently a member of the Faculty Undergraduate Education Committee; the Theology Management Board and chairs the theology Education and Postgraduate Committee. 

Karen’s also has significant experience of leadership and management roles in the community having been a non-executive member of the Board for NIGALA (2014-2019) and Chair of its Social Care Governance Committee (2014-2019) (https://nigala.hscni.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/NIGALA-ANNUAL-REPORT-and-ACCOUNTS-2018-19-Final-Published.pdf). She has chaired the advisory committee of Fostering Network NI (2014-2019) (https://www.thefosteringnetwork.org.uk/about/about-us/our-work-in-northern-ireland). She has also been a member of a working group hosted by NISCC to develop the Advanced Scholarship Award that professionally recognises doctoral level qualifications (https://niscc.info/news/295-professional-in-practice-awards).         


Karen is the academic lead on a University Widening Participation Unit (WPU) initiative, https://www.qub.ac.uk/directorates/sgc/wpu/ReadingTogether/ that was shortlisted as a finalist in QUB Staff Excellence Awards (2018), the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust Chairman’s Recognition Awards (October, 2019) and the HE Academy NEON awards (May, 2019) where it received a commendation (https://www.educationopportunities.co.uk/neon-events/neon-awards/neon-awards-2019/).


Karen has received 2 QUB Teaching Awards (2012 and 2017).  (https://twitter.com/qubssesw/status/875369770513829888). Her work with trainee barristers and trainee social workers has also led to her and her co-convenor (Aine Maxwell, Institute Professional and Legal Studies) being shortlisted as finalists in the QUB SU Education Awards (2019). She has taught at under graduate, post graduate and doctoral level, designing modules, being a module convenor and carrying tutoring responsibilities. Currently she is responsible for SWK3008 Social work in criminal justice and the courts.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 4 - Quality Education
  • SDG 5 - Gender Equality
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions


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