Associate Professor Wendy Foote
School of Humanities and Social Science
- Phone:(02) 4921 53041
Protecting the welfare of families
Associate Professor Wendy Foote is interested in how welfare systems, policies and funding relationships impact on social services and decision making—and ultimately, how they affect the lives of those who need support.
Associate Professor Wendy Foote’s social work research is inspired by years of practice and a profound desire to help disadvantaged children and families in Australia. Her work examines the complex interrelation of welfare decisions and practice, policies and funding regulations, drawing a confronting picture of the current system’s strengths and weaknesses.
In both research and practice, Wendy puts the needs of children and families firmly at the centre of her work.
“I am interested in vulnerable families and children getting a go at life. Having a chance to change the cards they have been dealt.
“I want to make life fairer for people who live in vulnerable circumstances and to create welfare systems that prioritise children’s and families’ needs.”
Creating systemic change
Wendy has first-hand knowledge of how the welfare state operates, its role as a lifeline for families and its shortcomings. During her time working for organisations such as the Children’s Hospital in Camperdown Sydney (now Westmead Children’s Hospital), Wendy worked alongside families during some of the darkest days of their lives.
“I remember working in a child abuse team where our client, a 13-year-old girl, had been sexually abused by her father and had passed away in a stolen car years later.
“Looking at her family’s files, I realised that this girl’s life chances had been stacked against her from birth: her mother gave birth to her at 16 years of age, her father had struggled with addiction for years and was now incarcerated.
“Our systems of care had failed this young girl. Her experiences prompted me to write my first peer-reviewed article.”
Following many years standing beside families, in the trenches of social work practice, Wendy moved into academia with the resolve to shake up current processes and create systemic change for children and families.
“My research projects are inspired by my practice. The idea of generating new knowledge from the ‘doing’ of social work has been a foundation in how I have approached my work.”
Child protection in the courtroom
Wendy’s first foray into research saw her tackle an ingrained systems problem: the intersection of child protection issues with family law.
Over the past decade, the Family Court has increasingly become a part of the child protection system as allegations of abuse are raised in hearings. Wendy’s PhD examined the decision-making of court judgements where there are allegations of child sexual abuse during divorce hearings.
“My PhD was borne of my experience working in an NGO, a project that took me into understanding the impact of systems on decision-making and eventually to my first stint in academia.”
Wendy’s research found that, while there were glimpses of child-focused approaches in some hearings, there was a predominantly sceptical undertone to child abuse allegations during divorce hearings and decisions were often influenced by the parents’ situation.
“The context of the allegation—the family law litigation—heavily influenced how the child abuse allegations were assessed and interpreted.
“There was scepticism around the child abuse allegations, that they could be the product of the parental conflict, associated maternal anxiety or mental illness.
“Additionally, fathers were not securitised as closely against criteria for sex offending even when they made admissions relating to the allegations.”
Stronger sector relationships
Wendy’s most recent research projects are focused on understanding the complex relationship between governments who fund social services in Australia and non-government organisations (NGO) who typically deliver these services to the community.
Wendy is critically examining this multifaceted relationship and investigating ways that it can be optimised to create better services for children and families.
“I want to be able to identify what approaches to the funding of NGOs will enhance their relationship to provide direct services to the people they serve—especially in light of new outcomes-based contracting for NGOs.”
“This is a new approach, and we need to tread wisely in the face of issues such as privacy and secrecy.
“For example, the child protection and child welfare areas can attract negative media attention and the dynamic of blaming—either towards the government or the service provider—is often relied on to create a story.
“Consequently, services and funding bodies can be wary to talk openly about the mistakes they have made, or to share insights with other organisations in order to prevent the same mistakes occurring in another sight. This is an obstacle that our research is still navigating.”
Kinship care in Australia
Wendy has also explored the complicated issue of kinship care, where children are placed in care with either relatives or, those with culturally defined kinship care relationships, as in the case with Aboriginal families. Understanding the nature and role of the Aboriginal kinship structure and its diversity across Australia has brought a higher level of cultural awareness to the policy debate. In Aboriginal families, kinship care relationships are defined by those with cultural authority to do so – not a government department.
In her previous role as Deputy CEO of the Australian Community Workers Association, Wendy managed the ‘Kinship Care: Making it a National Issue’ project.
The philanthropically funded project reviewed the existing national kinship care policies, which at the time were inconsistent across states and inadequate in providing an effective, nation-wide programmatic response.
In consultation with key stakeholders—including government, service providers, and kinship carers—Wendy and her research team created a policy position framework that could inform future advocacy for kinship care nationwide.
“This project raised the profile of the kinship care problem and received media attention and engagement with federal and state government policy units.”
Wendy is now translating the kinship care research findings into learnings for university students, helping to prepare the next generation of social workers in Australia.
“I will be working with a local kinship care group to bring the issues to students who will be better informed about the needs of children living in kinship care arrangements.”
Across her breadth of work, Wendy is quick to prioritise the role of ethics—including ensuring individuals and families have their rights protected and respected. In her role as educator, Wendy provides social work students with careful guidance in this crucial area.
“Ethics must be an important focus in a sector that is responsible for working with vulnerable people, assessing risk and drawing conclusions about best interests for children and families.
“Tomorrow’s social workers must be prepared to manage their own values in their work so they can better support individuals and communities.”
Associate Professor Wendy Foote is interested in how welfare systems, policies and funding relationships impact on social services and decision making—and ultimately, how they affect the lives of those who need support.Associate Professor Wendy Foote’s social work research is inspired…
After almost 7 years working in the child welfare peak body for NSW - the Association of Children’s Welfare Agencies (ACWA), Deputy Chief Executive Officer/Director of Policy and Membership – I return to academia with a renewed sense of purpose for the profession of Social work – having seen the importance and need of a highly trained and skilled workforce.
My time at ACWA included policy development, high level advocacy and the translation of research findings to inform practice and child welfare system strategic design. I have been involved in a number of research projects in the pursuit of advocacy goals as well as knowledge building projects, ARC grants and National conferences.
The leadership role that I have had has included leading a team at ACWA of 40 ACWA staff, who are involved in responding to membership needs, policy, development, research projects, practitioner training and special projects.
I have had responsibility for the over sight of ACWA's a peer reviewed practice journal Developing Practice and a member of Scientific Committees for ACWA and Child Aware National conferences.
The ACWA Best Practice Unit (BPU) was established– its purpose is to increase the skill, knowledge and capacity of the NGO sector respond to the Safe Home for Life Legislation and the NSW Permanency Support Program.
I was responsible for the oversight (and at times management) of the state’s foster care recruitment program, FosteringNSW for 5 years, and worked in partnership with FaCS as a Co-Chair of the The ACWA/FaCS Therapeutic Care Committee that developed the Therapeutic Care Framework for NSW. This project laid the foundation for common understanding of a Therapeutic Framework for NSW as well as the standard and type of service required for therapeutic care models.
Previous to my role at ACWA I worked at the University of NSW, as a lecturer in Social Work Practice for three and a half years. Prior to this academic appointment I have had a strong history in social work practice mainly with children and families. I have worked in family therapy, forensic assessment and reporting, research and social work casework, groupwork and team management.
The interests that I bring with me to the UoN are: the concept of the governance of a sector that is comprised of many organisations, funded by government (and heavily regulated); workforce issues related to the child welfare sector; ethical issues for social workers in the current service system; children’s rights.
My PhD 'Child Sexual abuse in the Family Court' 2007 was a result of inquiry stimulated from my therapeutic work with children who had been sexually abused at Barnardos. I have also published in relation to teaching field education in social work, and a number of practice areas including family therapy, Forgotten Australians and group work.
Refereed Journal Articles
Foote, WL 2015, Social Work Field Educators' Views on Student Specific Learning Needs. Social Work Education, Version of record first published: DOI:10.1080/02615479.2015.1005069 pages 286-300 Published online: 24 Feb 2015
Foote, W.L.2011,‘Critical reflection in social work education: conceptualized in Threshold Theory as ‘troublesome’. 21st Asia Pacific social work conference ‘Crossing Boarders, 15- 18 July 2011. Waseda, University, Japan.
Foote W, 2010, Responses to Child sexual abuse allegations in the Family Court Hearings. Women in Welfare Journal, 53, pp 720-731.
Foote, W, 2000, ‘I wanted to be able to talk about it without being judged: Groupwork with mothers of Child Sexual Assault Survivors’. Women against Violence: An Australian Feminist Journal. Issue 9, 22-33.
Foote, W, 1999, ‘Unravelling the web of deceit; Enduring perpetrator dynamics and recovery from child sexual assault.’ Australian and New Zealand Family Therapy Journal, Vol. 20, No. 2.
Foote, W, 1999, Family Therapy is Just one Option. Australian and New Zealand Family Therapy Journal. Vol.20, No. 4
Refereed Conference Papers and other articles
Foote, W.L. 2017 ‘A peak body and advocacy: The Association of Children’s welfare agencies working for all vulnerable children in NSW who are ‘in care’ to access public education’. Social Work Association Symposium, Hobart.
Foote, W.L., 2016‘Building A Strong Sector Culture For Lasting Change’ 18th National ACWA Conference 15- 17 August Darling Harbour, Sydney.
Foote, W.L., Urquhart, R., Georgeson, T. Stack, M. & L. Watson 2016,The role of peak body intermediaries in implementing best practice in the reform of child welfare systems: An Australian case study.18th National ACWA Conference 15- 17 August Darling Harbour, Sydney.
Czech, S Foote WL, & Walsh, S. 2014, Developing a Framework for Therapeutic Care for NSW. 16th National ACWA Conference, August 18-20 2014 SMC Function Centre Sydney.
Foote, WL, What’s a Peak Body? The Association of Child Welfare Agencies, as a case example at a time of sector reform. 16th National ACWA Conference, August 18-20 2014 SMC Function Centre Sydney.
Foote WL, Developing a Reflective Practice Tool for Engaging with Social Isolated New parents. 16th National ACWA Conference, August 18-20 2014 SMC Function Centre Sydney.
Foote, WL, 2013. ACWA’s Foster Care Recruitment Project. Childaware Approaches Conference. Melbourne April 12, 2013.
Foote, W.L.2010. ‘Transforming student’s orientation to learning on placement: Using learning goals in social work field placements’. Third Biennial Threshold Concept Symposium. Exploring transformative dimensions of threshold concepts - Sydney, 1-2 July 2010. The University of New South Wales, in collaboration with the University of Sydney, hosted the 3rd Biennial Threshold Concepts Symposium in Sydney, Australia on July 1 - 2, 2010.
Foote, WL,2010,‘The challenge of financial self sustainability in the NGO sector: the introduction of a social enterprise project within an established charity’. Joint World Conference on Social work and social development, Hong Kong June 2010.
Foote, WL, 2009, ‘Children’s voices being heard about the racket in Family Court proceedings: how a small group of professionals were able to raise children’s voices above the din’. International Society of Child Indicators Sydney. November 4- 5 2009 Sydney, University of Western Sydney.
Foote, WL, Evans, J., & Bechard, N. 2009, ‘The changing life trajectories project’: Designing early intervention services for CALD families who are experiencing isolation. International Society of Child Indicators Sydney. November 4- 5 2009 Sydney, University of Western Sydney.
Foote WL, Urquhart, RW and Matheson G. 2016, Educated, employed but vulnerable: Supporting socially isolated mothers through postnatal home visiting.
Doyle, J,. , RW, Foote, WL Matheson, G. 2014. NGO Workforce Survey 2013: Final Report and Recommendation. A report prepared by the Association of Children's Welfare Agencies (ACWA) for the Department of Family and Community Services. April 2014. Report number: Embargoed until 28 February 2015.
Foote, W, 2001, ‘Drug assisted sexual assault’. Attorney General’s Department.
Published by the Attorney General as an in-house publication.Foote, WL 2000. NSW Risk Assessment Framework and Structured Decision Making project. Department of Community Services. The investigation of the Development of a preferred Risk Assessment framework for NSW.
- Doctor of Philosophy, University of Sydney
- Master of Social Work, University of Sydney
- Child Protection
- Child sexual abuse
- Child welfare system design
- Family law/child abuse interface
- Risk assessment and decision making
- Social work education
- Workforce capacity building
- child welfare system design
- government procurement
Fields of Research
|160799||Social Work not elsewhere classified||70|
|160701||Clinical Social Work Practice||10|
|160703||Social Program Evaluation||20|
|Title||Organisation / Department|
|Associate Professor||University of Newcastle
School of Humanities and Social Science
|Dates||Title||Organisation / Department|
|4/5/2018 - 4/4/2019||Senior Lecturer, Social Work,||The University of New South Wales
School of Humanities, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
|Dates||Title||Organisation / Department|
|12/11/2018 - 4/2/2019||
Acting Chief Executive Officer
The Association of Children's Welfare Agencies is the peak body in NSW and the ACT for non government agencies that provide out of home care and other welfare services to children and their families.
The organisation provides advocacy, advice to government and service providers, policy development, training and member support. The agency also has involvement in research and knowledge dissemination.
|Association of Chidren's Welfare Agencies
|2/2/2012 - 12/11/2018||
The Policy and Membership team provide support information and training to service providers, policy development and advice to government, research and, research-to-practice forums.
|Association of Children's Welfare Agencies
Policy and Membership
For publications that are currently unpublished or in-press, details are shown in italics.
Journal article (5 outputs)
|2020||Foote W, 'Driving culture change from within: A peak body and an engaged sector', Developing Practice, 119-132 (2020)|
Fernandez E, Lee JS, Foote W, Blunden H, McNamara P, Kovacs S, Cornefert PA, ''There's More to be Done; Sorry is Just a Word': Legacies of Out-of-Home Care in the 20th Century', Children Australia, 42 176-197 (2017)
© 2017 The Author(s). This research explored the experiences of care leavers, who lived in institutions (such as Children's Homes and orphanages) or other forms of out-of-hom... [more]
© 2017 The Author(s). This research explored the experiences of care leavers, who lived in institutions (such as Children's Homes and orphanages) or other forms of out-of-home care between 1930 and 1989. Participants included representatives of three sub-cohorts: Forgotten Australians, members of the Stolen Generations and Child Migrants. Employing mixed methods, this research used three forms of data collection: Surveys (n = 669), interviews (n = 92) and focus groups (n = 77). This research concentrated on participants' experiences in care, leaving care, life outcomes after care (education, employment, health, wellbeing and relationships), coping strategies and resilience, current service needs and usage and participation in organisations as well as the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Most participants experienced extreme neglect and abuse while in care. Leaving care, often after years of institutionalisation, was generally a frightening and demoralising process. Despite these challenges, a number of participants demonstrated remarkable resilience. For many, however, these experiences had negative consequences in adulthood including serious physical and mental health problems. This often made adult learning, paid employment and positive relationships virtually impossible. Most survivors carry high levels of trauma and complex unmet needs. Implications for policy, practice and services are drawn from key findings.
Foote WL, 'Social Work Field Educators Views on Student Specific Learning Needs', Social Work Education, 34 286-300 (2015)
© 2015, © 2015 Taylor & Francis. Each year a significant proportion of students withdraw from placement in time to avoid penalty, while others fail. This article reports on ... [more]
© 2015, © 2015 Taylor & Francis. Each year a significant proportion of students withdraw from placement in time to avoid penalty, while others fail. This article reports on a small field education research project that identified common learning issues for first placement students. Eighteen experienced supervising field educators (FEs), participated in semi structured focus groups, and identified repeat areas of difficulty in student learning that they had managed as supervisors. They also identified strategies that had been efficacious in supporting student learning. The research undertaken in 2010¿2011 identified three specific themes relating to difficulties in student learning: specific student characteristics that required additional support; the university/FE partnership; student proficiency in using supervision. The findings suggest that a students' right to privacy must be considered in the provision of educational support, and that support is most effective when there is a strong partnership between the FE and university. In addition, further development of field education pedagogy may be needed to embed theory and skills related to the use of supervision and reflective learning.
Foote W, 'Threshold Theory and Social Work Education', Social Work Education, 32 424-438 (2013)
Critical reflection is a concept in social work education that holds a significant place-it provides both foundational theoretical ideas about the practice of social work, and is ... [more]
Critical reflection is a concept in social work education that holds a significant place-it provides both foundational theoretical ideas about the practice of social work, and is also a process used in career-long learning. Understanding critical reflection as a threshold theory concept-a higher education learning and teaching concept-providing a framework which assists educators in teaching critical reflection. Threshold theory identifies certain concepts as foundational within a discipline-these are transformative in profoundly altering the way students understand the subject. As with critical reflection, they are also integrative, conceptually difficult or 'troublesome' and difficult to forget. The intrinsic nature of critical reflection makes its use as a conceptual model in practice a complex task: it requires the integration of theoretical knowledge, in a multiple-step methodology. Students must fully engage with the process, in identifying the impact of their lived experience, values and beliefs on their practice, as well as power, social structures and influential discourses. This article argues that threshold theory assists educators in understanding the nature of learning that is required for students to master critical reflection in social work education. © 2013 Copyright Taylor and Francis Group, LLC.
Foote WL, 'How children's voices were heard 'above the din' in family court proceedings in cases where there were allegations of child sexual abuse: The importance of judicial orientation and professional evidence in the discernment of the child's voice', Child Indicators Research, 4 707-723 (2011)
This article examines how children's voices can be heard in Family Court hearings when there are allegations of child sexual abuse. Using a case study approach, three judgeme... [more]
This article examines how children's voices can be heard in Family Court hearings when there are allegations of child sexual abuse. Using a case study approach, three judgements are examined to see how judicial determination centralised the information fromand about children. In these three purposively selected cases the voices of children was identified from conflicting evidence presented by professional assessors and counsellors. These three cases were selected because of the primacy given to evidence that was presented from and about children. In these cases allegations were not assumed to be artifacts of a parental dispute, instead, the Judge who heard them worked actively to discern the child's voice within the conflicting evidence. Further, these three cases were also distinguished by the range of evidence available that included family reports and assessments from professionals as a result of Court Orders, but also evidence from those who had ongoing involvement with the children in counseling roles. These counsellors were located outside the Family Court, in the child protection sector. The evidence from counsellors was preferred by the Judge as it provided a higher level of detail about the children and their allegations. The 'voice of the child' was constructed by the Judge in their interpretation of professional evidence. © Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011.
|Show 2 more journal articles|
Grants and Funding
|Number of grants||1|
Click on a grant title below to expand the full details for that specific grant.
20191 grants / $1,000
Funding body: Faculty of Education and Arts, University of Newcastle
|Funding body||Faculty of Education and Arts, University of Newcastle|
|Scheme||FEDUA Conference Travel Grant|
|Type Of Funding||Internal|
Number of supervisions
|Year||Level of Study||Research Title||Program||Supervisor Type|
Children at risk-domestic violence. child protection and the Childrens' Court of New South Wales decision - making process
<span style="color:#444444;font-family:ProximaNovaRegular, Arial, sans-serif;font-size:15px;word-spacing:-0.75px;background-color:#ffffff;">The central research question identified for this study was, 'How does professional knowledge and interpretation of the impact of domestic violence and child maltreatment on children inform decision-making in care and protection matters in the Children's Court? Further sub questions to enhance this focus included: How do legal and welfare practitioners make decisions in care and protection matters where domestic violence is a primary risk factor or one of several concurrent risks? What are the factors that influence the assessment of evidence of domestic violence and child maltreatment that is presented to the Children's Court in care and protection matters? What are the interactions between NSW Department of Family and Community Services ('Community Services') practitioners, solicitors and judicial officers in the context of child protection decision-making in care and protection matters involving the combination of domestic violence and child maltreatment? How are the Children's Court's decisions regarding permanency planning legislative requirements for children negotiated in the context of domestic violence and child maltreatment allegations in care and protection matters? What are the outcomes from care and protection proceedings and the key factors determining these outcomes, for children in matters involving the interface of domestic violence and child maltreatment?</span>
|Social Work, University of New South Wales||Co-Supervisor|
The changing role of peak bodies in the child welfare sector. 2019 -
Peak bodies have traditionally held a significant place in the NGO service system, providing a links between agency service providers, vulnerable populations, and government. Service procurement approaches used by government have been changing, and these inevitably impact peak bodies and their role. The application of a marketisation approach by government and what has been termed ‘contractulalism’ (eg Brennan et al 2012; Nevile 2013; Considine et al 2014) as well as increased monitoring and regulation in the wake of a Royal Commission is continuing to change the service system landscape.
While the NSW child welfare service system has recently undergone significant change after extensive recommissioning, commissioning, and procurement of new service elements, other states and territories are also engaging in similar approaches to child welfare service system re-design. Notably, the approach to the procurement of NGO services in NSW appears to be attempting to move towards an ‘outcomes based’ contracting model, with the use of the term ‘outcomes based contracting’ and the associated inclusion of contracts that build in flexibility for the funder - with abatements and rewards and high levels of compliance and performance.
Peak bodies are also subject to the impact of the contractualism, and increasingly funded by government to perform “support” functions, to equip member organisations with the skills to compete against each other and to market themselves to service users. Peaks themselves are increasingly the subject of increasingly frequent monitoring.
This research project will investigate the role of the peak body in the current environment: the challenges and opportunities that exist and how the role impacts the relationship between the service provider, government funder and service users.
NB: This grounded research project is being developed in 2019, with collaborator Dr Jenny Mason. In 2020 there will be opportunities for student participation in a Peaks mini conference to be help in April 2020 during the mid session break. Details of this are yet to be finalised.
Associate Professor Wendy Foote
School of Humanities and Social Science
Faculty of Education and Arts
|Phone||(02) 4921 53041|
|Room||Enter Building code/room eg W- 227|
Callaghan, NSW 2308