Dr Kathy Ellem

Senior Lecturer

School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work
Faculty of Health and Behavioural Sciences
+61 7 334 69013


Dr Kathy Ellem is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work at The University of Queensland, Australia. She has previously practiced as a social worker in both government and non-government sectors, working with children, young people and their families in disability and child protection services. As a social worker, she has been actively involved in casework; case management; behavioural intervention; group work; community development; and individual, citizen and systems advocacy. She has taken on family leadership roles in the disability sector, including her former role as President of Queensland Parents for People with a Disability. She is a member of the Queensland board of the Australasian Society for Intellectual Disability, and committee member of Queensland Advocacy Incorporated and Community Living Association.

Kathy completed her PhD in social work at the University of Queensland, researching the experiences of people with intellectual disability in the Queensland prison system. 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; disability workforce development; 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 focuses on how both teaching and research can influence positive change in social work practice and in the lives of vulnerable people.

Kathy currently leads the Honours research course for the Bachelor of Social Work (Hons) and supervises research higher degree students in the fields of disability, mental health and health.

Research Interests

  • Young people with complex support needs
    Young people who are at significant risk of social exclusion and adverse life experiences, including young people with developmental, cognitive, psychosocial, physical impairment and other health conditions. How systems and services respond to this group
  • Inclusive research methodologies
    Life story work, arts-based methods, digital life stories, body-mapping research.
  • People with cognitive disability and the criminal justice system
    The experiences of people with intellectual disability and other cognitive disabilities as accused persons - including interactions with police, courts, youth justice and correctional facilities.
  • Families of people with a disability
    Person-centred planning; family-centred practice; National Disability Insurance Scheme; families who have relinquished care of their loved one with a disability.


  • Graduate Certificate in Academic Practice, Qld. UT
  • Bachelor of Social Work (Honours Class 1), The University of Queensland
  • Doctor of Philosophy, The University of Queensland


View all Publications


  • Doctor Philosophy

  • Doctor Philosophy

  • Doctor Philosophy

View all Supervision


Book Chapter

  • Chui, Wing Hong and Ellem, Kathy (2017). Youth justice. Social work and human services best practice. (pp. 26-48) Annandale, N.S.W., Australia: Federation Press.

  • MacDonald, Sarah, Ellem, Kathy and Wilson, Jill (2016). Supporting young people with an intellectual disability transitioning from out-of-home care to adult life in Queensland, Australia. Young people transitioning from out-of-home care: international research, policy and practice. (pp. 45-69) edited by Philip Mendes and Pamela Snow. London, United Kingdom : Palgrave Macmillan. doi: 10.1057/978-1-137-55639-4_3

Journal Article

Conference Publication

Other Outputs

Grants (Administered at UQ)

PhD and MPhil Supervision

Current Supervision

  • Doctor Philosophy — Principal Advisor

  • Doctor Philosophy — Principal Advisor

    Other advisors:

  • Doctor Philosophy — Principal Advisor

    Other advisors:

  • Doctor Philosophy — Associate Advisor