Profile of a champion for children’s rights

Photo of Morag McArthur

Prof Morag McArthur is well-known to many at ACU as the Foundation Director of the Institute for Child Protection Studies – a role she has filled capably and diligently for over a decade. Prior to her appointment with the ICPS Morag was an academic in the then School of Social Work – not quite from the foundation of the School but close to it. In that time she was pivotal in ensuring that the Social Work programs were embedded in ACU, were widely respected in the ACT and wider communities and that the Graduates were recognised as highly capable practitioners.

While it may seem odd to some, Morag had a time before ACU – she completed her studies (honours in Social Science, Phd and a Grad Cert in Higher Ed – before it was fashionable) at the University of New South Wales. She worked with Prof Tony Vinson and this provides clues to Morag’s own priority interests and how these have been shaped over the years: a deep and abiding concern for those who lack positions of privilege or power, those who have been rendered voiceless either due to their own circumstances or marginalisation inflicted upon them. This early research training has come to an abundant fruition in the ICPS.

Morag joined the nascent School of Social Work in 1996 just after its foundation.  Despite being labelled, “Professor of Social Work”, Morag is not herself a Social Worker – rather she is a Sociologist. Over her time with the School, she served as Deputy Head of School and briefly as Head of School; but it was as a teacher and research supervisor that she made her most apparent contributions to the life of the discipline, the Signadou Campus and to ACU. Given the nature of the ACT many of Morag’s graduates are now the senior officers and leaders of many ‘not-for-profit’ agencies, Government programs and even departments.  Her work in the classroom has been highly and positively influential for ACU – especially in terms of impact in shaping and altering Government policy and improving the lives of those who live on the margins of our society.

One other area in which Morag has excelled is in the area of the ‘softer’ skills that are essential to successful academic work: networking.  There are now very few people that Morag does not know in Government, ACT or Commonwealth, who work in the fields of community services or child protection.  This influence extends to Heads of Departments, Directors General and even Ministers of the Crown. There are three major outcomes of this networking that have been incredibly valuable for ACU.

Firstly, due to the efforts of Morag and those of Prof Peter Camilleri and Associate Professor Joanna Zubrzycki, the ACT Government worked with ACU to develop sponsored post-graduate programs in Human Services designed to improve the leadership capacities of key personnel within the ACT Government. These programs were relatively short-lived due to changes in Government funding priorities; however, they laid the foundations for the level of influence and the relationship between ACU and the ACT Government that continues to open doors for the University today.

The most tangible outcome of this was the relationship and subsequent funding that established the ICPS.  This relationship will have committed close to $2 million to the ICPS from the ACT Government by the end of the current funding agreement. While not in itself a huge amount of money over the timeframe, it has been the consistent ‘seed funding’ that enabled the ICPS to grow from a single person research idea or thought bubble to a leading commercial research enterprise, then to being a recognised centre of research excellence in the field of Child Protection research.

We know this not by our own measures or assessments but due to the feedback provided by Government departments within and outside the ACT, from our key not-for-profit partners and most recently from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse which has described some research carried out by ICPS researchers as being the key to the success of the Commission’s long term outcomes.

The third element of Morag’s networking capacities which are of significance for ACU has been the way in which her connections have benefitted other scholars and officials of the University.  Due to Morag’s reputation for excellence, commitment and for delivering quality research on time and on budget, many others at ACU have been welcomed by the Not for Profit sector and by Government.

As she steps down from the leadership of the ICPS Morag will return to her chief loves: teaching and research training.  She still has six higher degree research students and will, no doubt, continue to attract high quality applicants; she remains the Chief Investigator on two ARC projects and will oversee the continuing work for the Royal Commission.

Teacher, leader, researcher, mentor: each of these describe a facet of Morag’s contribution to ACU but each of them is also a deeply human expression of a person who builds relationships, develops partnerships and who, in all she does, gives tangible expression to ACU’s core mission to serve those most in need.

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