New research to support outreach programs in Australia and overseas

ACU experts will undertake new research through the Stakeholder Engaged Scholarship Unit (SESU) to support the health needs of newborns and growing children in Australia and Papua, Indonesia.

The SESU has announced funding for two new research projects to support two organisations who, through a network of volunteers, seek to improve the health of young children.

Associate Professor Natasha Franklin and Dr Isabelle Lys from the Faculty of Health Sciences will lead the Papuan Nutrition Project, in partnership with the Black Pearl Network, a volunteer-based organisation that offers English language education for adults and children in West Papua, Indonesia. This project aims to deliver community-informed, evidence-based strategies to remove the barriers to healthy eating practices.

Also from the Faculty of Health Sciences, Dr Judith Hough and Dr Anna Cooper (Pritchard) will lead an evaluation of Life’s Little Treasures Foundation, Australia’s leading charity supporting families of premature or sick babies.

SESU Advisory Group chair Br David Hall fms said the two new research projects aligned with ACU’s commitment to the dignity of the human person at all stages of life.

“ACU is pleased to support the work of the Black Pearl Network and Life’s Little Treasures Foundation in ensuring the youngest members of our local and international communities, and their families, receive the highest quality of support and resources,” Br Hall said.

“Our researchers in Health Sciences are world-class and are devoted to using their expertise and knowledge in supporting children and families to thrive through these SESU research projects.”

In addition to the two new health projects, the SESU will also support historian Associate Professor Darius von Guttner and the Order of Malta Association in Australia in a pilot online study course exploring the history, mission, and spiritual practices of the historic lay religious order.

Since 2020 the SESU has paired ACU experts and academics with organisations who support communities experiencing disadvantage or marginalisation.

For more information about the SESU research projects, email

The successful 2023 SESU research projects:

Black Pearl Network: Addressing stunting and improving nutritional practices in West Papua, Indonesia

Black Pearl Network, who provide community development, health and English language programs to local Papuan children and adults, seek to reduce stunting of children and malnourishment amongst the Indigenous populations of the Papuan provinces of Indonesia. The project will focus on removing the barriers to healthy eating practices and improving local peoples’ nutritional knowledge and practices, including knowledge on the benefits of local foods. This project will measure current community awareness of healthy nutritional practices by surveying the communities Black Pearl Network work with within Nabire. The findings will support the Black Pearl Network and their partners to tailor appropriate advocacy and educational strategies to the local community.

Life’s Little Treasures Foundation: Improving outcomes for families with a sick or premature baby

Life’s Little Treasures Foundation, which supports over 22,000 families with premature and sick babies in Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU) and Special Care Units (SCU) across Australia each year, aim to evaluate the impact of their products and services provided to families with a sick or premature child.

Through a literature review, survey and focus groups involving the foundation’s families, this project will seek to establish the mental health impacts for parents with a premature or sick baby in the NICU or SCU, and the factors that positively impact parents’ and families’ wellbeing – including the value of having access to peer support. The project will also seek to understand families’ experiences of the support provided by the Life’s Little Treasures Foundation. The findings of the evaluation will be used to inform Life’s Little Treasures Foundation’s products and services in the future and support their education and advocacy efforts to improve outcomes for parents and families.

The Order of Malta Study Program

The Order of Malta, a Catholic lay religious order, is one of the oldest institutions in Western and Christian civilisation. The members of the Order are committed to achieving spiritual perfection within the Church and to dedicating their energies to serving the poor and the sick. The Australian Association of the Order is developing and planning to pilot an online course aimed at providing resources for its members to study the Hospitaller tradition as the history of the Order represents a pilgrimage of faith and charity.

The Order of Malta Study Program is designed to offer a structured resource to deepen members' understanding of the Order's history, mission, and spiritual practices. These practices include a dedication to both the Catholic faith and to the service of the sick and poor. The Program aims to foster personal development in members, aspirants, and volunteers, equipping them with practical and theological skills. These skills will empower them to fulfil the Order's service-oriented mission in the world. Offered online, the course will initially be piloted and evaluated with Australian members of the Order.

The program will remain accessible as an ongoing resource, serving as a long-term educational and spiritual tool for both current and aspiring members. Evaluation findings will be utilised to support the future development of the self-study program and its potential expansion beyond the Australian context.

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