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Berni Kelly

photo of Berni Kelly

BSc (Hons) Social Work (1997), Diploma Social Work (1997)
PhD Social Work (2002), PG Cert. in Higher Education Training (2006)
Senior Lecturer in Social Work
Room 02.005, 6 College Park
Ext. 1486; Email:




Research Interests

My research interests are disability, child and youth identities, looked after children and transitions to adult life. I have an active interest in participatory research with children and young people, including the development of creative methodologies for consulting disabled children and young people.  I am Co-Chair of the recently launched Disability Research Network at Queen’s University Belfast. The network is a multi-disciplinary initiative aimed at enhancing collaboration between academics, policy makers, practitioners and community or voluntary organisations with an interest in disability issues. Please refer to the homepage for further details of this initiative:

I previously worked in the Social Work Department in the University of Ulster and as Regional Coordinator and Researcher for the National Children's Bureau. During this time, I managed a range of research projects including research on the needs of cross-community children in public care and projects on children and young people’s awareness and experiences of anti-sectarianism. I completed my doctoral study on family support services for learning disabled children and their families in Northern Ireland in 2002. Following this, I spent almost three years in New Zealand working as a Senior Researcher at the Donald Beasley Institute. During this time I worked on various disability research projects. Since moving to QUB in 2005, I have been involved in a range of research projects including disability studies and social work education projects.

I am currently Principal Investigator on two research studies:


  • ‘Transitions and outcomes for care leavers with mental health and intellectual disabilities.’ (with J. Pinkerton, G. Davidson, E. Gilligan, T. Hazzard, J. Wilson and T. Doherty). Funded by: DHSSPSNI Public Health Agency: R & D Office. Due for completion by October 2015.
  • ‘Meeting the needs of disabled children and young people in public care in Northern Ireland.’ (with S. Dowling and K. Winter) Funded by: Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. Due for completion by: February 2015.


Within the School I am a member of the ‘Family Policy and Child Welfare’ Research Cluster as well as the University wide ‘Research Forum for the Child’. I am also a member of the Northern Ireland Social Care Council, the Editorial Advisory Committee for the Child Care in Practice journal and the Child Care Research Forum.

Completed Research Projects:

  • ‘What a Difference a Decade Makes: exploring disability and identity in young adulthood’. Funded by the British Academy. Completed December 2012.
  • ‘Development of State of Evidence Papers on Disability Policy & Practice’ (with G. Davidson, J. Carter-Anand, G. Macdonald & Matrix Knowledge). Funded by: National Disability Authority. Completed December 2012.
  • Understanding Wellbeing in the Lives of Adolescents with Disabilities: an exploratory study’. A collaborative study with ICCR funded by: HPSS: R&D Office.
  • ‘Enhancing Social Work Students’ Learning Experience and Readiness to Undertake Practice’ (with George Wilson). Funded by SWAP & HEA. Completed 31st August 2009. 
  • ‘Working with challenging and disruptive situations in residential child care’(with Institute of Child Care Research, National Children’s Bureau & University of Bristol). Funded by: SCIE (Social Care Institute of Excellence). Completed June 2007.
  • ‘Service user and carer involvement in health and social care in Northern Ireland’ (with Joe Duffy et al.). Funded by SCIE (Social Care Institute of Excellence). Completed June 2007.
  • ‘Evaluation of three trials of needs assessment and service coordination’ (with A. Bray & J. Macarthur). Funded from Health Research Council New Zealand. Completed 2006.
  • ‘Ethnographic study of the impact of school on disabled and non-disabled children’s identities at transition from primary to secondary school’ (with J. MacArthur & M. Gaffney). Funded by Marsden Fund, Royal Society of New Zealand. Completed 2006.
  • ‘Building Capability in Special Education for Students with Moderate to High Needs’ (with J. MacArthur & N. Higgins). Funded by the Ministry of Education New Zealand. Completed 2004.
  • ‘Meeting the needs of cross-community children and their families in Northern Ireland’ (with R. Sinclair). Funded by the Research and Development Office, N.I. and completed 2003.

Teaching interests

I am Programme Director for two routes to the Bachelor of Social Work Degree: the two year Relevant Graduate Route and the five year Part-time Route. My teaching interests are: childhood disability, disability studies and social work theory. I am currently the module coordinator for the ‘Theory, Skills and Preparation for Practice Learning’ module.


Wilson, G. & Kelly, B. (2010) Evaluating the Effectiveness of Social Work Education: Preparing Students for Practice Learning. British Journal of Social Work, 40, 2431–2449.

Connolly, P., Kelly, B. & Smyth, A. (2009) Ethnic Habitus and Young Children: A Case Study of Northern Ireland European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 17, (2), 217 – 232.

Higgins, N., MacArthur, J. & Kelly, B. (2009) Including disabled children at school: Is it really as simple as ‘A, C, D’? International Journal of Inclusive Education, 13, (5).471-487

Milner, P. & Kelly, B. (2009) Community participation and inclusion: people with disabilities defining their place. Disability & Society, Feb. (2)

MacArthur, J., Sharp, S., Kelly, B. & Gaffney, M. (2007) Disabled Children Negotiating School Life: Agency, Difference and Teaching Practice. International Journal of Children’s Rights, 15, 99–120

MacArthur, J., Sharp, S., Kelly, B. & Gaffney, M. (2007) Does it matter that my body is different? Disabled children, impairment, disability and identity. Childrenz Issues, 11, (2), 25-30.

Kelly, B. (2007). Methodological issues for qualitative research involving learning disabled children. International Journal of Social Research Methodology: Theory and Practice, 10, (1), 21-35.

Kelly, B (2005). 'Chocolate… makes you autism': impairment, disability and childhood identities. Disability and Society, 20, (3), 261-275.

Kelly, B. (2005).  Social work with disabled children. Childrenz Issues, 9, (1), 22-28.

Kelly, B. & Sinclair, R. (2005). Meeting the needs of children from cross-community families in public care in Northern Ireland Child and Family Social Work, 10, 331-342.

MacArthur, J., Kelly, B. & Higgins, N. (2005). Supporting the learning and social experiences of students with disabilities: What does the research say? In D. Fraser, R. Moltzen & K. Ryba (Ed.s) (3rd Ed.) Learners with special needs in Aotearoa New Zealand . Victoria, N.Z.: Dunmore Press. (p. 49-74).

MacArthur, J. & Kelly, B. (2004) 'I was born with a few disabilities- this does not stop me from trying my best and I give most things a go': Inclusion from the perspectives of students with disabilities. SET: Research Information for Teachers, 2, 44-48.

Sinclair, R., McCole, P. & Kelly, B. (2004), The Views of Young People in Northern Ireland on Anti-Sectarianism. Child Care in Practice, 10, (2), 155-166.

Kelly, B. & Monteith, M. (2003). Supporting disabled children and their families in Northern Ireland: A research and policy review London : National Children's Bureau & Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Kelly, B (2003). Working Together to Support Children who have Intellectual Disabilities and their Families. Childrenz Issues, 7, (2), 50-55.

Kelly, B. & Sinclair, R. (2003). Children from cross-community families in public care in Northern Ireland. London: National Children’s Bureau.

Kelly, B (2002). Young People's Views on Communities and Sectarianism in Northern Ireland Child Care in Practice, 8, (1), 65-73.

Connolly, P., Smith, A. & Kelly, B. (2002). Too Young to Notice: The Cultural and Political Awareness of 3-6 Year Olds in Northern Ireland. Belfast: Community Relations Council in Partnership with Channel 4 Programmes.

Kelly, B., McColgan, M. & Scally, M (2000). 'A Chance to Say - Involving children who have learning disabilities in a pilot study on family support services. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 4, (2), 115 – 127.

Kelly, B. (1999). Teaching Self-Protection Skills. PRACTICE, 11, (1), 43-52. ?

Davidson, G., Kelly, B., Macdonald, G., Rizzo, M., Lombard, L., Abogunrin, O., Clift-Matthews, V. and Martin, A. (2015) Supported decision making: a review of the international literature. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry (forthcoming).

Kelly, B., Dowling, S. and Winter, K. (2014) A Review of the Legislative and Policy Context in relation to Looked After Disabled Children and Young People in Northern Ireland. OFMDFM and Queen’s University Belfast.

Kelly, B. (2013) “Interviewing children with disability in the presence of a parent” In Graham, A., Powell, M., Taylor, N., Anderson, D. & Fitzgerald, R. (editors). Ethical Research Involving Children, Florence: UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti, pp. 154-156.

Kelly, B. (2013). Don’t Box Me In: Disability, Identity and Transitions to Young Adult Life. Belfast: Barnardos and Queen’s University Belfast.

Launch of new transitions research report

Don't Box Me In: Executive Summary 
Don't Box Me In: Full          

Dowling, S., Kelly, B. and Winter, K. (2013) Disabled Children and Young People who are Looked After: A Literature Review. Belfast: OFMDFM and Queen’s University Belfast.