Dr. Rachel Birnbaum


Cross-appointed between Childhood (Interdisciplinary Studies) & Social Work

What courses do you currently teach?

Currently I teach: Childhood and the Justice System; Human Rights and Child Advocacy; Seen and Heard: Child Participation in Separation and Divorce; and Social Work Ethics and the Law

Areas of Research

My areas of research are interdisciplinary and collaborative with colleagues in social work, law, medicine, psychology, and sociology.    

Are you working on any current research projects?

Currently, I am working on several different research projects. The first project is funded by CIHR and I am one of several co-investigators.  My role is examining policy implications across Canada about parenting children with neurodevelopmental disorders and access to respite care, case management services, and financial supports. This is an exciting project as we have created a website for parents and policy that outlines what services are available across Canada for parents and children to access that is in one location.  Another area of research is exploring the impact of parental separation on children who have special needs from both a financial, emotional and medical perspective.  Together with my colleagues we published several different chapters and several articles are forthcoming.  I work very closely with graduate students on these projects and they have either authored them or have been part of the contribution towards publication.

The second research project has been based on a SSHRC grant that has led to many publications since 2009 and more forthcoming all related to family justice.  The initial project was the creation of an instrument that clinicians can use to differentiate different levels and types of conflict post separation.  The instrument is being used in several other research projects in Quebec City and Montreal’s family justice system.  With colleagues in law and psychology we have presented both nationally and internationally on our work in post separation disputes and pathways through the family justice system. These presentations have led to many international and national publications on children’s participation post separation, the impact of self- representation in the family justice system, and judicial interviewing of children in family related disputes.

The third research project is ongoing about evaluating the Integrated Domestic Violence Court, the only one in Canada that hears both criminal and family matters sequentially. Preliminary qualitative results have been presented at the domestic violence conference in London, Ontario and a publication is forthcoming based on the implementation of the court and the themes found.

How does your program make a difference?

All of these projects have allowed close to 50 undergraduate and graduate students from all disciplines working on them.  Many of these students have gone on to pursue law school, graduate work and/or doctoral work.  It has been a tremendous pleasure working with these students over the years and we keep in touch as their career choices unfold.

My program of research is practice based leading to further research and policy implications in the family justice system.  Along with my colleagues, our work has been either cited or used by lawyers, judges, mental health professionals and policy makers to further work in the area of family justice.  

What do you enjoy about working at King’s?

Having said all of this, none of this research and output would have been possible without the support of King’s administration over the years.  I am deeply indebted to the Director of Social Work, Barbara Decker Pierce, and both the Dean and Associate Dean. I am also indebted to my colleagues in social work who support my research work in ways that are often not seen.

What are your interests outside of King’s?

My “outside activities” are watching psychological thrillers or science fiction movies and I love scuba diving. 

What makes your program unique?

My professional and academic career is owed to Social Work and more recently to Childhood. Therefore, I have tried to give back to the profession by being the former President of the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers (OCSWSSW) for four years and am presently the President of the Canadian Council of Social Work Regulators (CCSWR).

Both the BSW and MSW programs are practice degrees and advanced practice degrees. As such, social work is more often practiced in multiple settings with law, nursing, education, mental health, health and so on. Social work students must learn to work in an interdisciplinary and collaborative manner and understand what that means for their own identity as a social worker in the different disciplines (i.e., education, mental health, health, child welfare, etc).  King’s focus on interdisciplinary programs is an excellent example of how the disciplines mix and mingle with one another and allow our students to get a holistic education.  It is exciting to be part of the King’s community and that students have access to a range of scholars in these various disciplines.