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Relationships and recognition: strengthening quality in working relationships between young people with cognitive disability and paid support workers

Project Details

Funding partner

Australian Research Council Linkage Grant (LP150100013)


2015 – 2019 (writing continued to 2021)


Fisher, K.R., Gendera, S., Graham, A., Robinson, S., Johnson, K. & Neale, K. (2018) Disability and support relationships: what role does policy play? Australian Journal of Public Administration, 78, 1, 37-55

Robinson, S., Graham., A., Fisher, K.R., Neale, K., Davy, L., Johnson, K. & Hall, E. (2020) Understanding paid support relationships: possibilities for mutual recognition between young people with disability and their support workers. Disability & Society, 36,9, 1423-1448 DOI: 10.1080/09687599.2020.1794797

Fisher, K.R., Robinson, S., Neale, K., Graham, A., Johnson, K., Davy, L., Hall, E.C. (2020) Impact of organisational practices on the relationships between young people with disabilities and paid social support workers. Journal of Social Work, 21, 6, 1277-1398 doi:10.1177/1468017320954351

Robinson, S., Hall, E., Fisher, K., Graham, A., Johnson, K. & Neale, K. (2021) Using the ‘in-between’ to build quality in support relationships with people with cognitive disability: the significance of liminal spaces and times. Social and Cultural Geography DOI: 10.1080/14649365.2021.1950824

Robinson, S., Fisher, K., Graham, A., Ikaheimo, H., Johnson, K. & Rosengarten, T. (2022) Recasting harm in support: misrecognition between people with intellectual disability and paid workers. Disability & Society.


DCI researchers

Research partners

  • Centre for Children and Young People, Southern Cross University - Professor Anne Graham

  • UNSW Sydney Social Policy Research Centre - Professor Karen Fisher, Professor Kelley Johnson

  • University of Dundee, Scotland - Dr Edward Hall

  • NSW Family and Community Services

  • National Disability Services

  • Northcott


This research used a disability inclusive research design and photo-rich participatory methods to explore paid support relationships between 42 pairs of young people and their support workers; extended by a survey with both groups. Drawing on recognition theory (Honneth, 1995; 2004) and social geography (Hall 2010, 2012), the study explored people’s experiences of being valued, respected and cared about in their work together. Our study considered what was happening when people felt this way, and when they did not, as well as experiences of misrecognition.

Feeling valued, respected and cared about are different but connected aspects of recognition. They are important for support relationships because experiences of interpersonal recognition and misrecognition potentially impact on young people’s identity – their self-confidence, self-respect and self-esteem – and, to some extent, they also impact similarly on their support workers.

These experiences, in turn, are critical to achieving the goals of current disability policy and practice about promoting choice and control, building quality in support, and workforce development. For these reasons, organisations may benefit from considering the potential significance of the paid support relationship between young people and workers to foster conditions for mutual recognition.


Outputs from the research have been influential for the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability and Australia’s Disability Strategy.

Building from the results of this research, a related project Confronting everyday harms: preventing abuse of people with disability has been funded by the ARC to commence in 2022.


Download the easy-read resources for this project:

Working well together summary video

How organisations can help summary video

Using the in-between  summary video

Working well together photo research book

Workbook: Working together well: a guide to building a stronger working relationship

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