Professor Karen Thorpe: Child Development, Education and Care

The Thorpe group seek to understand the effects of early life experiences on trajectories across the life course. Their focus is on the first five years of life, a formative period in human brain development in which the quality of experiences, and particularly social interactions, shape brain architecture. The group work with government and non-government agencies to inform child and family policy and practice strategies that improve children’s development and learning.

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Researcher biography

Karen Thorpe is Australian Research Council, Laureate Professor and Group Leader in Child Development, Education and Care at the Queensland Brain Institute, University of Queensland. Her research is grounded in the understanding that early learning experiences shape brain development and are critical in establishing trajectories of health, social inclusion and learning across the lifespan. A particular focus of her work is early care and education environments including parenting, parent work, quality of care and education, and the early years workforce.

Karen leads a multi-disciplinary team of developmental scientists undertaking large scale longitudinal studies with embedded studies to explicate mechanisms that enable or limit children's life chances. She was Foundation Psychologist on the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children at the University of Bristol, UK; led the evaluation of the Preparing School Trial for Queensland Government; led the Queensland team of the E4Kids study of quality in Australian Early Education and Care and a recent data linkage project with Queensland Government to track participants through their school journey. In partnership with Queensland Government, Goodstart Early Learning and the Creche and Kindergarten Association she led a large population study of the Australian ECEC workforce (ARC Linkage). Her current research, as a chief investigator on the ARC Centre of Excellence for Children and Families across the life course, and through an ARC Laureate fellowship, is to examine barriers to providing high quality early learning services in developmentally vulnerable communities.

In 2013 and again in 2019 Karen was named by the Australian Financial Review as among Australia's 100 Women of Influence for the impacts of her research on educational and family policy. In 2020 she was recognised by Australian Government, Advance Global Awards for her international contribution to education. Karen chairs the Australian Early Years Reference Council for Evidence for Learning, Australia whose remit is to build a strong evidence-base in early childhood education and care with focus on translation into policy and practice. She is also director on the board of the Australian Research Council for Children and Youth and advisor to the national board of Beyond Blue – Be You.

Featured projects Duration
10000 hours
ARC Australian Laureate Fellowship
Australian Research Council
Brain Builders
Thriving Queensland Kids Partnership