The BetterStart research group involves a multi-disciplinary group of academics, research students and visiting fellows, located within the School of Public Health, The University of Adelaide.

Professor John Lynch

Director, BetterStart Health and Development Research

John is a world renowned epidemiologist and Professor of Public Health. He has numerous awards and Fellowships, including a Canada Research Chair in Population Health, an honorary doctorate in Medical Science from the University of Copenhagen, and a prestigious NHMRC Australia Fellowship. John has over 300 journal publications, and he has been named one of the world’s highly cited researchers by Thomson Reuters, placing him in the top 1% of cited scientists in his field.

Associate Professor Catherine Chittleborough

Deputy Head, School of Public Health; Epidemiologist

Cathy has 25 years’ experience in epidemiology and public health, in both academic and government institutions. Her PhD was awarded in 2009, followed by two years postdoctoral research at the University of Bristol before she returned to the University of Adelaide in 2011. Cathy's research focuses on the impact of social, economic, health and welfare disadvantage on outcomes for children and families, She has an interest in applying causal epidemiological techniques to determine how to reduce inequalities in, and improve overall population levels of, child health and development. Cathy also chairs the School of Public Health Programs Board and teaches public health and epidemiology to undergraduate medical and health sciences students.

Associate Professor Murthy Mittinty

Senior Research Fellow

Murthy Mittinty is an accredited statistician. His interests are both in the development of statistical methodology as well as in the application of statistical methods. Murthy’s methodological interests are in the areas of causal inference, longitudinal data and data linkage. His applied research is in the area of child development, oral health, microbiome analysis, and traumatic brain injury.

Dr Rhiannon Pilkington

Senior Research Fellow, Co-Director, BetterStart

Rhiannon is a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Public Health. She is an epidemiologist with expertise in translational research, epidemiologic research methods, data linkage, and the analysis of large, population datasets. Rhiannon's work involves collaborating with government child protection, health, and education departments to bridge the gap between research and practice. Her research is primarily in child protection. Rhiannon is also involved in projects investigating the effect of different forms of early life adversity on long-term outcomes for children in South Australia.

Associate Professor Catia Malvaso

Senior Research Fellow

Dr Catia Malvaso is a senior research fellow with the BetterStart Child Health and Development Research Group in the School of Public Health and in the School of Psychology at The University of Adelaide. Her research is informed by an interdisciplinary perspective spanning criminology, public health and psychology. In 2019, Catia was awarded a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) from the Australian Research Council to support her research into the pathways between child protection, youth justice and adult corrections. In 2020, she was awarded the Early Career Researcher Prize from the DLC division of the American Society of Criminology, and in 2021 a South Australian Tall Poppy Award from the Australian Institute of Policy and Science. Catia leads BetterStart’s research theme on criminal justice.

Dr Angela Gialamas

Postdoctoral Research Fellow

In 2015, Angela was awarded her PhD with a thesis that investigated the association between the type, time and quality of child care in the first three years of life, and children’s cognitive and socio-emotional development as they started school. Her post-doctoral research focuses on the effects of early life disadvantage on children's later development, including analyses of socioeconomic disadvantage, child care, and parenting investments in children. She uses many Australian datasets including the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, the Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children and the BEBOLD platform to explore the areas of research listed above.

Ms Alicia Montgomerie

Research Associate, Lead Data Analyst

Alicia is proficient in conducting complex epidemiological analyses using large datasets and has extensive experience analysing linked administrative data. She works extensively with the BEBOLD platform, and her research focuses on investigating children that come in contact with the child protection system, and trying to identify children who are at risk of maltreatment, as well as exploring their health, developmental, academic and behavioural outcomes by linking to other administrative datasets.

Dr Dandara Haag

Postdoctoral Researcher

Dandara is a Brazilian researcher with a Bachelor in Dentistry. She completed her PhD in 2018 at the Australian Research Centre for Population Oral Health (ARCPOH), the University of Adelaide. Dandara's PhD work evaluated the impact of general and oral health conditions on the quality of life of individuals. Dandara works with the BetterStart group on various projects involving epidemiological analysis of de-identified datasets, including child protection and parenting investments.

Ms Anna Kalamkarian

PhD Candidate

Anna commenced working with the team as a research associate in early 2020, after completing her Honours project relating to smoking cessation during pregnancy. She has worked with Associate Professor Catherine Chittleborough on various projects, including the 2018 Channel 7 Children’s Research Foundation Grant, “Thriving in adversity: disadvantaged children performing well in school.” Currently, Anna is undertaking her PhD with a focus on disentangling multidimensional disadvantage and child protection contact. She has been awarded a prestigious Westpac Future Leaders Scholarship to undertake her postgraduate research. Outside of research, Anna also contributes to teaching undergraduate and postgraduate public health courses at the university.

Ms Naomi Baum

PhD Candidate/Research Associate

Naomi is a clinical psychologist currently undertaking a PhD with the College of Medicine and Public Health at Flinders University, co-supervised by Dr Rhiannon Pilkington at the University of Adelaide. Naomi’s career has included clinical work in hospitals and in private practice, as well as analytical and service evaluation work in government, university and consultancy settings. She has a passion for prevention, and for combining clinical and administrative data to better inform “what matters, and what works” in health and welfare services. Naomi is looking at various trajectories of children involved with Child Protection.

Dr Stephanie Byrne

Postdoctoral Researcher

Dr Stephanie Byrne is a Research Associate within the BetterStart Child and Development Research Group at the University of Adelaide. She completed her PhD in Epidemiology at the University of Melbourne in June 2021. Dr Byrne has a background using large longitudinal data to examine relationships between lifestyle factors and chronic disease.  She has an interest in advanced statistical methods and is currently working with Dr Catia Malvaso across several projects primarily focusing on investigating the pathways between child protection, youth justice and adult corrections.

Dr Hugh Hunkin

Postdoctoral Researcher

Hugh began at BetterStart in mid-2021, during the final year of his PhD and Master of Psychology (Clinical) degree.  He is currently working on a large systematic review evaluating two family-based treatments aimed at improving youth functioning and reducing reoffending, as part of Dr Catia Malvaso’s Discovery Early Career Researcher Award funding.  Hugh is a registered psychologist and his research interests largely relate to mental health across the lifespan.

Jessica Dobrovic

Research Associate, PhD Candidate

Jessica Dobrovic has over a decade of experience working in the non-government (NGO) sector, intimate knowledge of the human services landscape in South Australia, well-developed quantitative data analysis skills across a range of software platforms, and extensive experience with qualitative research methods. 
Jessica was the Data Analyst for Australia’s first social impact bond to address homelessness and was part of the support team that achieved the first quality by name list of people experiencing homelessness outside of North America. She was awarded the Channel 7 Young Achiever of the year 2020 (Create Change Award) and SA Social Worker of the Year 2021 (Agent of Change Award)Jessica’s research focuses on investigating drivers of disadvantage in young people and families, and the impacts of homelessness

Ms Jacqueline Aldis

Senior Research Coordinator

Jacki has experience as a clinical, diagnostic and trials researcher with the Women’s and Children’s Hospital , Lyell McEwin Hospital, Flinders Medical Centre and  the University of Adelaide. She has coordinated Clinical Trials in the fields of Vaccinology, Pregnancy and Child Nutrition and Indigenous Oral Health. Jacki has logistically managed research teams on fieldwork locations in the metropolitan, regional and remote areas of SA and NT. Over many years of experience in research, Jacki can provide efficient and competent support to the Lead Investigators and practical support and management to all staff and students.

Alexandra Procter

PhD Candidate

Alexandra commenced her PhD in public health prior to completing her Bachelor of Health Sciences (Advanced) and Honours Degree (Public Health) at The University of Adelaide. She has worked as a research associate with the BetterStart Child Health and Development research group, primarily using linked data as part of the BEBOLD platform. Alexandra's PhD research currently involves undertaking analysis using DOMINO data. She has been awarded a prestigious Westpac Future Leaders Scholarship to undertake her postgraduate research.

Ms Kimberly Klassman

PhD Candidate

Kimberly joined BetterStart in April 2020. She completed her Bachelor of Psychological Science with Honours in 2018. Her thesis involved conducting a meta-analysis on whether omega-3 supplementation reduces externalizing behaviours in young people. After completing her Honours, Kimberly worked in supporting children in the child protection system living in out of home care. In February 2020 Kimberly began her role as a Research Assistant in BetterStart and subsequently the School of Psychology across various projects. Since joining BetterStart, Kimberly has been working on a large systematic review of programs focused on family violence, and preventing child maltreatment. During this time she has become familiar with the BEBOLD platform through weekly attendance of research meetings. Kimberly has experience in a range of qualitative and quantitative methodologies as well as competence in data analysis in R, SPSS and STATA. She has manuscripts currently under review from completed projects. Kimberly is in her first year of her PhD which she began in March 2022.  

Dr Razlyn Rahim

PhD Candidate

Razlyn completed her undergraduate studies in medicine at The University of Adelaide in 2005, and then undertook an MPH with Flinders University in 2010 and advanced training in public health medicine with the Australasian Faculty of Public Health Medicine. She attained her fellowship in 2015. Razlyn's areas of interests include health inequality and disadvantage particularly in ethnic minority groups. Her PhD topic will be examining the education attainment and healthcare experience in children of a Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) background who have had contact with Child Protection Services. Her supervisors are Prof John Lynch, Dr Rhiannon Pilkington and Prof Katina D'Onise.

Jessica Judd

PhD Candidate

Jessica completed a Bachelor of Health and Medical Sciences (Advanced) at The University of Adelaide in 2019, and undertook her honours with the BetterStart group in 2020, under the supervision of Dr Rhiannon Pilkington, Dr Catherine Chittleborough and Ms Alexandra Procter. Jessica’s honours project explored mental health related hospitalisations for children who have experienced different types of contact with the child protection system. Jessica started with BetterStart as a Research Assistant in August 2019 while completing her undergraduate degree where she primarily used Stata to complete her data analyses, became a valued member of the BetterStart team and learned how the BEBOLD data is used through her attendance at weekly research meetings. She completed her project and is now working with her supervisors to publish her paper and data analysis on this project. She has been awarded the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences Honours Scholarship, the School of Public Health Honours Dux, and a Healthy Development Adelaide and Channel 7 Children’s Research Foundation PhD Excellence Award. Jessica is now in her second year of her PhD, which she began in March 2021 with Dr Catherine Chittleborough, Dr Rhiannon Pilkington and Dr Catia Malvaso.


Cherise Fletcher

PhD Candidate

Cherise has a Bachelor of Biotechnology with Honours, as well as a Bachelor of Midwifery (pre-registration) both from Flinders University. She has research experience in reproductive biology and has clinical care experience working as a midwife in SA, the ACT and NSW. Cherise joined the Betterstart research team in 2018 commencing a PhD. Her PhD is exploring smoking cessation in pregnancy, with a geographical focus in northern Adelaide. She is supervised by Professor Lisa Smithers, Dr. Angela Gialamas and Dr. Elizabeth Hoon.

Tessa Gloede

PhD Candidate

Tessa completed a Bachelor of Psychological Science at The University of Adelaide in 2021, and the following year she completed Honours with the BetterStart group, under the supervision of Dr Catia Malvaso and Dr Rhiannon Pilkington. Tessa's Honours project explored the relationship between child maltreatment, adolescent risk behaviour and Youth Justice system contact. Currently, Tessa is undertaking her PhD with supervision from Dr Catia Malvaso, Dr Rhiannon Pilkington and Dr Stephanie Byrne. The research focuses on providing optimal support for young people who experience Youth Justice system supervision and understanding the pathways between Child Protection involvement and contact with the Youth Justice system. Tessa also works with young people living in out-of-home care under the guardianship of the Chief Executive, which has motivated her to pursue research aimed to improve outcomes for care-experienced young people.  

Xueying Sun

Honours Student

Xueying has just completed her 5th year of medical school and is undertaking an Honour’s year with BetterStart before completing her 6th and final year of the Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery. Her Honour’s project will look at responses to the Wellbeing and Engagement Census (WEC), conducted on South Australian students in year 4 – 12, and linking it to sociodemographic factors as well as mental health hospitalisation. Xueying hopes to specialise in psychiatry after graduating from medical school.

Dr Matthew Kaesler

Postdoctoral Researcher, Data Analyst

Matthew holds a PhD in psychology and is interested in applying theoretically rigorous approaches to generate useful answers to real-world problems. He works on projects associated with the BEBOLD data platform in characterising the developmental outcomes of children who have contact with the child protection system, and evaluating interventions that aim to prevent adverse outcomes. 

Gene Mercer

Research Associate, Data Analyst

Gene brings a decade of experience working within the South Australian Public Service in roles focused on designing, implementing, monitoring and evaluating the impact of justice and social welfare interventions and policies. He completed a Bachelor of Behavioural Science in 2012 and in 2022, he commenced a PhD in Criminology, which is focused on evaluating the health, crime and system impacts of the South Australian Police Drug Diversion Initiative. Gene is skilled in quantitative and qualitative methods and enjoys undertaking applied research where the outcomes have real-world relevance and the findings have the potential to influence policy and practice.


We have active research collaborations with the following organisations:


  • MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit, School of Social and Community Medicine, University of Bristol (UK)
  • Institute of Child Health, University College London (UK)
  • Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health, McGill University (Canada)
  • Department of Public Health, University of Otago (New Zealand)
  • Centre for Epidemiological Research, Federal University of Pelotas (Brazil)


  • VicBiostats, jointly supported by the University of Melbourne and Monash University
  • Mothers and Babies, Indigenous Health at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute
  • Indigenous Oral Health Unit, Australian Research Centre for Population Oral Health
  • Research and Evaluation Unit, Women's and Children's Health Network
  • Centre for Big Data Research in Health, University of New South Wales
  • Menzies School of Health Research, Darwin
  • Telethon Kids Institute, Western Australia
  • University of Wollongong
  • Monash University
  • The University of Sydney
  • Flinders University
  • Robinson Research Institute

Government & Non-Government Agencies

  • Heart Foundation, Australia
  • SA Health
  • SA Child and Family Health Services
  • SA Women's and Children's Health Network
  • SA Department of Education (formerly also Child Development)
  • SA Department for Child Protection (formerly Families SA)
  • SA Department of Premier and Cabinet
  • Australian Department of Social Services (DSS)
  • SA Department for Treasury and Finance