Associate Professor Michael O'Brien

PhD, MA, BA, DipSW


Mike joined the School of Counselling, Human Services and Social Work in March 2011.

Mike worked in social work in the equivalent of Child, Youth and Family and North Canterbury Hospital Board before joining academic work following his Masters degree in 1980.

He contributed to the development of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes at Massey University and was an initial staff member at its Albany campus. He chaired the University’s ethics committee and was initial Head of the School of Social and Cultural Studies and Programme Director for the social work programme. He retired from full-time work at Massey in 2011. He has supervised doctoral students across a diverse range of topics and with students who have used different methods in their research. He has maintained an active link with social work and the social services and delivered the Merv Hancock lecture at the Association’s Congress in 2010. He was the Astrid Lindgren Fellow in Children’s Studies at Växjö University, Sweden, 2009. Recent publications traverse a range of child poverty, welfare reform and social service questions.

Research | Current

  • Child Poverty: Current work: Child poverty in New Zealand and effect of welfare changes.
  • Social work and social services: The social justice practice of social workers and effectiveness in the delivery of social services. Current developments in social services and social work, expecially the developmento f the investment approach and reform of CYF.
  • Social Security reform: Analysis of the underpinnings, implications and directions of social security reform. Current work: Range of publications on welfare reforms in New Zealand and International journals.
  • See google scholar profile here

Teaching | Current

Mike taught in the undergraduate and postgraduate programmes at Massey University since 1980 where he had responsibility for introductory social policy courses, courses on social policy concepts and theories, social policy development and evaluation and for postgraduate research projects. Currently supervising 7 postgraduate students.

Postgraduate supervision


  • 18 Doctoral theses
  • 20 Masters theses


Masters and Doctoral supervision

Areas of expertise

Welfare reform, child poverty, social work and social services, inequality

Committees/Professional groups/Services

  • Life member, Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers
  • Member, social justice governance group, Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers
  • Member, Management committee, Child Poverty Action Group
  • Convenor, Inequality and Poverty Group, New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services
  • Board member, Impact Research Advisory programme
  • Chaired Alternative Welfare Working Group, 2010
  • Journal reviewer, Qualitative Social Work, International Social Work, Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work Review. Reviewer for Policy Press, UK

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

As of 29 October 2020 there will be no automatic updating of 'selected publications and creative works' from Research Outputs. Please continue to keep your Research Outputs profile up to date.
  • O'Brien MA (2016). Leaping into the future: Setting the shape of Aotearoa New Zealand's services for children and families. Townsville, Queensland. 29 September - 30 September 2016. Related URL.
  • O'Brien M (2016). It takes us ALL to bring up our children well. Tui Motu Interislands (201), 3-3.
  • O'Brien M (2016). The triplets: Investment in outcomes for the vulnerable – reshaping social services for (some) New Zealand children. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work Review, 28 (2), 9-21. 10.11157/anzswj-vol28iss2id220
  • O'Brien M (2016). Child poverty: The politics, the problem, the advocacy. In J. Maidment, L. Beddoe (Eds.) Social policy for social work and human services in Aotearoa New Zealand: Diverse perspectives (pp. 288-301). Christchurch, NZ: Canterbury University Press.
  • O'Brien M (2015). Setting the scene: Current policy direction. Paper presented at Child Poverty Action Group Summit: Welfare fit for families in a changing world, University of Auckland, NZ. 8 September - 8 September 2015. (pp. 5). Related URL.
  • O'Brien M (2015). Child poverty and Social Services. Paper presented at SSPA Child Poverty and the Social Services National Seminar Series, Hamilton, Gisborne, Napier, Whangarei, Dunedin. 30 April - 4 July 2015. Related URL.
  • O'Brien MA (2015). New Zealand. In M. Odekon (Ed.) Sage encyclopedia of world poverty (pp. 1148-1149). New York: Sage. 10.4135/9781483345727.n605
  • O'Brien MA (2015). Child poverty policy. In J. Hayward (Ed.) New Zealand government and politics (pp. 472-481). Melbourne, Australia: Oxford University Press.