Susan Elmer-Ayling

Susan Elmer-Ayling


Accepting PhD Students

PhD projects

Social Care, Family Support, Play Therapy and Education, Forensic psychology

Calculated based on number of publications stored in Pure and citations from Scopus

Personal profile


Dr Elmer is  an experienced tutor of undergraduate and post graduate students in children, young people and families’ social work and social care practice.  She is a social work practice educator and researcher, social worker, play therapist, and experienced training manager with proven skills in counselling, play therapy, and direct work with children, student and pracitioner supervision, practice educator training, practice research and knowledge of current developments in children’s services education, leadership and integrated practice and domestic violence early intervention practice.   

Dr Elmer is a Social Work England registered social worker, a full member of the British Association of Play Therapists (BAPT). 

Dr Elmer completed her PhD in Social Policy in 2010. Her thesis concerns the use of play therapyand direct work in social work practice. She has regularly presented at international conferences in respect of her research on children and families and playful practice in Higher Education.


Dr Elmer has been involved in several funded research projects with colleagues at Leeds Trinity University and at Leeds Beckett University. These studies have included early intervention in domestic abuse, front line decision making in social work, family group conferences,  the role of the lead professional in Early Years Services.   

Post doctoral scholarship includes critical reflection on similar qualitative studies, carried out in England and Holland, concerning the processes and outcomes of professional practice with children exposed to domestic abuse.  In addition she is working with academic and pracitioner colleagues, including PhD and MA students, to develop and disseminate research in the following areas:

  • Social justice and social work for vulernable adults and children.
  • A standardised assessment tool to capture outcomes of  sand play.
  • Forensic awareness in play therapy practice. 
  • The development of empathy and tacit knowledge to improve assessment practice where there are child protection risks.
  • Girls and women in the criminal justicer system
  • Early intervention in domestic abuse developing a best practice model
  • School based intervention and asessment where children have additional SEMH needs
  • Care leavers and estranged students experiences of Higher Education
Dr Elmer's PhD thesis: Overcoming barriers to the use of play therapy and direct work with children in social care practice.

The study aimed to systematically examine the attitudes and perceptions of social care practitioners who use play therapy and direct work with children in the statutory and voluntary sectors.  A mixed method approach was used.  The findings identified attitudinal and organisational barriers to the use of these interventions and proposes solutions for their removal.

Dr Elmer is concerned with promoting playful practice to improve learning and teaching in HE.

Research interests

I am working with and UK based colleagues to promote research. We are currently working together to develop and disseminate research in the following areas:

  • developing effective learning for students new to University and managing the learning cultural transition into HE
  • a standardised assessment tool to capture outcomes of play therapy
  • early intervention in domestic abuse: developing a best practice model.
  • helping children and families to recover from the impact of exposure to domestic abuse. 

Teaching and Administration

Module responsibility for:

HLA 4 and HLA5 Apprenticeships for practitioners and managers in Children's Services

BA L6 Therapeutic Interventions with Families

PhD and MbR  supervision from September 2014. Model One Supervisor 2019 to present

 MA Family Support programme responsibilities:

Development of module handbooks for current teaching responsibilities;

  • development of teaching and learning materials and assessments;
  • development of e resources to embed learning using Moodle.


Major Administrative / Academic Roles and Responsibilities

Insitute of Childhood and Education: Senior Lecturer responsible for work based learning programmes (including HLA apprenticeship programmes) and post graduate education

Programme Leader: MA Family Support 

Responsible for co-ordinating programme based activities, including:

Student Feedback (Module Review Forms, SSAC, SES  where applicable), Employability and External Examiner feedback

Co-ordinate programme team presence with marketing for Open Days & Applicant Days

Co-ordinate programme specific SSACs

A mmeber of LTU  PGR Degrees sub-committee 

team Admissions Tutoring

Attend Instute Research Committee

Co-ordinate programme specific events, including appropriate briefing regarding Handbook (to include dept and central student support & advice sources and choices)

Co-ordinate programme development 

‘Course editor’ role for programme publications, including prospectus and programme handbook

Lead programme specific preparation for validation / re-validation & audit

Co-ordinate activities with employee partnership office to ensure effective student experience on placement. 

 Additional roles and responsibilities include:

Supervise MA student dissetartions.

Programme co-ordinator: MA Family Support

Responsibility for development of this post graduate programme, including liaison with key employers and other stakeholders, programme applicants and colleagues likely to be actively involved in delivery.

Responsibilities also include development of all associated documentation in preparation for future re-validations.

Institutional: 2009-2013 I have been previously been a member of LTU Research Committee and LTU Ethics sub-committee. 

Education/Academic qualification

Doctor of Philosophy, Leeds Beckett University

Postgraduate Diploma, Manchester Metropolitan University

Bachelor of Science, Teesside University

External positions

July 2017, British Association of Play Therapists

REF 2029 UOA

  • UOA23 - Education


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