Ensuring no-one is left behind:

partnerships providing a safe place for foster kids and people living with a disability

Researchers who partnered with not-for-profits and government to help children find safe and nurturing homes are now working to help people living with a disability find inclusive employment.

In 2005 Australia was facing a crisis; the number of children in out-of-home care had risen to almost 24,000, up 70 per cent from a decade prior.

At the same time, the number of foster carers was declining, further decreasing the ability of foster care agencies to place children with people who could care for them.

It was then that marketing became the unlikely ally to tackle this problem.

Professor Sara Dolnicar and Professor Melanie Randle, with the support of an ARC Linkage grant and in partnership with CareSouth and CatholicCare Wollongong, used market segmentation to help uncover the characteristics of high quality foster carers and the strategies foster care agencies could use to attract them.

“Finding foster carers who can make long term commitment to children is of vital importance to children who have already faced adversity and improves their long-term outcomes,” Professor Dolnicar said.

“We have seen a real social benefit as a result of our work with our not-for-profit and government partners.

“Our partnership with community and government foster care partners has changed the way foster carers are recruited and disability services are delivered.

“This research has been used across Australia, by foster care and child protection services in almost every state and territory and one of our foster care partners has increased carer numbers by almost 900 per cent."

Professor Melanie Randle, who is now the Associate Dean (Research), Faculty of Business, at the University of Wollongong, said their research helped address complex challenges Australia was facing.

“We have been collaborating with our industry partners for over a decade and the outcomes we have achieved have produced significant benefits for some of society’s most vulnerable people,” Professor Randle said.

“Since 2015, our partners in disability services have effectively managed to increase their client bases despite transitioning to the NDIS.”

The partnerships that were cultivated in these research projects were vital in ensuring its delivery and enabling the positive outcomes.

“We could not have conducted either of these projects without our partners,” Professor Dolnicar said.

“Our charitable and community stakeholders like CareSouth, CatholicCare Wollongong, William Campbell Foundation and the NSW Department of Family and Community Services, provided us with access to valuable data resources and have worked with us to develop this body of research.

“There is also no way we would have been able to carry out this long-term program of research without the support of the government through ARC Linkage grants," she said.

“This investment in our research has funnelled right back into the community to facilitate positive change.”

Professor Sara Dolnicar

Read more inspiring research partnership stories from the 2019 BEL Research Profile.