Making more effective use of marketing techniques to increase foster carer numbers

Fields of Research

  • 15 - Commerce, management, tourism and services
  • 16 - Studies in human society
  • 17 - Psychology and cognitive sciences

Socio-Economic Objectives

  • 940112 - Families and family services
  • 940105 - Children's/Youth services and childcare
  • 920501 - Child health


  • Marketing
  • Foster care
  • Foster carers
  • Foster children

UN Sustainable Development Goals

  • 1 - No poverty
  • 9 - Industry, innovation and infrastructure
  • 11 - Sustainable cities and communities


Impact Summary

In 2005 Australia was facing a crisis. The number of children in out-of-home care had risen to almost 24 000, up 70% from a decade prior. However in the same period the number of foster carers declined: there were not enough foster carers for children in need. To address this problem, UOW researchers in marketing and psychology embarked upon a program of research to identify the types of people who make successful foster carers and the marketing strategies effective in attracting them. Findings led to changes in how foster care agencies think about and use marketing techniques. It has prompted national discussions and informed government policy in multiple countries. At the same time, foster care agencies have significantly increased their numbers of foster carers.

Related United Nations Sustainable Development Goals:

1. No poverty
9. Industry, innovation and infrastructure
11. Sustainable cities and communities

Read details of the impact in full

Details of the Impact

UOW researchers in FOR 15 undertook research to identify the types of people who make successful foster carers and the marketing strategies most effective in attracting them. Key insights included a new theoretical model of foster placement success, identification of different segments of foster carers and the effectiveness of different styles of advertisements. Results were used to develop marketing campaigns that have significantly increased numbers of foster carers. For example, one partner (CareSouth) increased its foster carers from 32 in 2008 to 294 in 2016 – an increase of over 900%. Another partner (William Campbell Foundation) increased the number of children placed in care from 27 in 2011 to 104 in 2016, an increase of 285%. Prior to this research the topic of foster carer recruitment received virtually no attention from marketing researchers, so information to make marketing decisions was virtually non-existent. Our research filled this gap in knowledge.

  • “The research conducted by UOW contributed to informing a major rebranding of our organisation that has impacted all aspects of our external communications” Program Manager – Foster Care, CareSouth.
  • “Our involvement in this project has resulted in our organisation changing the way we think about using marketing to strengthen our services in general and recruit foster carers in specific.” CEO, William Campbell Foundation.

Paradigm shift

Findings prompted paradigm shifts in thinking around foster carer recruitment. Firstly, the research prompted recognition of the value of using marketing concepts which have traditionally dominated the commercial sector. Historically, foster care agencies did not have dedicated marketing specialists to develop sophisticated campaigns. Instead, they often relied on the ‘best guess’ of social workers.

  • “Since being a part of this project we have made some key changes to our foster carer recruitment strategies, including employing a dedicated team to focus on public relations.” CEO, CareSouth.

Secondly, we have dispelled some of the myths surrounding motivations for foster caring, namely that foster carers are driven purely by altruism. Many carers acknowledge the benefits of performing the role, e.g. personal satisfaction and enjoyment.

  • “…we have used the insights from our team’s research to develop new television advertisements that include more targeted messages. […] These improvements to our marketing strategies have resulted in a significant increase in our number of foster carers.” Director, CatholicCare Wollongong.

Reaching foster care agencies

A/Prof Randle presented results to the NSW Shadow Minister for Families and Community Services, the NSW Department of Families and Community Services, the Association for Children’s Welfare Agencies (ACWA), the Metro South West Out-of-Home Care Inter-agency Group, and the Out-of-Home Care Southern Forum. We presented findings at every ACWA conference since 2010, and in 2014 our team won the biennial ACWA Service Partnership Award for outstanding contribution to achieving lasting and better outcomes for disadvantaged individuals, families or communities through collaborative and effective partnerships.

Findings were also used in collaborative efforts between foster care agencies. For example, in 2013 agencies in NSW recognised the potential benefits of working collaboratively to create more cost effective marketing campaigns. Our industry partners have taken a lead role in these collaborative efforts, using our research to develop marketing campaigns that benefit all foster care agencies.

  • “…largely due to our involvement in this collaborative research project, CareSouth is advanced in terms of our strategies for recruiting foster carers. We have therefore taken a leadership role in the sector’s challenge of finding more foster carers, including participating in the recruitment and retention sub-committee and promoting a collaborative approach to marketing.” CEO, CareSouth.

Our research has been used by foster care organisations across Australia and internationally. Within Australia, findings were used to inform a report prepared by Foster Care Queensland, the Centre for Child Development and Education in the NT and by KPMG for the Department for Child Protection in SA. It has also featured on the website of the Australian Institute of Family Studies and the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth in the ACT.

Examples of our research being acknowledged and used internationally include in a report prepared by the Rees Centre in the UK on why people become foster carers and another by the Department of Education in the UK on the foster care system in England. It has also been used by the Ohio Association of Child Caring Agencies in the USA to inform foster care marketing and recruitment strategies.


The ultimate beneficiaries of our research are foster children. More foster carers means greater chance of achieving a good match between the needs of a child and the carers. Good matches decrease placement breakdowns and greater stability is associated with better outcomes for children.

  • “If we can attract carers who are well-suited to each child, it means children are placed with carers who have the skills to meet their needs during their placement. This leads to fewer placement breakdowns, which is critical because children who are involved in placement breakdowns typically have difficulty coping with the disruption, often facing more complications in subsequent placements.” Director, CatholicCare Wollongong.

Foster care agencies also benefit by making more efficient use of their limited marketing dollars. By targeting and attracting people likely to be suitable as foster carers and who stay in the role for longer, agencies reduce the costs associated with recruiting and training new carers.

  • “CareSouth has benefited enormously from this collaboration over the past decade” CEO, CareSouth.


  • Foster children
  • Foster care agencies


Impacted Countries
  • Australia
  • United Kingdom
  • United States

Approach to Impact

Summary of the approaches to impact

A core component of UOW’s strategic plan is to deliver benefits to society. Our researchers have had significant impact across Australia and internationally. Our translational research is supported by formal research institutes and centres, mentoring programs, seed funding and partnerships grants and support for multidisciplinary collaborations through the Global Challenges Program. UOW supports the dissemination of research findings not only in traditional academic outlets but also other forums targeted at industry and government, including presentations at industry conferences and the production of industry reports and briefing papers. Findings have been used by government and social service agencies to transform the lives of some of Australia’s most vulnerable groups.

Read the full approach to impact

Approach to Impact

A core theme of UOWs strategic plan is to provide benefits that improve society as a whole. UOW has built a reputation of producing practically useful research and this is underpinned by our capacity to foster and maintain linkages between our researchers and regional, domestic and international partners. UOW has strong strategic and operational planning that underpins the accomplishment of our mission and strategic goals. Each Faculty replicates this approach to ensure all units work together to achieve the UOW mission. The vision of the Faculty of Business is to be a global leader in the theory and practice of responsible business. Our mission is to advance business-related knowledge through ground-breaking research and industry collaborations that promote responsible leadership and sustainable business practices, and contribute to a stronger economy and more just society.

Our research in FOR15 has directly contributed to the UOW and Faculty missions by working with our local community to address problems that have implications beyond our local community. We support our researchers by financially and organisationally investing in the development of their research. This includes University and Faculty grant schemes, research structures and training. These structures include University research strengths, Faculty research centres, formal university training and mentoring programs. UOW also offers a number of high profile collaborative programs and funding targeted at external partnerships and research projects tackling issues of priority in the community.

Without ongoing internal support, the program of research outlined in Part A would not have been possible. Since 2008 this work has been supported by two University Research Committee Partnership Grants, two University Research Committee Small Grants and eight Faculty grants totalling $71 000. This support enabled our researchers to develop the necessary partnerships with foster carer organisations and conduct pilot studies that formed the foundation for larger external grant applications over time. The result of this support were partnerships and a program of research that attracted two ARC Linkage grants and one DECRA to the value of $855,000.

UOW supports productive research centres that facilitate and promote research activities under specific themes. The research outlined in Part A was initially conducted within the Institute for Innovation in Business and Social Research (IIBSOR). Within IIBSOR highly experienced researchers, specifically Professor John Rossiter (marketing, one of Australia’s most cited marketing scholars) and Honorary Professor Hugh Mackay (psychology, social researcher and bestselling author) all acted as mentors for more junior researchers and provided guidance for the program of research. In addition, research centres such as IIBSOR held research retreats, seminars, and writing workshops where highly experienced researchers provided feedback, guidance and mentoring to more junior researchers. These opportunities have enabled staff to develop as researchers and to conduct research which is high in both academic rigour and impact.

There are many other examples of the support and research opportunities provided by UOW. For example, in 2010 researchers examined Centrelink social security fraud prosecutions dealt with by Legal Aid NSW’s Wollongong office. The research was funded through the Faculty of Business and another of the Faculty’s research centres, the Social Accounting and Accountability Research Centre. Additional funding was provided by the Accounting and Finance Association of Australia and New Zealand. The 2011 report that resulted from this research revealed the effects of unpredictable and fluctuating pay on the recipients of income at the employment/benefit nexus. It made a number of recommendations to mitigate the impact of income fluctuations on Centrelink overpayments. The report was submitted to the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) Independent Inquiry into Insecure Work in Australia, Secure Jobs Better Future in 2012, and was used by the ACTU and other organisations in submissions to government committees. It has also received significant media attention. This research informed fundamental changes implemented by the Fair Work Commission to ongoing casual employment, which have impacted the work contracts of over 2.6 million Australians.

Our researchers, with the support of UOW, actively disseminate their research findings not only in traditional academic outlets but also other forums targeted at industry and government. These include presentations and keynote addresses at practitioner conferences; reports and publications in practitioner journals; presentations to partners such as foster care agencies and the Legal Aid office; discussion within the community through local and national media coverage; being expert witnesses for federal court cases and independent inquiries; membership of advisory boards and formal company boards; and membership of advocacy organisations.

  • “[Randle] has provided ongoing advice regarding our marketing and branding strategy which has become increasingly important as we face growing competition in the social service sector, including from commercial providers. This increased competition has presented challenges we have not previously faced as a non-profit organisation, and required us to develop new marketing and branding strategies. [Her] expertise and practical experience in marketing been invaluable in helping us do this.” Director, CatholicCare Wollongong.

This active participation ensures key research findings and evidence-based recommendations are delivered to end-users as they are discovered.  This approach ensures our researchers fulfil their mission to promote “responsible leadership and sustainable business practice, and contribute to a stronger economy and more just society.”

Associated Research

This program of research was conducted between 2007-2016 at the University of Wollongong by a multidisciplinary team of researchers from marketing, psychology and creative design. The overall objective was to identify the characteristics of individuals who are particularly good in the role of foster carer and develop marketing strategies that effectively attract them. This research included multiple complex studies being implemented simultaneously, incorporating qualitative and quantitative methodologies, longitudinal studies, experimental research designs and large online studies. The longitudinal study included numerous waves of triangulated data collection between 2011-2015 involving foster carers, their partners and their caseworkers.

Numerous contributions to knowledge have been made including: (1) a theoretical model of foster placement success; (2) understanding of the knowledge and perceptions of foster care amongst the Australian population; (3) identification of different segments within the market of potential foster carers; (4) identification of the psychological characteristics of different types of foster carers, in particular those who are exceptionally good in the role; (5) identification of the early warning signs of placement breakdown; (6) perspectives of former foster children on successful foster placements; and (7) evaluation of the effectiveness of different styles of foster carer advertisements in motivating individuals to become foster carers.


1. Randle M, Miller L, Stirling J, Dolnicar S (2016) Framing advertisements to elicit positive emotions and attract foster carers: An investigation of high cognitive elaboration donations. Journal of Advertising Research, 56(4), 456-469.

2. Randle M, Miller L, Dolnicar S, Ciarrochi J (2014) The science of attracting foster carers. Child and Family Social Work, 19(1): 65-75.

3. Ciarrochi J, Randle M, Miller L, Dolnicar S (2012) Hope for the future: Identifying the individual difference characteristics of people who are interested in and intend to foster care. British Journal of Social Work, 42(1):7-25.

4. Randle M (2013) Through the eyes of ex-foster children: Placement success and the characteristics of good foster carers. Practice: Social Work in Action, 25(1): 3-19.

5. Randle M, Miller L, Dolnicar S, Ciarrochi J (2012) Heterogeneity among potential foster carers: An investigation of reasons for not foster caring. Australian Social Work, 65(3): 382-397.

6. Randle M, Miller L, Dolnicar S, Ciarrochi J (2010) Using market segmentation to gain insight into reasons for not foster caring. In: Yeatman, H.(ed) SInet Conference 2009 Published Papers. SInet Publications. Wollongong.

7. Randle M, Dolnicar S, Ciarrochi J, Miller L (2010) The market of “potential” foster carers: Australian general population survey summary of findings. Institute for Innovation in Business and Social Research: University of Wollongong (industry report).

8. Randle M, Dolnicar S (2010) The use of positive versus negative appeals for foster care advertisements. Australia and New Zealand Marketing Academy (ANZMAC) Conference CD Proceedings, Christchurch New Zealand.

9. Randle M, Dolnicar S (2010) Using targeted marketing to increase foster carers: Making smarter use of limited marketing dollars. Australia and New Zealand Marketing Academy (ANZMAC) Conference CD Proceedings, Christchurch New Zealand.

10. Randle M (2010) Retrospective insights from ex-foster children: Characteristics of successful foster placements. Institute for Innovation in Business and Social Research: University of Wollongong (industry report).