The Australian welfare system exists to ensure ‘our most vulnerable will always have help’. In the context of growing costs for Australia’s welfare system, a federal government department looked to our neighbour – New Zealand – for a new model to break the cycle of welfare dependence in Australia. The ‘investment approach’ sheds light on the long-term costs of welfare dependence.

Many young parents require income support when their children are born. As children grow up, however, it is important for their parents to join the workforce – if they don’t, the material costs to society are high and the recipient misses out on the lifetime benefits employment provides, including community engagement, resilience and strong self-esteem. Complicating matters, the costs are intergenerational – three quarters of young adults receiving income support had a parent receiving income-support payments during their teenage years. However, well-designed early intervention programs can break these devastating cycles, at a much lower upfront cost. This initiative sought to tackle this complex social challenge by funding innovative new programs created and driven by Australian community and not-for-profit organisations.

This client invited Knowledge Society to co-design two employment programs. Our ambition was to change the trajectory of young parents to create a sustainable path of independence. In partnership with two community organisations, Knowledge Society hosted stakeholder workshops, conducted evidence reviews, interviewed multiple experts, created financial models, designed evaluation frameworks and reviewed the strategy and program design for these programs. Crucially, we developed each program alongside at-risk young parents, drawing on their insights and lived experiences to create two programs that work with them, not to them. The result: two robust program designs that improve considerably on traditional employment and training services.

To reduce welfare dependency, programs must recognise the unique needs of young parents – a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution does not usually work. The new programs will support young parents overcome barriers to employment and pursue jobs that have been secured in advance – lending more meaning and purpose to training, which evidence demonstrates improves long-term employment outcomes. By placing parents in jobs, the project will improve the futures of parents and children and decrease the risk of long-term welfare dependency. One program provides childcare, addressing the largest barrier to participation. These are the first steps to securing long-term employment and financial independence for vulnerable young mothers. The programs are currently being funded and piloted by community organisations in Western Australia.

Knowledge Society draws on the global evidence of ‘what works’ when combating complex social problems, combined with a powerful human-centered design approach. Ultimately, the evaluation of these programs will generate new insight and empirical evidence for the government client into ‘what works’ to reduce long-term welfare dependence.

To learn more about this project and how to work with Knowledge Society, get in touch.