Lived experience, sometimes called lived expertise, refers to the knowledge and perspectives of those who have firsthand involvement with child welfare. These individuals have valuable insights about the system’s impact, so it is crucial that family-serving organizations collaborate with them to develop, implement, and improve policies, practices, and programs. Those who have lived experience, such as parents, youth, and kinship caregivers, have unique perspectives and wisdom that can drive overall system improvement.

Meaningfully engaging those with lived experience requires equal partnership throughout the process, not as an afterthought. Professionals should involve lived experience partners in all aspects of the project and compensate them fairly for their work. When seeking lived experience partners, it is important to recruit individuals from diverse backgrounds because race, ethnicity, culture, and other characteristics directly impact one’s child welfare experience.

It can be difficult to share stories that involve past trauma. Authentic engagement of people who have lived experience requires safe spaces where insights are valued and prioritized, not tokenized. In addition, the purpose of these partnerships should be to drive change and identify solutions rather than collect stories.

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